Sunday, 20 January 2013

A Helicopter Crashed Into A Crane

So it's evening in London after a terrible, terrible day. This morning during the rush hour, a helicopter crashed into a crane, killing the crew and then falling into the street where it injured a number of pedestrians. As horrific accidents go, it wasn't the worst, except of course for the poor family of the crew. For Londoners like me, it brought back the full horror of the London bombings in 2007, although this accident was exactly that - a tragic accident.

A Terrible Day in London

In spite of the carnage, I'm in the Bear pub with a few writer pals. We'd arranged to meet and we thought, 'what will we do if we cancel - just sit at home moping'. Fear's like that - it causes you either to have ridiculous, exaggerated ideas of 'what could happen' or to freeze, and start skulking about like a hibernating bear trying for entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Heroes & Villains, since 1714

The Bear's a great pub for writers, right on the edge of Chinatown and dating back to 1714 - before, frankly, there was a Chinatown. It's had a fair number of famous heroes and villains in its list of historical customers. We like the villains best.

We swap confessions about how little writing we did over the holiday period and scrawl our fears on a beer mat. The seven biggest writing fears, according to my latest fave rave 'Your Writing Coach' by Jurgen Wolff are: 'The fear of rejection, the fear that it won't be good enough, the fear of success, the fear of revealing too much, the fear that you have only one book in you, the fear that you are too old and finally, the fear of being overwhelmed by research.'

We scrawl our fears on a beer mat

Twitter revealed even more - 'don't know how to end my story,' replies one follower. 'You've got it lucky - don't know how to begin mine,' another grumps. Sensing that the war's about to go viral, we bring out our manuscripts, sheepishly at first. Within moments, we're hooked - desperate to hear more about the characters we've missed over the holidays. Dan's writing a dark, dark story as usual, and Rob's still on his never-ending novella about his hero Vordek's unlikely conquest of the fair sex. Ruth's story of a time-travelling witch has spanned another few centuries whilst Ivy's memoir set in the Port of London, early 20th century, thrills and horrifies us.

We're a supportive lot but very frank. 'You know he's going to be a virgin all his life,' Brad tells Rob, which makes Rob blush painfully. We've all guessed who the real Vordek is. 'Do you think they'd just carry on eating if the cross-bow had speared the servant-boy at dinner?' We wonder. Ruth sucks her pen and agrees that the scene is unrealistic. 'I'll have them take a swig of scrumpy after,' she decides. Her West Country accent is always deeper when she thinks of scrumpy jack (cider, for the uninitiated). We all howl, and so do the rest of the customers in the bar. Our writerly gatherings aren't designed to attract attention, situated as they are in a quiet snug at the back on the quietest night of the week, but invariably, they do.

Ruth's Notebook & Pen
Gradually the noise in the bar drops to a hum, and then to dead silence as Ivy begins to read. Her voice and reading style remind me of the Primary School teacher she was for four decades, and the years of 'Friday afternoon story time' reading aloud have honed her vocal chords. They've lost none of their power. Her story tells of little things - of the days when a mother could die in childbirth, as easy as anything; of the dockers and how they'd break open a crate of oranges and throw them to passing, malnourished urchins; of family pride, of two world wars - one her parents', one her own; and most of all of love. Rough, often unspoken, many times passed off with a joke, but love just the same. When she finishes, and removes her specs, the applause is spontaneous, a wall of sound.

The Old London Dock Gates

It's time to go, and we do it with hugs, and quiet gratitude for the companionship of those of kind. When you've got that, writer or not, fear seems a petty foe indeed.

Courage comes when you make demand - not sooner, not later but then
Leo ~ The Blue Book Writings 

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  1. Jennifer, you are so right that sitting home to mope after a community tragedy is the opposite of effective. On 9-11, we closed my store early to go home and hug our kids. But, the next day and every day after that, going to work and talking to others, being there for the customers who just wanted to get out and see a friendly face, was the best thing we could have done for ourselves. It affirms life in the face of loss.

  2. Have just read this beautifully written piece.Loved the way you have narrated your experience.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    I'm glad you like the book. Sounds like a great group you've formed,

    best regards,

    Jurgen Wolff

  4. Jurgen, We do! We're thrashing about with the 'how true does a 'true' story have to be now - Chapter 3. A writers' group is a precious thing (but don't tell them I said so)

    Best regards
    Jennifer Pittam