Stories and meta-stories

Yesterday evening, as I sat on a bus, my brain tied itself in knots. This is how it happened. By the way, in my own defence I should probably say I had just got off the train from York, where I had been that day for a six hour meeting and some urgent 1906 train carriage research. That probably explains some of what follows.

It started with an encounter with a slightly drunk man at the bus stop. He was standing there when I arrived and, as is the custom here, I completely ignored him. The first sign that he was slightly drunk was that he said the word ‘madam’, at first in a quiet voice and then louder and louder until I decided the only way to stop him was to speak to him. Actually he turned out to be not unpleasant and we had quite a long chat while waiting for the bus, with the only slightly odd part of our conversation being that he mistook my accent for a Northern Irish one.

When the bus finally arrived, I quickly found a seat next to the person I thought least likely to try and engage me in conversation, mainly because she was eating a tub of yogurt. With nothing else to do, my mind then started to work out whether my bus stop conversation was interesting enough to tell my son about when I got home, and I automatically started to formulate the whole thing into a sort of story shape, even trying out various first sentences and endings.

This isn’t something I have any conscious control over, by the way. My mind has just always done it. I am not sure if people who aren’t writers do it too. Coincidentally I had a conversation about this very thing at the local NaNoWriMo kick-off party last weekend. And so on the bus, while I was thinking about whether to narrate the conversation to my son or not, my mind started to formulate another story which I could tell the person I had the discussion at the kick-off party with, about my conversation at the bus stop and how I had formed it into a story to tell my son.

At this point I attempted to draw back from the brink, in the throes of a slight panic attack as my brain knotted the threads even tighter by starting to work out how I could fit this whole web of narratives inside other narratives into a blog post….

National Railway Museum

At the National Railway Museum

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