I should be revising Mystery Manor, book 3 in the Magali Rousseau series. And I am, a little, but since I'm travelling in India, the required concentration is hard to find. There's too much to see. I don't mean sightsee - there's only so much pleasure to be had from garish gods in temples or monkeys scampering by a waterfall. No, India is the street: the buyers and sellers, tuk-tuks and buses, and the challenge of an obstacle course (erroneously called a pavement) while all the while your eyes are darting left and right so as not to miss any action.
And the smiles. They're India too, from merely delightful to full-on dazzling. It struck me the other day that ever since I arrived, I've been in a good mood. Perhaps I was before, but not with quite the same buzz. It comes from having a smile ignited inside me all the time, a pilot flame ready to burst into life at a moment's notice.
It isn't unique to India. I've felt the same in most Asian countries I've been to, as well as some in Africa. Europe? Not so much. The flame takes a bit more effort to ignite. But I hope to keep it with me when I get back.
On October 31st 1662, Samuels Pepys wrote in his diary that he was 'as happy a man as any in the world, for the whole world seems to smile upon me'. He meant good fortune rather than actual smiles, but the metaphor says it all: the two walk hand in hand. Or as George Eliot put it, 'Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.'
There aren't a lot of smiles in Mystery Manor. Touches of humour, yes, but on the whole, it's quite dark. Which leads me to wonder how a writer's inner smile is expressed. Take 1984, one of the bleakest novels ever written. Now admittedly, George Orwell didn't have much of an inner smile, but nor was he perpetually depressed - from the trials he endured early in life he developed a wry humour, a sense of compassion, and a cast-iron resilience which saw him through many more trials, several of which he actively sought to experience. Whether he thus achieved a form of wisdom is open to discussion, but I'm reminded of the end of O Lucky Man!, when Lindsay Anderson, as himself, tells Travis (Malcolm McDowell) to smile. Travis, having been subjected to all manner of arbitrary ups and downs, is at his lowest point ever. 'For what?' he asks. 'There's nothing to smile about.' Whereupon Anderson slaps him and says, 'You don't have to have a reason. Just do it!' And a slow, deep smile of enlightenment spreads across Travis's face. The sort of smile I'd like my writing to have. But now I must go out and get my daily dose from the street.
(This post is inspired by the We Are The World Blogfest, but can't really claim to be part of it. The WATWB has got me thinking a lot - at some point I'll organise the thoughts into an essay. In the meantime, the participants' proper contributions give a good idea of what it's all about.)