Every writer I know has a notebook, or an ideas box, or in these technological times a computer file which performs the same function. And though I don’t suggest for a moment that any writer needs to be fed ideas, sometimes little real-life incidents can come in useful as background detail.
So I offer a small incident from my recent real life, which any writer who happens to be passing is welcome to make use of.
There I was, two o’clock in the morning, fast asleep, or rather, not long awoken from that state. At first I thought husband was responsible; his nightly wanderings bathroom-wards are a regular feature, and though I usually sleep through them, he does occasionally bang against the bed and utter a word he probably wishes I hadn’t heard, thus dragging me from the depths of slumber.
But no, there he was beside me in the bed, still enjoying the depths of slumber himself.
So what had woken me? Unfamiliar noise can do it, and there were indeed rather odd sounds coming from outside the window: thuds and strange whispers, accompanied, I realized when I turned my head, by a flickering yellow light penetrating the curtains. Someone arriving home after a late one, I thought, being less quiet than they think. The yellow light was probably a car’s flashing indicator which hadn’t yet been turned off.
But something made me get out of bed and go over to the window to investigate. And it’s a good thing I did. Our next-door neighbours, whose front driveway borders our front lawn, divided only by a row of shrubs, are in the throes of extensive building work, and on that driveway is a rubbish skip which had been full of wood offcuts. Not any more. They were ablaze. Flames were leaping several feet into the air, and sparks were flying in all directions.
The skip was only a foot or two from the front of the house, and the neighbours’ car was parked immediately behind it. The blaze had clearly been going for a while, and there was no sign of panic, or even movement of any kind, from their house; their two small children were on half-term holiday from school, so I assumed the family had taken the opportunity to go away. In any case, they’re fairly new neighbours, so we haven’t (well, hadn’t; we have now) exchanged phone numbers, so apart from sidling past the flames and hammering on the door, which would have been dangerous, I had no way of alerting them.
Meanwhile – wooden window frames, car full of petrol, leaping flames...
By now husband and visiting daughter were awake, and there was some discussion about what to do. It didn’t last long; the solution was obvious. I called the fire service, who arrived promptly and dealt with the problem with a well-aimed hose.
It wasn’t until next day that we discovered the entire family, young couple and two children, had been in the house all the time. The firemen had woken them, even though the fire had failed to, possibly because their sleeping arrangements during the building work mean they’re at the back of the house.
There it is, folks: a small slice of real life, laden with ‘what if?’ potential. Use it, ignore it, do what you will with it.
PS Everybody needs friends, and one of mine has jumped to my aid as I spend a couple of weeks dealing the family issue I may have mentioned earlier. Chris Nickson has kindly volunteered to fill this slot. Thanks, Chris.