In his column Stephen Fry once wrote every writer is allowed one story about writer’s block. I told him that. He rang me one day, stuck for an idea and a busy editor e-breathing down his virtual neck.
“Stephen, Stephen, Stephen,” I said. “Never fear, there is always the good old fall back of the writer who simply cannot put his words down in a coherent order. Write a column about that, why don't you. And repeat words whenever you can, Stephen. For emphasis. Good for padding out. And Stephen, for emphasis.”
The truth was I had shopkeeper’s blank.
Usually I have plenty to offer him. The vicar swore when he dropped a pot of the verger’s homemade honey. A young mother came in with her child and let it roam unguarded between the aisles. Fox hunting, that’s a common one. Village school head teachers and what are their hobbies. How electronic sales of farm produce are reinvigorating the countryside economy in some areas and how can the rest of rural England learn from this example. Babies should never be dressed in outfits with ears - discuss.
But that day, nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had happened all week. Sometimes I helped ghost write but for once I had not a single suggestion and no words to form into an order of any kind, coherent or otherwise. Country life had never let me down before and I was very disappointed. Even closing up for an hour to take a brisk walk around the cottages, the pubs and the churchyard didn't help.
Notes, I thought to myself. Notes. I should record some details about what I can see and hear and smell. As always I had my writer’s notebook with me, an essential if one doesn't want to forget the germs of fabulous novels and sparkling overheard snippets of dialogue. Ahead of me I saw something moving in the bushes. I retrieved my notebook, then searched for my pen. Or a pencil. I patted all of my pockets, some twice and some that were actually in another jacket, but I’d come out without anything to write with.
Cursing, I decided I would have to commit it to memory and crept forward towards the bushes. There was nothing there, not anymore. I have no idea what it might have been either. A rat or a cat or even a bird would be no real use in prompting a National Treasure with writer’s block, for goodness sake.
Shortly after his 4.00pm submission deadline, Stephen rang me again. “I took your advice,” he said. “I wrote about not being able to write. I think it’s rather good, actually. I’m just pinging it across to you now.”
Relieved, I said I would look forward to reading it and thanked him.
“Oh and Hugh,” he said. “I really do think you’re rather fabulous as that limping doctor, you know. Imagine, you’ll probably end up cracking America.”