Writers' Block by Kate Thompson

by Kate Thompson

‘Anything about books or publishing,’ was the suggestion for this piece. ‘Write about something you’re passionate about.’

It shouldn’t have given me any problems. I’m one of those people who is always passionate about something. One passion after another has hijacked my attention and steered my life in completely unexpected directions. When I was a teenager it was horses, and I worked with them for several years after leaving school. Then came a sudden, overwhelming, (but short-lived) desire to become a radical lawyer, which led me to London, from where I went travelling, discovered India and fell in love with it. I returned a second time, and might have gone again had it not been for the arrival of my first daughter (arising, as do most children, from another kind of passion!).

I began writing when she and her sister started school. There was a writers’ group in the local library, and I went along as a way of getting out of the house. To begin with it was all quite tentative – a poem here, a short story there - but within a year or two I was in the grip of a new and ferocious passion. The ideas were piling in upon each other, and I was driven to write, and write, and write. Managing it was the difficulty. Time had to be found to do it, and attention had to be dragged away from it and given to the other central things in my life – my family and the small farm I was running. The internal pressure to write was sometimes so intense that I would have to go away for a while and get a draft down on paper, because I was unfit for any other purpose until the pressure was released.

As time went on I managed to regularise things a bit. I found a place to work and developed a routine, and was able to divide my attention more reasonably. But the drive remained, and as soon as I had finished one book, the pressure for the next one would begin to build. There was always some new interest to be explored, some social problem to be wrestled with, some fascination that needed to be moulded into the form of a story and written down. Every book has had a life of its own and has been driven by some underlying interest or concern. Over the years I have written about genetic engineering and extra-terrestrial life, the origins and the demise of the human race, social problems and terrorism, time, alchemy, and (driven by another unexpected and all-consuming passion) Irish traditional music. In 2007 I was offered a residency in Bristol, backed by the RSA and the Gulbenkian Foundation, to study some aspect of ecology and produce a creative work based upon my research. I chose climate change, became passionately interested in it, and wrote my latest book, The White Horse Trick.

Which brings us, more or less, to the present day. And I find, to my surprise, that I am not currently passionate about anything. The White Horse Trick is my nineteenth book in twelve years, and I am suddenly empty. Burned out. I am all out of fascination, all out of righteous indignation about political and social problems, all out of drive and fixations. I am, for once in my life, devoid of passion. I’m not writing and I don’t know what or when I will write next.

Does that mean I’m suffering from writers’ block? The thing is, I don’t believe in writers’ block. I’m not even entirely sure that I believe in concept of ‘being a writer’. A writer is someone who writes. A poet is someone who composes poems. Are these people therefore writers or poets forever, even when their inspiration has dried up? It would be repugnant to me to sit at a desk and produce a new book to some kind of formula, because I was expected to, or expected myself to. I have always written because I had something I wanted to explore or impart, and at the moment I don’t. I’m not blocked. I have nothing to say, so I am saying nothing.

And I’m certainly not suffering. I am using the time to sort out the long-neglected corners of my life. I’m decluttering the house and getting some long-overdue repairs done. I’m tackling the jungly bits of my garden and building some new vegetable beds. I’m playing badminton in the village hall and trying my hand at a bit of painting. I don’t know how long the savings will hold out, but I’m refusing to get anxious about it. I need this time to wind down, to take a look around, to de-focus my mind and let my soul rest.

Perhaps some new passion will come along and push me into writing again. If not, I’ll have to see if there’s anything else I can do. But in the meantime it is wonderful, just wonderful, to be not driven for a while. If this is writers’ block, I’m taking it as an opportunity and not a crisis. I am making full use of it and enjoying every passion-free minute!

Kate Thompson has won the Children’s Books Ireland Bisto Book of the Year award four times – in 2002 for The Beguilers, in 2003 for The Alchemist’s Apprentice, in 2004 for Annan Water and in 2006 for The New Policeman. The New Policeman also won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2005, the Whitbread Book Award Children’s category 2005 and the in augural Irish BA Award for Children's Books in 2006 and has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Kate also won the CBI Bisto Book of the Year 2006 with The New Policeman for the fourth time. She is the only author in history of the awards to do so.

Kate's new novel, The White Horse Trick, was released on the 1st October.

Visit Kate's website here.

Top image credit: Sam Llic Photography

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