Nasruddin and the white donkey…

Nasruddin bought himself a new donkey. It was a very rare white donkey. Everyone admired it. Nasruddin loved it. Wherever he went, he went on his donkey.

Soon everyone knew about Nasruddin’s white donkey. They all agreed what a handsome donkey it was.

But it happened that a neighbour of Nasruddin’s was going to marry a girl in the next village. He wanted to arrive at his wedding in style. And he thought people would be very impressed if he showed up riding on a white donkey.

So he visited Nasruddin, to see if he could borrow the donkey.

Nasruddin didn’t much like the idea. The road to the next village wasn’t in good condition. He was worried that his beloved donkey would injure itself.

“What do you think, Nasruddin?” asked the neighbour. “Can I  borrow the donkey?”

Nasruddin shook his head. “I’m sorry but it’s not here,” he said, “My son rode to the bazaar on it this morning. And he’s not back yet.”

Just at that moment, the donkey brayed loudly from the back of the house.

“It is here,” said the neighbour.  “I just heard it.”

Nasruddin stared at the man. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“That sound just now. That was your donkey braying.”

“No it wasn’t,” said Nasruddin.

“It was,” his neighbour told him.

Nasruddin stared at the man for a moment. Then he asked, “Look. Who are you going to believe? Me or a donkey?”

 

ANA

A friend of mine in Brazil, Regina Machado, called and asked if I would tell some stories to a friend of hers  – Ana  – who was ill.

Ana has a small daughter. She used to give English classes based around art history. She was writing an MA thesis. Then, on the day she was due to present it, one of the assessors didn’t show up. The presentation had to be put back to a later date. That night, Ana suffered a massive stroke. The part of her brain which sends ‘motor’ messages to the rest of her body was wiped right out. All she can do now is blink her eyes.

I said yes. Regina took me there.

Ana was at her mother and father’s flat. It was full of beautiful paintings, clocks and artwork on the wall, though there was something a bit stuck about the place, as if everything had been in exactly the same position for decades.

Ana’s small daughter bustled about with scissors and toys. She showed me her room, overflowing with dolls, and told me their names.

I went down the corridor to the room where her mother lay, imprisoned in a paralysed body.

When you think what has been taken from Ana (the ability to speak, walk, feed herself, write, turn in her sleep, reach out a hand to comfort her daughter…) it makes most of problems we find ourselves struggling with seem very petty.

I told Ana some stories in English. Rain burst out of the sky behind us, down onto a world she cannot turn her head to see. I could tell she understood the stories well. A few times she made a slight, gurgling chuckle.

Regina said that after I left she cried and cried.

 

Writing secrets – A PEN AND A NOTEBOOK

People like asking writers, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I usually say that there are ideas for stories or poems all around us. The only difference between writers and other people is that we make sure we’ve got a pen and a notebook to hand, so that when an idea comes we don’t let it go. We write it down.

There isn’t a notebook in my pocket one hundred percent of the time. (Anyway, the secret isn’t just having the notebook. There’s a way of looking and listening with a sort of curiosity, or alertness, or care that comes into it as well.) But, actually, there won’t be many occasions when I don’t have a pen and notebook somewhere to hand.

To the surprise (quite often annoyance) of people around me, I do start scribbling things at odd moments: when walking along a busy pavement…or watching a film at the cinema…or in the middle of the night…

And If you ask around, notebooks of story ideas, observations, memories, fragments of overheard language, and other descriptions and scribbles are the foundations on which very many writers build their work.

The German author and philosopher, Walter Benjamin included the following in his thirteen pieces of advice on the writer’s technique: “…keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.”

I like spiral-bound notebooks. As I go along, I destroy them! I tear out the pages. I cut them up. I throw things out. Then (sometimes by typing them on to my computer, sometimes by putting them in actual files on shelves) I sift what I’ve written into a whole lot of different categories.

So instead of having piles of old notebooks, I’ve got strange files of bits of paper.

One file has names for characters in it. Another is full of bits and pieces of dialogue. Another holds ideas for story titles.

And those are the predictable ones. If I look through, I’ve also got a file containing names of dog breeds. Another contains names of breakfast cereals. And one’s labeled COWBOY LANGUAGE,

If a hurricane ever hits my writing studio, a lot of strange confetti is going to fly!

 

ERGO

My wife makes animated films. Because of her, I quite often find myself at an animation festival or in a cinema…watching some strange and beautiful new film dreamed up by an animator somewhere in the world.

That’s my luck!

Like puppet theatre and poetry, I think of animation as one of the art forms that can genuinely come close to making magic.

Over the years, animated films I’ve seen have sparked all sorts of ideas that have fed into my writing.

Here’s one  –  a twelve-minute-long film by Hungarian director Géza M Tóth. I saw it five years ago at the Anima Mundi festival in Sao Paulo.

It has stuck in my mind!