I found Iraq to be a very seductive place. There is something about the country, Baghdad in particular, which I found akin my experience of some parts of India. Life is such a precarious thing in these places that people grasp it with both hands and make the most of what they have. Those who live in the face of guns, under the prospect of random and butchering death know how to live. We have no idea. It is a fecund environment for writing and muse stalk every corner and rise with the throb of every chopper and hang off every hot wind zephyr that lifts over the roof tops on a warm silver moon night. When I left I wondered what muse could ever visit me, and thought I had left them in the brown sands of the last glimpse of the desert as we spiraled out of the country, avoiding surface to air missiles and running for Jordan.
Over the last twelve months I have learned the Iraqi muse are malaria. Once bitten and afflicted the disease rises and heats the mind every now and then, and especially lately for some reason when the characters I met there, set on courses of peace, resigned to their fate, bewildered at the behaviour of their neighbours, puzzled at the Americans and all anxious to survive put thoughts and voices into my head and my heart. A story slowly formed, weaving all these characters together, until just recently I came to the point where I knew I had to capture it before it got drowned by work and other distractions. Enter the Literary Lotus who alerted me to the concept of the Writing Month competition. The idea is to simply aim to get 50,000 words written in the month of November. Get the words out first, even if they are nonsensical, then smooth up the result afterwards.
The 140,000 behemoth that has been years in the making but is finally in rounds of editing was put to one side (again) and, with some little prodding from the writing I posted on this blog when I was in Iraq I set about laying the story down on “paper.” And as I went I was delighted to discover the muse were never far away after all and came rushing back to fill my head with sights and sounds of the people and the place. Of course proof of their inspiration or otherwise will be other people’s reaction of the result. But the remarkable capacity of the Iraqi to live normal lives in the face of such abnormal circumstances has been the flux for the 50,000 words dropping out pretty quickly as the little chart here shows (an hour every night before going to bed plus some “coffee shop time” on the weekends). I have enjoyed the journey in my mind back to Baghdad. Though I am not convinced it is any safer that way than being there to taste the dust and hear the sounds.
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