Digging for Nuts



As I walked through the cemetery this morning, squirrels were everywhere.

This set me off musing that writing is a bit like scrabbling about in your imagination for nuts.

Sometimes they are nuts we buried ourselves – a childhood incident, a snippet of dialogue that came to mind and we noted it down to use some day. Other times, we dig up other people’s – a conversation overheard, something catches our attention on the TV or radio. They might have lain forgotten for years waiting for the right story.

One of my favourite new sci-fi series this year is Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files. A giant, metal hand is discovered in a pit and soon people are searching for the other parts of the giant. In book two, one of the characters tells a story of Larry, the tragic squirrel. A passing fairy spotted Larry scrabbling about in Central Park and gave him the gift of a perfect memory so he could remember exactly where he’d buried all his nuts. Larry promptly starved. A lot of his nuts had already been dug up by the other squirrels, who, like all squirrels, dug randomly, sometimes finding their own buried stores, sometimes stores belonging to other squirrels. Larry’s magical memory meant he went straight from one of his hiding places to the next, and a lot of those hiding places were empty.

I read this book on holiday and my motto immediately became ‘Don’t be Larry.’ Don’t rush from attraction to attraction but make time to wander randomly. It made for a fun holiday – we’d never have discovered the mushroom museum without it.

It’s also good advice for writing. Allow your story space and time to wander. Don’t be in such a rush to finish that you accidentally starve it. Make time to bury nuts too – collect ideas.

This month, I’ve been having fun visiting schools and helping children gather up their own ideas. And, while waiting for the final edits and proof-reading of Unwise Magic, I’ve been excitedly digging about in my imagination for a new project – more about that soon!

Happy digging, everyone.