The detail is what makes good writing start to sing - Ian McMillan

It’s a Friday as I write this and I’ve just got back from my stroll down the High Street in Wombwell with my bag full of shopping.

Writing is all about noticing the smaller things in life, says Ian McMillan. (JPIMedia).

It’s my Friday routine; I go into a few shops and then I wander along and meet my wife at the supermarket and we pack the shopping into the car because, hey, it’s good to do things together after all these years of marriage.

And, yes, it’s an unremarkable scene that’s very much like many other unremarkable scenes being played out across the country, across the world. People go shopping and they take their shopping home. A few weeks ago, of course, it would have been remarkable to have been wearing a mask but they’re now part of The New Normal Landscape.

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I’m a writer, though, so how do I make this everyday scene shine? Writers have to find inspiration everywhere and we have to train ourselves to see it and if there’s nothing forthcoming in the inspiration department then we have to make it happen. The way I make it happen is by thinking hard about the details of this ordinary event.

It’s raining as I walk along the High Street and so my stroll is really more of a trudge; I love the word trudge because it’s almost but not quite onomatopoeic and you can somehow feel the mud (or sludge, indeed) on the bottom of the trudger’s shoes as they trudge.

The rain is quite heavy and it’s splashing onto my glasses and it’s turning the landscape into something Van Gogh might have painted; a delivery van speeds by and splashes my trousers, delivering a soaking that I hadn’t ordered.

Description is all very well for setting the scene but I need more detail; I need details that are so specific they become universal. I put my hand in my pocket and rummage around to check that the rubber ferrules are still there and as I do so I realise that I’ve hit on the golden tickets that can turn detail into, with a bit of luck, magical realism.

Ah, the ferrules; I’d popped into the DIY shop next to the butcher’s in the hope that they might have a rubber ferrule for my mother-in-law’s fold-up stick. I thought, wrongly, that I might stump them with my rubbery request but when I asked them they, inevitably because they’re that kind of DIY shop, opened a drawer full of rubber ferrules and said “What size?” and I bought two different sizes just in case.

The detail is there and I can build the writing around it. The rain, the glasses misting up and turning my view romantic. The pork pie rolling around in my backpack as I trudge. The splashing vans that wet me so much that I’m laughing. And the ferrules in my pocket; not just any old ferrules – ferrules for my mother-in-law’s folding stick.

Detail: that’s where the writing starts to sing.

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James Mitchinson