18th April

The Little Fever

Scott’s heart burns a little this morning. He was out to dinner last night and it is probable that he had a glass or two more than he should have. Now middle-aged, and a man who seriously overworks himself, he knows he should drink only in moderation, and usually he does. (He remembers the old judges of his youth – no moderation on their part when a case before them was protracted! Strong black port and biscuits sustained them – and little attempt made to disguise the fact.)

He eases the discomfort with a dose of magnesia. While it settles he glances over his sheets from yesterday, and is pleased to find that the deadlock has released overnight, the tangled trap of incident and character he had written himself into has unknotted itself. All the threads and colours separated and ordered – as if by magic! How that happens he does not know, but it does, it still does. He goes to bed clueless as to how to extricate the plot and wakes up with a workable plan. God knows he needs that to keep happening!

It’s as if, when the body sleeps, the intellect goes to work, unhampered by conscious effort or willed direction. He suspects this mechanism is triggered by the little fever an extra glass of wine produces. Can’t prove it, of course – and excess kills the process stone-dead – but when he thinks back over all the novels he believes the theory is correct. Were there any that he wrote into the middle of with the least notion as to how he was to get out at the other side? None that he can recall. It’s a perilous way to ride – not one he’d recommend to aspiring young authors – but it’s the only way he knows. He prays for strength to stay in the saddle a while longer. Four thousand pounds for each three-volume novel. The account comes down – slowly, but it comes down.

He scribbles these thoughts in the journal. He could stay with the journal all day, but it is wageless labour. No, not labour, it is talking to a friend, the best he has. Writing novels is labour now, but it pays.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music