The other day I was scuttling, as one does, across the floors of silent seas. There is no light down there, and it was cold and very wet. But that’s the bottom of the sea for you. It’s no picnic – though I’ve had my fair share of picnics in the cold and wet. I recall one particular childhood picnic where the lid was left off the marmalade jar, and soon enough it contained half marmalade, half rainwater. I was an inquisitive child. I screwed the lid back on the jar and shook it, violently, until the two substances, the marmalade and the rainwater, were mixed together.
Years later, I wrote a book about this experiment, called Marmalade And Rainwater. Some of you may know of it. It was a bestseller, and won several prestigious awards, including the Prix Poubelle. With the money I received for that, I was able to buy an Alpine chalet with its own private funicular railway.
Success prompted the idea that I could mine my memories of childhood picnics for further books. I began work on a fictionalised account of one such picnic, provisionally entitled Sausages And Wasps. But I couldn’t make it work. After every few pages I would grow exasperated and despairing, and scrunch up what I’d written and toss it down a waste chute. I realised that I was temperamentally incapable of writing about this picnic, even in the guise of fiction, because it had taken place on a hot dry sunny day, whereas what spoke to my imagination was the cold wet picnic.
It seems, though, that readers prefer their literary picnics dry and sunny. My second book, More Marmalade And Further Rainwater, was a complete flop, selling fewer than a dozen copies and winning no prizes whatsoever. It did not take long before I faced financial ruin, so I decided to sell up and move elsewhere. But I made the foolish mistake of selling the funicular railway first. This meant I was unable to go to and from the Alpine chalet without paying a hefty fare for each journey to the new owners, a family of goatherds unparalleled in their rapacity.
How, then, did I get from my high Alpine home to where I am now, lingering in the chambers of the sea? Ah, that will be the subject of my next book, a non-picnic-based memwa. I am taking my time over it. There will be time, there will be time for a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea. And I shall spread my toast with a mixture of marmalade and rainwater.