A good friend of mine recently told me that all she'd ever really wanted to do in life was write a book. Finding herself with some unexpected free time, she was sitting down with a cup of tea and a blank sheet* in front of her to do just that (we'll gloss over the fact that several cups of tea later it was, apparently, still blank). At first I thought, how strange. Write a book? I couldn't think of anything worse. All those chapters... all that pressure. And that's before you're even contracted by a publisher - imagine having a delivery deadline looming over you. I shudder at the thought.
*Let's be honest: a Microsoft Word document
And another thing: I'm a rubbish writer. I don't mean that what I write is rubbish - I must, in fact, most un-modestly admit to reading back over my blog with something like (whisper it) pride. No, what I mean is that at the simple act of writing I fail spectacularly. Look at the frequency of my blogging: once or twice a year at best. I seem to be a seasonal writer - once winter has released me from its clutches and I find myself with a little bit more energy of an evening, out flow the creative juices. I've never really understood it when novelists claim that they 'need' to write, like breathing or eating; that they simply cannot live any other way. This kind of statement induces in me a kind of weary horror and no small amount of guilt. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore writing - I love the satisfaction that comes from perfecting the structure and tone of a tricky email. I like to think I actively construct social media posts rather than just banging them out (though admittedly I do occasionally just bang them out: during last week's aftermath of the seismic referendum result, for example, the retweets were flying thick and fast). But I'm not possessed by the creative fire of a novelist - I'm just not. I don't have any original ideas. I couldn't for the life of me write a short story with any kind of plot or setting or character development - I just would not know where to start. It's a source of frequent surprise to me, as someone who's read and professionally put together a hell of a lot of novels, but it's true. I speak best in my own voice.
A non-fiction writer then? In the heady days of university I prided myself on my essaycraft, basking in consistent praise for my ability to structure an argument and express it elegantly. (As a brief aside, one of my favourite family moments of recent years happened during our house move, when I was required to climb what was to my mind a tall, rickety and extremely unsafe ladder balanced precariously against the ornate cornice of one of Eversley's high Edwardian ceilings, and launch myself awkwardly into the loft to look through some old things. Quite a paddy was had and quite a fuss made in the climbing of said ladder. Safely in the loft and rooting around through old boxes of stuff, I came across some old university papers, slightly damp, in which I'd scored excellent marks. 'Look, dad - ninety percent!' I cried gleefully. The response? 'Well, you may have been good at writing essays, but you're pretty shit at climbing ladders.')
So, non-fiction: I can live with that. But not a journalist. And not geared up for the kind of intense research, note-taking and referencing of serious writers, historians and the like. That's not really my bag; I'm vaguer than that. I like to make a point obliquely, stealthily; subtly planting the seed of an idea and letting it germinate through words and thoughts without anyone really knowing what I'm doing, where I'm heading or how I'm getting there (most of the time I suspect I don't really know either). All of which leaves me with the impression that everything I ever write is incredibly rambling and indulgent, but I find more and more that there's something that won't leave me alone, something I keep coming back and back to, in my reading and in my writing and in my thoughts.
It's this: home. What does home mean, how do we define it? Is it a place, and if it is, where even is it? Perhaps it has to do with being lifted from my first home at a young age and deposited in another; never really feeling at home in my Scottish home until I left it, and then suddenly it was the most important. Finding a second home in a different country. I'm a linguistic chameleon, unwittingly picking up and dropping accents and dialects as I go - it's what makes me good at languages, and what makes Germans double-take that I don't sound foreign when I speak my Hochdeutsch, but it's also the reason that I don't have that one crucial marker of the identity I feel so strongly: a Scottish accent. If people don't believe you are who you say you are, you have to work extra hard at it. So now home is a construction: I have to build it, maintain it.
I read something recently about a certain actress who'd grown up in both Britain and France appearing 'stateless', having a sort of worldly air and knowledge. I like to think my upbringing, my several homes, has made me stateless... but in actual fact I suspect it's just made me somewhat rudderless. It certainly makes me contemplate the nature of home slightly more than would seem healthy. So I suppose in a sense I do feel that drive of the 'need-to-write' novelist. I feel a persistent nagging to explore the ideas that I can't seem to shake off. Perhaps if I start with a cup of tea and a blank sheet, these vague thoughts will wind themselves into some kind of muscular snake of an argument, a resounding message. Truth be told, like my friend, I think I'd love to write something substantial one day. When I was little and they asked us in school what I wanted to be, my answer (when it wasn't 'astronaut') was 'author'. But all those hours and words and pages ahead? A whole book?