Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Dust

by Gabrielle Barnby

The entire novel had been written in the dust. It began in an unfashionable way, with a description of the weather and the pastoral setting for the drama. This gave its writer over a year of pleasure. Nothing changed in the environment, only the markings on the small clear space between the makeshift bed and the makeshift stove. Both had been thrown together from cheap materials after the exodus over the mountains, both were already a decade old.

The next section of the fiction dealt with the background histories of the principal actors. Each took between four and six months to compose, depending on their importance to the arc of the narrative. The rains came and went, broiling sun beat on canvas and flies came through the tent flap, making the place as cosy as hell.

The passage between this section and the meat of the story was awkward. A doldrums. The finger stayed poised an inch above the dirt for days at a time, unable to score a single mark, and when a word or phrase did come, it was scratched deep and ugly into the ground.

With winter, respite came. Fluency returned and the writer worked with energy and inspiration. For the first time, there was impatience at the materials available, which limited the speed of progress.

The waterfall of thoughts slowed to a gentle rhythm and the river of creativity flowed, but there were gunshots in the hills and cholera in the camp.

A pair of years passed and the centrepiece was reached, a complex interweaving of plot and character. The foliage of climate and setting so painstakingly grown from the very beginning brought the story into full flower.

The makeshift bed sank lower to the ground, the makeshift stove was greasy and cracked. The floor was daily swept clean by an illiterate child and the story was so great it would have changed a civilisation. It was all written in the dust, and finished the day before the careful hands became forever still.