Four children are standing in front of the low table where I kneel daily for three hours to write towards my mile of longhand on pool-length scrolls. We establish that I know them, and how, and then they get to work. Questions, more and better than any had from adults so far.
“Is this paper here really a mile long?” Ned asks.
“No, it is as long as the pool, but five of these — one for each swimming lane — with seven lines of writing on each — that is a mile.”
“How long do you write each day?” asks Thomas. I tell them and their eyes go round. Really?
“Uh-huh. Yup. And…” — I reach into my bag for my notebook — “…and I still write in this every morning on waking and every night when I have finished putting my children to bed.” Their mouths go round now too. “But, and this is important…” I hunt in my rucksack again “…see this tiny reporter’s pad here? The first year I stopped work and decided to train seriously as a writer whether I succeeded or failed: Do you know how long it took me to fill it?”
One of the older boys looks me in the eye, guesses right: “A year?” I nod. Yup. Wren nods his head, sees instantly the link between the words and the water: “It’s just like swimming! Me and my lessons. The first year I couldn’t get anywhere much but now I can go and go.” Exactly. I nod, smile at him.
Before leaving, they come over again. They are polite and careful of the paper. Listen patiently to my answers and to one another’s questions. “What are those marks at the bottom?” Asks Anna.
“They mark the length of the paper in feet — 12 inches — and not the centimetres we all use at school because this pool is so old and is from the time before the Metric system. Each foot is like a page number — a way of telling readers what place in the scrolls a quoted bit comes from.”
Only then do they ask what all adults want to know: What will I do with it when it’s finished? And how do I know what to say?
When they have gone I feel happy. Given the thousands of invisible hours I have spent writing over the last three years, this public aspect of the project is thrilling to me; confirms my intuition that this display of mental muscle and stamina will be talk- and thought-provoking. May get children as well as adults to enjoy once more — if government tests or work demands have put them off — the simple act of putting words on paper. Which is, as Wren rightly pointed out, just like swimming.