Have you ever heard of Freecycle? It’s a website where you post messages about stuff you no longer need but don’t want to just throw away … because they might be useful to someone else. It’s brilliant if – like me – you have the most awful habit of deciding you’ll have a crack at something for which you’re hopelessly under qualified – such as plastering a ceiling or rewiring a bedroom.
I mention the site because today I was getting rid of seven large sheets of plasterboard (slightly damaged) following an ill-thought-out way to disguise an artexed ceiling. I posted them online. Within hours they were snapped up, and the fellow who came to collect them was a chatty chap who was more than happy to spend awhile talking as I picked his brains on various home improvement projects. His advice on the whole was don’t bother, just paint it. It was only after he left that I realised I’d worked a flabby muscle. I’d been talking to someone I don’t already know for more than a minute. It was liberating, I tell you. Being able to talk about something with a stranger who has no skin in whatever mad game I have planned for 2022.
If you have anything cluttering up a room (or garage in this case), I highly recommend giving it away to a stranger. And maybe add you expect a decent conversation in exchange. Just to weed out time wasters.
Because I ought to bring all of this back to the subject of writing, it kind of makes sense that having these conversations matters. In days of yore, I sat on buses and trains, ears pricked for the type of chatter that could find its way into my pages. In each office I hotdesked, I tuned into people, hoping they’d share a story I could use. After all, I wrote a book about dialogue, and one big tip relates to listening in to those around you.
It worries me Covid is impeding conversation and communication. Sure, we can Zoom into anyone’s living room or home office, but the chats we have are often edited. The body language hidden. It’s hard to maintain eye contact when the eyes in question are three inches under your camera. I do wonder if the stories we write in the next few years will sound different because of this. I’m watching ‘Offspring’ on Netflix right now. I recommend it as total binge fodder. The dialogue sparkles and people are forever hugging, touching and being together. In a world where we’re lucky if we see families in the same room, will we lose that ability to write such believable words? And what are believable words, anyway?
I’m still unsure if the stories I write now ought to consider Covid. Should my characters wear masks? I’m opting for setting everything in 2018, but that limits some cultural references. The other option is to set them in the here and now and pretend it’s all normal, but then you lose the Zoom meetings or plastering your hands in alcoholic gel to enter Tesco.
I wonder how you’re all cooping with this?