June 6th, 2020

There is no such thing as writer’s block, say some of the best writers. Others deal with it in different ways. Joyce Carol Oates uses running to destroy writer’s block. Elmore Leonard often finds ideas just by reading the newspaper. Isabel Allende always begins a new novel on January 8th. John Irving prefers to write the last sentence first. Take your pick or create your own way. I walk but don’t consider having writer’s block, the rambling around the city walls or parks or around Bosham Harbour early morning or early evening giving fresh insight into my characters and ‘what if she did this next?’ Concentration, granted, can be at a premium in lockdown, now ten weeks and counting.

In a freer pre-Covid world Annie Proulx found inspiration at garage sales. She has never had writer’s block, or anything close. “I have at the moment three novels sitting in my head, waiting to get on paper, and I know exactly how each one is going to go,” she said in an interview a few years ago. “Each one is like a wrapped package.’ The writer of The Shipping News and many other novels, and who didn’t start writing until into her 50’s, can also write a mean short story, the ‘mean’ having dual reason. I eked out the last pages of Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories, with great reluctance, feeling the thinning pages. No, no! this can’t be the final story! I want more, more! If you haven’t read this stunning collection, now’s your chance in this era of the lockdown – find it online. These are stories of desperation and hard times, often marked by an inescapable sadness, set in a landscape both brutal and magnificent. They, however, fill you with joy that there is such a writer in the world who tells bold, elegant and memorable pieces. Proulx is a sublimely good writer about landscape and the relationship of man/woman to his/her land of choice or happenstance. Her brilliance is to hedge her hard comedy with tremendous tenderness. I picked up my copy at Chichester’s excellent Oxfam bookshop in early March and set it by in my mini bedroom library to read after I had finished another remarkable book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, another unputdownable novel. As soon as the Oxfam bookshop is given the green light to reopen I’ll be back to find more of her Wyoming tales.