deep green earth



Stuck in a well

Joe Gray

Publication date: 17 April 2020

When Judith Elm had started out as a writer, she never supposed the day would come when her well of ideas began to dry up. Indeed, at the dawn of her career she could almost guarantee a new premise or two in that most fertile period of the day: the half-hour between shutting off the alarm clock and taking a first bite of medium-cut marmalade on perfectly charred toast.

For the mature Judith, something approaching inspiration came only once or twice a month, and she carried a notebook with her as a habit. She could not afford to let any thought-germs retreat back into her subconscious.

After one especially barren winter, Judith emerged in the doorway of her little cottage on the edge of an ancient wood. While she had not intended to stray past her porch, she found her feet carrying her through a landscape of proud daffodils, bickering jays, and bumblebee queens nectaring on pussy willow.

Then came an idea. It was by no means perfect or even complete, but it was, at least, a lump of clay with which she could work. Alas, by the time that she had got back to her cottage and her notebook, the clay was gone.

First, the author chastised herself. How could she be so stupid? Then she resolved to do everything that she possibly could to recover the lost thought. She retraced the steps that she had taken through the woodland each morning and afternoon, day after day, throughout the spring. The wood anemones burst into flower and the hornbeams and oaks came into leaf. Winter flocks of tits fragmented into family units.

Ideas came to Judith with a renewed vigour—they were far better ideas than the one she had lost. But she did not know this, and she cast them aside. She continued to search, with blank notebook in hand, all the while growing embittered with life's cruel fate. Consumed by self-loathing, she stopped eating breakfast and smashed her alarm clock.

Autumn came and then another winter. The author never wrote anything more. The next spring, she did not emerge from her cottage.