I was thinking how we writers are like magpies. picking up bright things here and there, shaking them around like bits in a kaleidoscope so to make a grand, brand new pattern. If the shaking up works, then the diamond seeds of the original elements will - with luck - create a new truth that shines out and strikes a universal chord in those who encounter it.
Let me travel back with you a month in time: I am walking along a narrow tree-lined path along the Canal du Midi in southern France. The canal glows greenish silver, the nightingales are treating me to the longer version of their song. A turtle is keeping pace (or is it keeping flipper?) with me in the middle of the canal.
I am relaxed, relishing the experience second by second, but my sharp magpie eyes are missing nothing.
This part of the canal is lined with boats of all kinds and sizes –many houseboats; some rather up-market tourist boats; some boats housing summer water gypsies; one boat which looks like a junkyard on water.
On the covered verandah of one houseboat I note a man of about sixty - a long, fit, silver haired, well-seasoned kind of man in drill trousers and bare feet. He’s lying on a long garden seat with his legs over one end, reading one of those old green and cream Penguin books – battered and well used. He looks English but I would not swear to it.
I walk on and by a long boat I pass a group of men on the bank, barbecuing something that smells of garlic and tomatoes and burnt flesh. Their v0ices rumble. They don’t look like tourists. Just further along is a girl with glossy dark hair swinging from a rope-swing fixed up on one of the great trees that line the canal. On the back- swing of the rope she glances back towards the men, the image of flirting temptation.
Further along I note a plump elderly man who is organising his water bottles on the roof of his narrowboat, filling them from a large container. He smiles politely. ‘ ’jour Madame!’ I bask in this French politeness and move on.
Half an hour later I return the same way. (I like doing this, whether driving or walking. The perspectives on a return journey are entirely different from those on the outward journey).
Now, the plump old man from the narrow boat is way ahead of me on the path, a bottle of red wine in his hand. The girl on the swing is talking to the barbequing man. A small child is clinging to her, his arm around her neck. When I finally reach the houseboat again, the plump man is sitting at the table with the silver haired man. The bottle of red is open on the table, glasses half full. And these two men are talking, gesticulating. It looks like some pleasurable nightly ritual to me.
So there you are: a magpie’s collection from a summer afternoon walk, ready for the kaleidoscope. One shake of the kaleidoscope and I could have a short story. Another, and I could have the makings of a novel. Another could give me a pilot of a TV Series and … and….
Mrs Wood, my wonderful, very original, art tutor once said. ‘Once you learn how to look, you will never be bored.’ She was right there wasn’t she?
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