In a past issue of The Guardian Review (the highlight of my Saturdays, the issues pile up beside my bed) Edward St Aubyn had a short piece on writing Mother’s Milk, where he talks about the role of inspiration, receptiveness and patience in writing a novel. Much of what he said resonated with me, and with my experience of writing The Courtesan’s Reply – a sequence of poems written in response to The Caturbhani, 4 monologue plays written in Sanskrit in 300BC. In the plays, a Buddhist nun is sent as a messenger from a courtesan to a patron who has forgotten her, whom she wants back. The man rapes the messenger and later brags about it laughingly to the narrator. When I first sought to voice the nun’s version of events, I had her pleading with her violator, appealing to his sense of morality. But it didn’t ring true for her character – she is too dignified and self-possessed. In the end, in my poem, she prevents the rape by extolling the charms of the woman who sent her, shifting his attention away from herself.
Later, St Aubyn confesses to being ‘technologically incompetent’ and tells of how, when he attempted to change the name of a character from Mark to Patrick using the ‘change all’ function on his computer, he ended up with characters going to the ‘superpatricket’ and saying ‘Patrick my words’!
Now I really want to read Mother’s Milk – because of the writer glimpsed behind it.