I suppose it's not surprising that the less time I have to read the more urgent my thirst for it becomes. Reading really does feed the soul; it provides escape, perspective, mystery, consolation. At the moment I feel in desperate need of all those things.
After fifteen years making a living as a writer I'm stuck for the first time, and I feel like an insect trapped on its back. Everything's difficult: the industry's in turmoil, my agent - my guide through the publishing netherworld, my Virgil - has quit, and I'm flailing around trying to write a novel in the few hours a week I can steal from my boys and wondering if I'll ever manage it.
I'm scared about the future of books as a whole and books in particular, the books I still hope to write. I'm worried that in my first attempt at fiction (will I one day blithely refer to it as 'my first novel', or will be it a gallant effort that never sees the light of day, or will it be the first and last, the alpha and omega?) I was so intent on writing that I neglected the thinking - the planning, the day-dreaming, the made-up conversations and imagined scene-setting; all the stuff that gets left out of the final draft. I feel as though I'm trying to make a sculpture, slapping on more and more papier-mache which however hard I try doesn't quite cover up the fact that I forgot to make a coat-hanger structure inside first.
I picture myself physically stuck in my novel, standing at the centre of a bustling courtyard of an inn on the road north from Paris, in my jeans and old trainers, unnoticed by the people all around me: coachmen leading sweaty horses away to be rubbed down and fed; the landlady standing at the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron and assessing her new guests to see who will sleep where; revolutionary officials draped self-importantly in tricolour sashes, accosting travellers and demanding to se their papers. I see my heroine step cautiously down out of the coach, the basket that contains all her belongings in her hand. She's wearing a greyish cotton dress, once white but long-unbleached, with a knitted blue shawl over her shoulders, and I can tell by the slightly pinched expression on her thin face that she's nervous and hungry, in that order.
And then I lose impetus. Perhaps I've been doing it too long, without knowing whether it will work. Perhaps it's just not worth doing at all. The words and my worries spin around and around in my head. There's nothing for it but to find somewhere quiet and read someone else's words for a little while.