I have these days when the muse deserts me, or when it is particularly hard to write, in the sense of composing sentences and paragraphs. I usually revert to doing research for a future episode of my China book, and after a while I’m OK.
One of the planned chapters will be about Chinese DVDs, the mainstay of our evening entertainment in Tonghua during my recent spell in a remote part of China, and almost an item of currency, like cigarettes in prison, except, unlike cigarettes, they could be swapped around for re-use.
They were very cheap - about 60p in English money , but also very unreliable. The failure rate was about one in every six or seven, with the frame freezing at one of the most suspenseful parts of the plot. I was probably the only one who also appreciated the opportunity to obtain a collection of Chinese DVDs, which I also brought back, although not in such great numbers. Mostly they were in slip covers but before we came back I remember we spent a whole morning taking the some jewel-box DVDs from their cases and repackaging them inside the inserts using rubber bands to hold together the double disks and cover.
This morning I went through the collection in search of those with badly-translated covers for inclusion in the articles. Just occasionally the title on the cover was misleading, and instead of the expected film it would be a totally different one.
Unsurprisingly, given the quiet tenor of our days amongst the foothills of the Changbaishan, our tastes tended to the more sensational thrillers – ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Blackhawk Down’ and ‘Gangs of New York’ and other lesser-known movies of the straight-to-DVD kind. Romantic comedies like ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ were popular with Katharine, my only female UK colleague, and me, and musicals, like ‘Chicago’
Most episodes I can write using the source material I already have; I’ve been reorganising a chapter on the sometimes hilarious sometimes vexing problems I had with subediting language for the magazines, for instance and for which I kept lots of examples, but some pieces need beefing up with statistics. I saw a useful article in the Guardian this morning about the difficulty the Chinese government have in controlling piracy, not just with DVDs but with books and music. I can use of the info in my articles, which will probably one of the more journalistic chapters, like the one on laid-off workers I’m preparing. I already found a very useful academic essay on the Internet about that.
I wonder what novelists do when they get struck by an uncreative phase?