It’s 9.33 pm and I’m in a house in a vineyard in Barrydale on the edge of the Karoo with two other people and we are locked in a battle to the death, partly with each other, partly with a common foe. I haven’t slept in three days. Worst of all, there’s a cricket.
I don’t know what kind of crickets they breed out here but they are wily and loud. They make a shrill, metallic screech: part steam-whistle, part swinging metal sign outside a petrol station on a forgotten side-road in the dusty American West, circa 1963. On Friday, when we arrived, I quite liked it.
We are here to map out a drama series. I’m sure it’ll be a good series, with twists and turns and all sorts of good things like character development and ad breaks and so forth, but it’s quite a thing to make a drama series. It’s a great vast intricate organism, populated with smaller but no less intricate organisms who have to be real and do things that are convincing but also interesting, and it has to simultaneously surprise you and seem inevitable, but more than anything, when you create something, you have to transform the universe we all live in from a place in which this thing doesn’t exist to one in which it does, and that’s not as easy as it sounds.
It’s a wonderful day. The air is crisp and the sunlight bright on the fields and we have worlds to discover. We are beaming, Bra Dix and Jo and I. Oh, the adventures we’ll have, oh, the characters we’ll find along the way. The creative road leads to the sunlit uplands, and we’ll skipalong it, arm in arm in arm.
“What’s that noise?” says Bra Dix.
“It’s a cricket,” I say. “It must have got into the house.”
“It’s nice,” says Jo.
It is nice, we agree. It feels auspicious, the outside world of nature mingling with our inside world of culture. It’s like a mascot.
“So I think the murder should happen in the first episode,” I say.
“Oh really?” said Bra Dix. “I was thinking more like episode five.”
Hmmm, we think, looking at each other.
It’s nice to be working on a creative project, we all still agree. It would have been nicer if we’d covered a bit more ground yesterday, but we discussed the lead character at length, and that’s a good start, we still have four more days. The cricket was quite loud last night, we also agree. Is it somewhere in the lounge? Jo thinks it ‘s in the kitchen. She has had experience with crickets. Never mind, it’s a welcome guest. It’s the fourth Musketeer.
I think that cricket is behind the fridge. I’ve looked everywhere else. The fridge is too big to be easily moved, so he is like the Trojans and I’m the besieging Greek army. There’s a reason that nature is kept outside. All night, it kept up that nagging chirp, like some cruel and more aggressive Jiminy Cricket. I lay awake listening and it sounded like my conscience nagging that I am a fraud, a busker, I am no creator. “Who are you fooling?” shrilled the cricket, louder every minute. I now think the murder should be in episode 5. Bra Dix now thinks it should be episode 1. Jo is wondering whether there needs to be a murder at all.
“What are you doing with the fridge?” said Jo at 4am this morning.
“I’m moving it,” I said. “It’s him or me. I’ll burn this whole house down if I have to.”
We are lifeless husks. We slouch at the table, boneless and broken as scarecrows, headpieces stuffed with straw. Creativity is myth, something that happens to other people. We can’t do this. We should be accountants, lawyers, fitters and turners. There is nothing inside me waiting to come out except tiredness, self-loathing and fear. The cricket is going to mock me forever.
“What if,” Jo says, “the murder has happened before the series even starts?”
There is silence at the table. I look at her. Bra Dix looks at her. We look at each other.
“That could work,” says Bra Dix slowly.
“That could solve it,” I say. “We could show it in flashbacks.”
We sit up straight, eyes shining with possibility. It’s imaginable! Creativity isn’t so hard! You just have to persevere past the beginning. And listen to that – even that damn cricket has stopped! Crickets have short life spans! We didn’t have to find him and kill him, we just outlived him! Life is good when you’re a human! And we still have a whole day left!
The ideas fly fast and free. We have all the ideas in the world. We have ideas out the wazoo. Soon Bra Dix will go back to Joburg and Jo will return to other work and then it will just be me at my desk, writing up all these wonderful ideas. It will be fine. It will be easy. Nothing is bothering me, but say, is it my imagination or is that another cricket, somewhere in the house?
The Times, 7 August 2019