I have started sending my new novel to agents (working title ‘Hut man’). It’s very different from anything else I’ve ever written. Hut man lives alone in a hut in the woods, talks to his Ikea furniture, and thinks hard (or believes he does) about everything around him. At a jumble sale he finds a book about hamsters with an inscription saying ‘This book belongs to Helen Jacobs. If you find it, return it to 33 Riverside Close, Budleigh Salterton’. He has to obey and sets off on his bike with Ken the plastic iguana on the handlebars. The first few pages are below (there should be indents instead of line breaks, but it’s difficult in WordPress):
“I live in a hut. It’s in the woods and not a shed at the bottom of the garden like some people’s because I haven’t got one.
It leaks so I banged nails in the roof to make it watertight. When I stretched the felt it broke into pasta strips like Sally makes. I don’t think they’d taste very nice.
I use a pencil to write, not pens. What I write’s there, and when I rub it with a bread crust it’s not. If I feel peckish I eat my words. The better I get at writing the better they’ll taste.
I won’t say where my hut is, I don’t want anyone to find it. We’re down a combe. Or up one, depending which way I’m coming or going. Things get complicated when I think hard.
I think I think hard, but how can I know? Whichever way, I’m along a track, through a gate that bangs you on the foot when it doesn’t know you, past a holiday cottage with screechy children, and along a muddy path. At a point I won’t tell you I go into trees.
And that’s where I am.
Sometimes I’d like to turn into a tree. Trees are good. I’d spread my arms and feel sap rising, fill my head with green. Green’s good.
I like mauve too.
The drips are worse. I’ve moved my table with my boxes to the far end where there’s more felt. I try hard to like drips, it’s important. Sometimes when I get up I find them in dents in the floor shining. They go off somewhere by lunchtime. I think water turns into air. Which is clever.
We’re in a corner of a bumpy field that belongs to Sally’s neighbours. They had it for a pony that died. They don’t know I’m here but Sally does. I like Sally. Very much. Luckily they’re old and walk with sticks so I think they’ve forgotten about it. And their dead pony. Old people don’t remember much. Dad can’t remember where he left his socks. Or who mum is sometimes.
I’ve friends here – Billy, Nils, and Nita – so I’m not alone. They don’t say much. Billy’s a bookcase, Nils a chair, and Nita a pair of curtains. After a difficult start we get on. I call them by their names. Why not? That’s what they call themselves on the boxes. I say Time to shut up shop, Nita, and I pull her across the window. She’s a bit long and picks up dust from the floor, but it helps with the cleaning. I’m no good with a needle, and I’ve told Nita she’ll have to stay too long.
Sometimes I say Let’s choose a book, Billy, I’ll read that Penguin on your top shelf. Billy wobbles on the bumpy floor when I tug it out, but he doesn’t mind. Nils doesn’t mind being sat on either. I don’t talk to Nils as much as the others.
I’ve brewed a cuppa.
My friends came in what they call Flat Packs. I carried them along the path to the wood. A man Sally knows called Bernhard left them in his room when he left her and she gave them to me.
Sally got me a job. She knew the girl who brought dead plants back to life at the garden centre. I’ve saved money I got working at the garden centre to buy things. People are funny. They asked what this bush was and whether this plant liked sun or shade, and if it liked wet or dry. How should I know? I said a bit of both, it can’t be far wrong. We all do, and plants can’t be any different.
I got the hose twisted once and an old lady tripped and fell down. But I think she was disabled before. I put her plant in the ambulance with her. I don’t think she paid for it, but that’s no loss. Patients like plants by their bed, even if it was one of the dead plants Sally’s friend brought back to life. I hope the doctors brought her back to life too.
When I unpacked them Billy, Nils and Nita didn’t look like themselves. I used the little key with the funny square top and now they look fine. Billy looks like Billy in the picture and settled in straight away. Like Nita he’s too tall. His top shelf’s jammed under the roof, so he slumps a bit. I use Nils the chair as a table sometimes. He’s really a coffee table but I don’t drink coffee. He’s got a bump down the middle like chairs have, so he’s really better as the chair he is on the pack but he’ll have to adapt. We all do. I’ve used the cardboard packs as carpets.
