This was inspired by a group chat about Tolkien’s house coming up for sale. One of the group members wrote the message below, and it prompted an idea…
I wonder if Tolkien haunts it. Like you could leave your book half written and at night his ghost could come and write more of it for you, or 20 pages of epic description.
Emma waved as the car drove off, then closed the front door. It was a nice, thick heavy one on old iron hinges that swung to with a satisfying thud.
Everything about this house was solid, stone walls, multi-paned windows, carved wooden furniture it would take four people and a pallet mover to lift. Even the curtains where thick and heavy, shutting the cold dark night out when she closed them in the evenings.
She was here for a month, house-sitting and taking a bit of time out from the world. She might even be able to get on with that novel she’d been trying to write for the past two years.
She snorted at that. How many times had she done this? Taken a few days away somewhere quiet and lovely, intending to eat, sleep and write, only for her brain to flat out refuse to cooperate. All the jumbled scenes and people in her head did not want to leave it.
Mind you, most of her retreats hadn’t been properly solo. James had always managed to include himself in the trip, full of plans of hiking, cycling and exploring – leaving her to write in peace. Of course it had always been too cold, too hot, too rainy, too sunny, too windy, too grey.
Then he’d be hanging around, wanting all her attention and he was all too easy to give into. Apparently a few others had found him all too easy to give in to as well. Although she hadn’t found that out until she didn’t move to Dubai with him (if he’d just asked, rather than assumed). Melonie went instead.
She grabbed her notebook, with its miserable half-full pages of story. There were other notebooks, with more pages scribbled over and copied out but they were just practice. This was her real story and it was not cooperating.
Grabbing a cup of tea from the kitchen, she took it, the notebook and her favourite pen through to the study.
She loved this book-lined room, with its tall bank of windows gazing over a lawn sweeping down to the quiet, brown river.
She toasted the portrait of a previous owner with her tea mug. “Here’s to writing to story with a middle and end, not just a beginning.”
The curtains swayed gently. Funny, she couldn’t feel a draft.
Should she write tucked up on the sofa, or sitting professionally at the desk? The sofa was comfortable, cosy, easy; the desk was a little intimidating. She sat at the desk.
Two hours and three half-drunk-then-forgotten mugs of tea later, she had another five pages. Writing definitely went better without James.
She left the notebook open on the desk, so she could pick straight back up again in the morning, and headed for the kitchen. She needed to check food stocks, then go shopping.
The next morning, after the first properly long, lazy lie-in since she couldn’t remember when, she grabbed a quick breakfast and strode into the study, full of purpose and writing intent.
Her notebook was still on the desk, still open, but it looked, different. Her pen had rolled off it despite the pocket clip and was now resting on the desk.
She stood over it and gulped. That wasn’t her handwriting. She reached out and poked the page, ready to jump back if it did anything. It didn’t. Of course it didn’t, it was a notebook. She turned back a page, then another, and another. It was twenty pages back before she got to where she’d left off the day before.
She sat, and began to read.
It was a beautiful journey through a wood, up a mountainside to a wooden cabin. She guessed her mysterious new co-author hadn’t read anything more than the paragraph starting the page where the unexpected text took over.
She sat, looking at the words, wondering why she wasn’t freaking out. Someone had written twenty pages of description into her notebook. Completely irrelevant description of a place her characters would never go, but it was lovely.
She looked up at the portrait over the fireplace, that previous owner, he’d been some sort of author. She frowned, then looked back at her pages. How to proceed? She was pretty sure it would be beyond rude to discard them, but they were interfering with her story. Maybe she should re-think things.
She got up and made a mug of tea, returned and toasted the portrait again. “Here’s to progress. And time to review.”
She sat back at the desk, turned to the start of the notebook and began to read her story aloud.
It was excruciating. She had to stop every few lines to correct something, or make a note, but by the time she got to the overnight writing, she had the threads of her story back in her hands. “This description is beautiful, and written by someone with far greater skill than me, but my story’s not ready for that scene yet. I’m going to skip forward and then hopefully come back to these pages later.”
She felt a bit ridiculous speaking to thin air but she was way more hopeful of a helpful ghost than some weirdo living person breaking in and writing in her book. She had a bit of a history of ghostly helpers, for all James would scoff and come up with mundane explanations. Yet another reason to be happily rid of him.
She put a paper clip around the pages and flipped to a fresh page, picking up where she’d left off the previous day, pausing regularly for tea and reading aloud breaks.
Something seemed to have broken the dam of words inside her, she managed twenty pages of her own before calling it a day and heading out for a walk along the river before it got too dark.
She left the notebook open again, pen ready to write. It took everything in her to not check the study after her walk, or before dinner, or after dinner, or before bed. She made herself eat breakfast before racing into the study the next morning to find only a short note scrawled across the page.
I like your story, please tell me more.
She grinned and hugged herself. A whole month with a writing buddy who had all the time in the world. This book was going to get written.