Timely warning to writers

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Don’t neglect the daily walk.

I recently got out to see the film Shirley, a fictional biopic of writer Shirley Jackson, most famous for her short story The Lottery. Shirley was also a prolific novelist and essayist and one of the people I think of guiltily whenever I am having that ‘oh I’m just too busy to write’ moment.

“I am a writer who, due to a series of innocent and ignorant faults of judgement, finds herself with a family of four children and a husband, an eighteen-room house and no help, and two Great Danes and four cats … it’s a wonder I get even four hours’ sleep, it really is.”

Shirley Jackson

Well if Shirley can bash out six novels, two memoirs, over 200 short stories and birth the genre of psychological horror in addition to the above, then what’s stopping me?

When heading to see this film I stopped at my local library to pick up one of her novels. I randomly chose Hangsaman. Imagine my surprise to find that the film is a meta-story with the writing of that very book at its centre.

The film is very much worth tracking down if you can. Its release (like most films at the moment) is limited. I found the cinematography particularly elegant. A shot of airborne bonfire embers merging with snowflakes was a particularly arresting image. The capture of significant looks from an eye framed by the arm of eyeglasses. Shirley, languid and haggard, chain-smoking in her bed paralysed by agoraphobia and writer’s block.

Characterisation in this film was also excellent. Elisabeth Moss is a fine choice to play Shirley. Both for her engaging depiction of a woman treading the artistic tightrope between brilliance and madness and for her physical resemblance to the writer herself. Certainly a heck of a lot better than Nicole Kidman in her prosthetic nose pretending to be Virginia Wolff.

Another of my takeaways from this film was the kind, yet realistic, depiction of the ageing female form. I found it leant gravitas to Elisabeth Moss’ performance and a layer of vulnerability to Shirley’s savage but brittle ego.

All in all, it was a fine cautionary tale to all budding authors out there. Please don’t neglect the daily walk, even in pursuit of the maddening genius that just might define your life’s contribution to the arts. The daily walk gently undoes the damage caused by the sedentary lifestyle of the writer and the lightens the mental load.

It’s okay to keep company with the black dog. But if you don’t walk it daily, it just might turn on you.