Mr Lines, I would just like to tell you that you have been such an inspiration these two months. And to think how wary I was at first! I mean, were it not for my former boyfriend – I wouldn’t even be attending this writing course of yours. Honestly, Mr Lines, you just can’t imagine how pathetic my writing got at some point: forced, tedious, bland. I thought I got burnt out on the whole thing – without actually achieving anything. I thought I would never again experience any remotely interesting idea. I thought I was dried out, faded. And then all these courses of creative writing started coming up here and there: in Internet ads, in conversations. To be completely honest, I thought them precarious. I thought – no, you can’t teach that, let alone in 3 months. But your class seems to have such a great effect on me. All of a sudden I knew how to strangle Mrs McGarrigle and how to poison Mr Alistair. Still, I can’t get rid of these doubts, Mr Lines. What if my writings are a waste of paper and time?
But I must be boring you. I can imagine the withered look and I can hear exactly what you’re thinking: oh no, not another young ‘writer’ spurting out her pathetic anguish. Sorry. This was meant to be a ‘thank you’ note, not some annoying confession. It’s been such a privilege, all this time with you, the excerpts from your novels and your priceless advice; I’m glad I’ve still got two full weeks to look forward to!
P.S. And thank you so much for the kind words regarding my latest short story. It’s precisely your invaluable encouragement, Mr Lines, that keeps me going.
P.P.S. Oh and of course: I hope you remember me. It’s Helen Carpenter. Curly black hair. Front row.
Helen, how good of you to write and express yourself the way you did! You’ll be surprised: I very rarely receive notes of this kind. These writers (no need to put that in commas: I treat you all as real ones, it’s pointless otherwise) I’ve taught – they tend to hide it all inside, as if they want to keep it as a secret. As if they got this terrific present for their friend and suddenly found it too pretty and shiny to part with. This attitude is actually destructive if you are going to proceed with all this writing business.
I’m glad you are enjoying my class. That’s what this is all about, that’s what keeps me going. I can only hope the tasks I’m giving you can help you add a little edge to your writing. And speaking of edge, which task has been the most helpful so far?
As for these doubts of yours – well, Helen, it’s like you have some sort of disease: the best thing is to realise that the symptom, however frustrating and painful, is perfectly natural. And don’t forget what I said at the end of our class on Friday: everybody is a writer. It’s just that some are born with writer’s block.
P.S. Your short story was indeed extremely well-written. I’m actually rereading it now.
P.P.S. Of course I do, Helen. I remember you well.
Oh Mr Lines, have you actually reread that story?!? I feel so, so embarrassed. I’m actually blushing now. That ending, there’s just not enough twist to it – is there? Are you always satisfied with your work as you take it to your publisher? Because I’ve read all your books, Mr Lines, and envied every single one of them: they just seem so well crafted, so finished. (Off-topic: you’ve always looked so good on the back covers of your novels that my ex-boyfriend felt jealous whenever I was holding one of those!)
I perfectly understand what you mean by that ‘writer’s block’ remark, though wouldn’t it be boring if everyone was a writer?.. I mean, surely there must be some sort of elitism to it. There’s a Will Self story about all the waiters in London being secret and underappreciated writers. It’s hilarious. I’m sure you’ve read it?
Now on to your question: your tasks. Well, Mr Lines, they’ve all been most helpful and interesting. Personally, I liked the more challenging ones better. Like the very first thing you asked us to do: describe a sex scene. I’m afraid I completely flunked that one. I just kept scratching the words and whole sentences out; it seemed too rigid and verbose. John Updike? Well, I could definitely provide some competition there! ..
P.S. But the experience will hopefully pay off in this short story I’m working on at the moment…
No, Helen, the ending is my favourite part of it! And don’t you worry about the twist – it’s worthy of any of mine.
That sex scene of yours. Well, Helen, believe me, it was miles ahead of that overworked Rabbit Angstrom pap. And not just that: it had some unique and absolutely irresistible crudeness to it that just won me over. I myself have never been a fan of those who over-romanticize the sexual intercourse, so your naturalism was welcome (you bring up Will Self – well, remember his story “The Incubus”? That’s exactly what I’m talking about). Slightly excessive, granted, but that’s not something that can’t be fixed. Feel free to turn to me whenever you need any help.
As for your question, well, believe it or not: I never feel satisfied for more than a couple of hours. You are not meant to be. The day you are content with every bit of it – you are done or you’ve started doing it for money. And I’m pleased to discover that you are such an admirer of my work! So: what are you working on at the moment?
P.S. My photos were taken by my wife (we no longer live together), and I’ve always considered my look there to be kind of devilish.
You flatter and indulge me, Mr Lines. Good you can’t see me now: I’m blushing again. Certainly you can nail an ending like that on a bad day – eating breakfast!..
It’s exciting what you said about my sex scene. You see, I’m really this timid, shy person in real life, but here’s what I’ve figured out: you can’t be timid about passion. The moment you play it down, it just starts feeling so forced, so outrageously made up. Real sexual intercourse should always be about real physical passion. Always. Don’t you think? I’m actually working on a new short story now, and it’s supposed to have that kind of scene. What is more, the scene is supposed to play the key role in the while thing. Without it – it won’t go any farther. But I’m afraid I’m stuck.
P.S. Devilish? Oh I don’t know about that. But definitely attractive, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Helen, it’s my turn to be flattered. Look who’s blushing now. That bit about breakfast, I wish it were as simple as that!..
And like I say, if you are experiencing any trouble with your writing, I’m there for the taking. That’s what this whole course is for. By the way, totally agree with you on passion.
Just how stuck are you? If not much, come to me after tomorrow’s class and we’ll figure something out. I would very much like to read this new story of yours.
No, Mr Lines, I’m afraid I’m stuck a great deal, so it’s not a matter of fifteen minutes (even if you could spare me that much).
Helen, no reason to be so upset. We could easily arrange something. I’m not sure I’ll be at the University a lot these coming days, but how about some nice and quiet café?
We could have a nice chat about all things literature and discuss your new story. Tell me what you think.
Oh Mr Lines, will you really do that for me? Because I know just the place. I promise I won’t take much of your time.
I attach the picture and the address of the café. Will it do?
Oh yes, Helen, very well. 7 o’clock tomorrow then?
And don’t forget to bring your story.
Perfect, Mr Lines! See you there.
Good morning, Mr Lines!
When exactly does our Tuesday class start? I’m asking because I have an important appointment at that time I don’t want to miss.
By the way: I woke up twenty minutes ago, and I’ve already worked a bit on this short story of mine. I’m convinced now that it will work out fine. The scene clicked (but of course it did). The problems have been resolved, no tight knots anymore.
Interesting: it now seems like the story is writing itself.
P.S. How do you feel today?
Good morning, Helen!
It’s seven o’clock, as usual. I’m sorry to hear you won’t be there. And glad to know about your short story.
P.S. What do you mean by that?