I’m sure there are many, many advantages to being a writer.
Only that last week I couldn’t think of any at all. I was, as they say, ‘laid low’, stuffed with a disgusting, unremitting, woeful cold, only matched in its severity by my own self-pity. Why me?
Friday – reading day at school – approached fast. The day before I was to read three more chapters aloud, I still had two to write from scratch. My lack of enthusiasm – and lack of urgency – was frightening.
The solution, however, was so simple that I can’t believe it took me so long to work it out:
I passed my cold on to my main character. After all, it’s supposed to be contagious anyway, isn’t it?
As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. I sat down to begin the next chapter with Greig, my 12-year-old hero, reflecting on his sorry state and his house-proud mother:
My nose is running like the Niagara Falls. Still, it’s not really an option to stay off school. It’s not like anyone can get a rest in this house, between the hoover and floor polisher and the Radio 4 blare, not to mention the toxic air: a mix of oven cleaner and air freshener.
Not too awful, I thought. Let’s try some dialogue.
“See (cough cough) you tomorrow (sniff), Miss Trundle,” I say through my nose. Come to think of it, every sound seems to travel through my nose at the moment. Sickening slime runs down the back of my throat and my whole body seems to be coated in a sticky layer of sweat. My sleeve bears the splatters of a thousand sneezes. I can’t wait to get home.
I had never identified with my character to this degree. Later in the chapter, it even gave me an opportunity to increase tension: Greig is hiding while observing a key suspect:
My nose begins to tickle. Oh no. Don’t tell me I’m going to…
I pinch my nose hard, and claw into my arm for good measure. Pain always works; it distracts you from the urge.
Grim Jim stops, right on the other side of the bins and consults a piece of paper – the very same piece of paper Lester took a photo of, I’m sure. If I tried, I could probably touch the tattered leather of his coat. He glances along the street until his eyes come to rest on Number 80.
My head is going to detonate, and there is nothing; nothing I can do about it.
Hauling his heavy bag over his shoulder again, Grim Jim strides across the road towards the house.
Please please please no…
“AAAAAAAAAAH-TCHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I explode.
Would I be lying if I said I actually enjoyed writing these chapters? No. They are better, more interesting and more authentic than they would have been. I read them out the day after, still nursing my own sore throat, and discovered kids love references to snot, phlegm and sweat. Turns out they like their characters ill (once in a while)!
Next time I feel under the weather, I’m going to miss out the self-pity and skip straight ahead to the productivity.
Remind me, will you?