So here we are. Our new life together.
This is the only life I’ve got if the non-believers have got it right. It’s my life and I want it to be exactly how I want. Christians who believe in another life up in the sky I don’t like. Too many have big cars and houses, cheat in their businesses, sell people things they don’t want during the week, do things in bed without their clothes on with people who aren’t their wives or husbands, then make it better at church on Sundays.
I search for things that live on other things with dad’s microscope. I prise off bits of oak bark and poke them under the glass. Then I turn the magnification up, and there’s another other world.
I watch things move for hours, creatures with tiny waving legs and snouts and twisty feelers. Where are they going? Where do they think they’re going? How can I know? But it’s somewhere very small. They must breathe like us, otherwise they’d die. Their lungs must be small, too. Air must be even smaller to be tiny enough to get into lungs. Lots of things are small when you stop looking at things that are big and search for them.
I’ve talked to Billy and he doesn’t mind me using his top shelf for storing some of the interesting things I find living on other things. He’s shiny and plasticky and doesn’t mind slime.
I don’t sleep well because I watch for invaders. Invaders come at any time, they don’t work nine to five. Day and night don’t mean much here. Sometimes my day is night and other times the other way round, and I eat my dinner at three in the morning and my sugar snapcrackles at teatime. So what? A day’s a day. Who set that in stone?
Sometimes I wear dark glasses in the day. I found them on the path. I think a lady hiker dropped them because they’re purple with gold dots. Things look like night all day through them, but that’s because they’re dark. It’s no crisis because I use them for looking when it’s sunny. I wouldn’t sell dark glasses in Greenland. Half the year you wouldn’t sell any because Nature makes it dark. Maybe they sell twice as many pairs in summer to make up. I’ve thought hard about this and I doubt it because people only wear one pair at a time. Maybe they sell fish instead, you eat fish whether it’s light or dark. I do. I like fish fingers.
It’s holiday time. Not mine, my life’s a holiday. I like being alone but I’m interested in walkers, you can’t miss them in their bright clothes. I ignored them first. Now I catch their attention, but I do it away from my hut. Why? To intrigue them. I like that word Intrigue. It makes things sound interesting. And not just for me – I want to make their lives as intriguing and interesting as mine.
What do these people do when they ask themselves What to do now? Watch a video, eat a doughnut, do some shopping, clean the car? Or cry. I bet a lot have a good cry when they think how terrible their lives have become. It’s sad they don’t have friends they can rely on like Billy, Nils and Nita.
More drips. Or water’s coming through the mud floor, how should I know.
Poor Nils caught foot rot like a sheep. I got out my saw, turned him over, and told him this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, Nils. I hacked an inch off his bad foot. It wasn’t a carpenter’s cut so I went round each of his legs three times, cutting them more level till he wasn’t wobbling. I have to lean down to Nils now when I want to write or eat, and sometimes my plate falls off and I have to scoop up my fish fingers. But it’s no crisis.
I walked to the stream this morning and the sun came out and I wrote about it. I wrote how it dusted the pebbles in the shallows. Can the sun dust? It’s liquid in one way and air in another. But I don’t think it’s dust. And I wrote that water in the stream splashes light. Can light splash? Or is it the water? Writers write about things by comparing them to other things. Lambs are feather dusters, and birds and skies like fishes and water. But they aren’t, are they? Things should stay themselves. What’s the point in writing about a bee and saying it’s not a bee but a striped humbug?
I like watching the stream. It’s on its way somewhere, somewhere elsewhere and not here. Water’s always the same but different every moment. When I toss a stick in it snags on a rock as if it likes being where it is and doesn’t want to be moved somewhere else. Water never snags, which is intriguing. When I think hard about it I see it pouring into the pond by the hotel, then flowing out into the sea where it becomes something else but is still water with salt. Sticks look bent in water but straight when you take them out. I don’t think water really bends things. I’ve thought about it a lot because a stick can’t be in and out of the water at the same time, so how can you tell? But sticks may be cleverer than we think.
Sally came. She didn’t stay long.”