This stage of the process always reminds me of a very particular scene in a James Herriot story I listened to repeatedly when I was small. For those who don't know the James Herriot books, they are semi-autobiographical stories based on his time working as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales in the middle of the last century. They are well worth reading if you haven't already... anyway, I digress from a digression... So, James has just met the man who will become his employer, the excellently named Siegfried Farnon, and he is being taken around various farms by way of an assessment for the job. The first visit he makes is to a lame horse and Siegfried asks him what he thinks is wrong:
“Which leg do you make it?” my colleague asked. “Near fore? Yes, I think so, too. Like to examine it?”I put my hand on the foot, feeling how much hotter it was than the other. I called for a hammer and tapped the wall of the hoof. The horse flinched, raised the foot and held it trembling for a few seconds before replacing it carefully on the ground. “Looks like pus in the foot to me.”“I’ll bet you’re right,” Farnon said. “They call it gravel around here, by the way. What do you suggest we do about it?”“Open up the sole and evacuate the pus.”“Right.” He held out a hoof knife. “I’ll watch your technique.”With the uncomfortable feeling that I was on trial, I took the knife, lifted the foot and tucked it between my knees. I knew what I had to do—find the dark mark on the sole where the infection had entered and follow it down till I reached the pus. I scraped away the caked dirt and found not one, but several marks. After more tapping to find the painful area I selected a likely spot and started to cut.The horn seemed as hard as marble and only the thinnest little shaving came away with each twist of the knife. The horse, too, appeared to appreciate having his sore foot lifted off the ground and gratefully leaned his full weight on my back. He hadn’t been so comfortable all day. I groaned and dug him in the ribs with my elbow and, though it made him change his position for a second, he was soon leaning on again.The mark was growing fainter and, after a final gouge with the knife, it disappeared altogether. I swore quietly and started on another mark. With my back at breaking point and the sweat trickling into my eyes, I knew that if this one petered out, too, I would have to let the foot go and take a rest. And with Farnon’s eye on me I didn’t want to do that.Agonisingly, I hacked away and, as the hole deepened, my knees began an uncontrollable trembling. The horse rested happily, his fifteen hundredweight cradled by this thoughtful human. I was wondering how it would look when I finally fell flat on my face when, under the knife blade, I saw a thin spurt of pus followed by a steady trickle.“There it goes,” the farmer grunted. “He’ll get relief now.”I enlarged the drainage hole and dropped the foot. It took me a long time to straighten up and when I stepped back, my shirt clung to my back.“Well done, Herriot.” Farnon took the knife from me and slipped it into his pocket. “It just isn’t funny when the horn is as hard as that.”
For some reason that scene got stuck in my head and whenever I am trying to come up with new stories I think of it. It seems to me that new stories are like those little marks on the horse's hoof. When you begin working away you are sure that this will be the one but the more you work the less sure you are until finally it comes to nothing. You have to pick yourself up and start on another mark and dig away at that one and hope that this time you were right. The more times you dig and find nothing the harder it gets to try again.
I think I have about four little marks to dig at the moment. I'll introduce them individually in later posts...