Today's guest is writer Vivienne Ulman. Vivienne is the author of Alzheimer's: A Love Story, and a prize-winning short-story writer. She is now working on her second book.
I began writing in school, seduced by my love for reading, by an imagination that was my favourite companion, and also – if I’m entirely truthful – by the reactions of teachers. I wrote serialised stories for my friends, taking the plots in directions my audience liked best – early focus groups, I guess.
There are times these days I am so laden with words that I can haul them in with a clotted biro onto the back of a shopping docket. More often I am reduced to humbling myself, enticing reluctant syllables with whatever it takes to induce the necessary brain state, the way I coax my goats with sycamore leaves and week-old bread. Mugs of tea or coffee, squares of dark chocolate, and almonds that I roast and store in jars in my cupboard, all work. Coffee shops do the job. This black Artline fine tip pen; this journal scribbled in an exercise book small enough to transport in a handbag; poems for inspiration and prompts, or books whose writing sets up in me a buzz that forces me from their pages to my own; music to set the mood and then silence, or else the same track played endlessly on repeat.
Early morning, before the security guard in my head reports for duty, I sit up in bed, hunched over my journal to catch the shape of my thoughts. While the guard snores in his rumpled sheets, his mouth slack, my words fall free of his censorship onto the page; they romp and play forbidden games. Later in the day when he’s at his post, clean shaven and implacable, inspecting each word, I turn to transcribing my work onto my laptop; I edit and revise, saving the next burst of creation until the officer takes a nap.
Composing in a journal is safe – it doesn’t count – it’s just unprocessed ramblings. Nothing to concern the guard. After all, no-one but me will ever see this, I assure him, not meeting his eye. Sometimes he believes me; sometimes he doesn’t.
So these are the tools I use: these lies, the alarm clock, the lock on the door, the tea cosy on the teapot, solitude. And the sound of the scratch on the paper as my handwriting emerges from the pen’s tip of its own accord, forming words I hadn’t even known I was thinking, that become sentences, paragraphs, chapters, that take me along for the ride.