Drink to me with thine eyes

A few years ago I recall watching a documentary about Minette Walters, the thriller writer.

It showed her at various stages of the writing, editing and publishing of one of her novels.  While we spied on meetings she had with her agent and editor, she also did pieces direct to the camera on her own.  During every one of these soliloquies she had a glass of red wine in her hand.

I assumed, not that she drank while she was writing, but that each time she had a break from writing, she had a quick drink.

Now I think if I had a touch of wine every time I fancied a break from the keyboard I’d never return to it; I don’t have enough self control.

There is, though, a connection between writing and wine, it seems to me; it is a feature on every writing course or retreat I’ve ever been on.

On the very first Arvon course I attended, the uproarious drinking on the last night went on well into the early morning hours, although I bailed out long before the end and retired with my earplugs in place and my head under my pillow; I couldn’t contemplate the prospect of the long journey home from Inverness with a hangover.

When I did my MACW at Birkbeck, University of London, we all repaired to a bar after our classes so as to complete the evening.

At Wellspring House it was easy to get into the habit of popping along the road to the gas station for a bottle of zinfandel and a carton of Ben and Jerry’s, to share with the other writers in residence; but only as a reward for a day’s hard writing, you understand!

When I am working on my own, I try to avoid the siren lure of a glass of wine before the requisite number of words have been produced.  Instead, these days I indulge in frequent cups of coffee before lunch, and numerous cups of herbal tea or hot water after lunch;  the ritual of the preparation and the walk from my desk to the kitchen being as important as the drink itself.

After many false starts with hideous herbal concoctions called ridiculous names like ‘love’ and ‘peace’; or specially wrapped tea bags with little homilies (‘a kind word is a salve to an injured soul’ you know the kind of thing) on each tag, I’ve found the right combination of mint and camomile.

When I used to travel extensively for work, I frequently took a travel kettle and coffee and tea bags with me so that I could always have a decent hot drink in my room; it’s enough to make a hotel ‘homey’ for me.

I went on a weekend break in Italy with a friend and remember her mocking incredulity when I took the kettle, somewhat Mary Poppins like, from my bag.  It didn’t take long for her to be an enthusiastic convert, and she soon surpassed me, by some margin, in her attachment to the concept of the travel kettle, and is now a great proponent of the art.

When more recently we travelled together in Japan, I was prepared to take a chance that the hotels in which we were to stay would have kettles, as they did when I had made an earlier trip for work; she wasn’t and came equipped not only with the kettle, but also with her own rather startling pink plastic mug.

The daftest occasion has to be the time we took the kettle into the Peruvian jungle, not realising that the lodge where we were to stay had no electricity.

Off to put the kettle on…..

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  1. As I sit in this cold looking, but rather warm in temperature, waiting room at the VA Hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, I long for those cozy tea excursions at Wellspring. From the quiet peace of the ‘room of ones own’, down the creaky stairs, and Into the bright kitchen for tea and a snack and hopefully a chat with a fellow writer.



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