Monday, 10 February 2014

All at Sea: Waxing Lyrical, Day Thirty-Seven

Our visa applications for Myanmar were a joy to fill in because they asked for descriptions of our hair, our eyes and our complexion. I heard other passengers asking for advice at Reception about what they should write. But, being a novelist, I had no such hesitation.

I didn’t feel it was enough to simply describe my hair—which is auburn and curly, with twists of copper where the sun has caught fire in it—my blue eyes or my fair complexion. I asked for two extra pages and went on to describe the taste of my tears on your pillow, the amount of hope in my heart, my ideal weight, my shoe size, my Myers Briggs type, the current Amazon sales rank for my new book, the number of men I have slept with, the number of men I have been in love with, my first pet, my mother’s maiden name, my first school, the amount of money in my bank account, my favorite vegetable, my favorite fruit, the word I said when I saw my daughter’s face for the first time (four letters, not love), the poem I wrote on my daughter’s eighteenth birthday, the titles for my next three novels (not yet written), my loathing for the serial comma, and my dismay at being asked to pay only $10 to secure my release when I was abducted in a tuk-tuk in Colombo two days ago. I also wrote a guest post about my new British mystery, BEYOND BELIEF, and attached a jpeg of the front cover and a recent author photo.

I’ll write more about my abduction later. Obviously I’m perfectly OK. It was my own fault, anyway. I shouldn’t have got into a tuk-tuk in a foreign city with a strange man. Why did I? Well, he was friendly and I was trying not to be a racist imperialist, he mentioned elephants, I had run out of ways to say “no thank you” politely, it was hot, I don’t know… He wanted me to get into a tuk-tuk to visit a festival “just around the corner”, and then he wanted $100 for an hour’s tour of the city, and then he wanted $10 to let me go. Yes, yes, yes, you’d think I was born yesterday, if my hands didn’t look so crepey with all this sun. Since tuk-tuks travel at just over walking speed and I had been treated to less than a minute of my unwanted city tour, I hopped out again. And no, I didn’t pay the insultingly low release fee—where’s the book-boosting headline in that? Plucky British novelist confirms royalties from sales of new book sufficient to evade Sri Lankan abduction at least two more times. Actually, that reads more like a telegram. Never mind. I always wanted to send one of those. I did have my umbrella with the Thomas & Mercer logo on it that I was using as a parasol, so if things had turned nasty, I could have whacked him with that. But, actually, I can be quite intimidating when I’m cross, so I got cross, and then I got out of the tuk-tuk.

Well, I’ve told you most of the story now, haven’t I? I spent the rest of the day zig-zagging around Colombo in other tuk-tuks, visiting temples on my own—though I could have had my pick of potential escorts. Everywhere I went, they fell into step with me, wanting to show me elephants, gems and other wonders at inflated prices.

I’m looking forward to Myanmar, which we will reach tomorrow afternoon. Life on board ship is still wonderful. I have rediscovered the secret to writing—as I always do when I start a new book. If you want to know it, I don’t mind telling you. The secret to writing is that you just have to sit down and do it. I always hope there might be some other trick that will reveal itself to me, but there isn’t.

Oh, and I enjoyed visiting Kerala. I saw dolphins at the bow of the boat as we arrived in Cochin at daybreak—maybe they were playing, maybe they were jumping out of the way with a cry of “yikes!” in dolphin language. Anyway, it was thrilling. Who doesn’t love dolphins? I took a tour of the back waters of Allepey on a houseboat, gliding through bright green water, past water lilies—a pervasive weed, but very pretty, with pale mauve flowers—looking at cranes, kingfishers, people fishing… Ach, I would write more, but I have to write the book I’m writing.

One last thing, if you were wondering about my adventures in Colombo. Yes, I was dressed modestly. I have travelled all over the world and don’t usually fall into the hands of scammers—actually, people have always been very kind to me. But something about the way I stepped off the ship, all coppery and juicy, like a fresh battery, must have advertised that I was new in town and there was money to be made from me. Obviously I don’t mind if people want to make money from me honestly, especially if those people are publishers and they want to publish the books I want to write. But it has to be consensual. I can’t have any old Tom, Dick or Harry trying to plug me in somewhere to drain me dry.

Which brings me back—the publishing part of it—to the book I’m writing. People sometimes want to know the secret to getting published. There is one, and I’m happy to reveal it to you now. You just have to finish the book you are writing. That’s it. But, you know, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Hey, I have written loads of words in this blog post. Is there a waxing moon? There must be! Actually, that’s another secret to writing, though it’s one that I don’t often reveal. You will find you write more in the last quarter of a waxing moon than at any other time. Try it, and if you agree, throw back your head and howl when night falls so I can hear you. Arooo!

3 comments:

AlleyCat said...

Myers Briggs type? What's yours? I'm an ENFP. Keep writing - it's terrific.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Brilliant writing advice. Quite, quite brilliant. As is the visa description. Enjoy your travels, Helen!

Helen Smith said...

Thank you!