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Those words stare out at me like a challenge, needling my sides as I sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard, ready to type but nothing ever seems to happen.  They just hover for a short while before I retract them and think about putting the kettle on for another black coffee to help stimulate the mind.

It’s morning, perhaps it is too early, maybe I should go back to bed and have a nap?  Dreams are a great place for ideas to collide after all.  The afternoon is a much better time to write, perhaps even the early evening?

These thoughts twirl around my head as I set up the rest of my day with the routine tasks of living.  Soon I find I have no time to sit and write, life is falling into place and I do have to work for a living and help with the upkeep of my young family.  The joys of feeding toddlers and playing imaginary games, the book can wait can’t it, if I just take this quick break to think I’m a fish ready to nibble her little feet?  To see that laugh and that smile lights me up like nothing else could or can, even the thought of being a published author is pushed to the back of my mind.

Here then is my kingdom of heaven.  Let me turn off the television and turn down the radio, the news cannot intrude into paradise today.  We are alone in our tight family unit and we are happy here.

The book niggles at me during the night, when I am lying down trying to both sleep and to escape.  Instead the demon rises up in the form of a thousand empty pages, all flickering to the bitter empty end.

My bank account could do with the advance that I’d surely get, my name too could do with the prestige.  I could do with the look of pride and honour that would radiate from the faces of those that I love most.

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Those words haunt me so.

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Anger as a Fuel

On life in a Soviet Gulag labour camp in the Russian Far East:

We were all sick of the barracks food. . . Any human feelings – love, friendship, envy, charity, mercy, ambition, decency – had vanished long along with the flesh we had lost during our prolonged starvation. The minuscule layer of muscle that was still left on our bones, and which allowed us to eat, move, breathe, even saw beams, fill barrows with spadefuls of stone and sand, even push a barrow up an endless wooden ramp in the gold mine, had only enough room for resentful anger, the most lasting of human feelings.

– From the short story entitled Field Rations in the new collected edition of Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov, translated by Donald Rayfield. New York Review of Books, 2018.