The first ten seconds of this story are the most important, if you’re a slow reader, I apologise because this isn’t very important – the next bit is. It happened like this: I sat down with no idea in my head at all, ideas aren’t cheap and I’d run out. I had asked my wife to go out and pick a few up for me when she went out to get a loaf of bread. She came back with these:
1. a car gets stuck up a giant’s nose
2. a man can’t stop thinking about carrots
3. a girl is given the gift of ice – everything she touches turns to ice.
I put them in the cupboard for later in the week. I didn’t want to use them up quickly.
“The first ten seconds are the most important in a story,” I said to her, “so it’s not ideas I want, it’s a good beginning.”
“Why not use that?” she said, “you know, the first ten seconds, and so on. I like that.”
“But what would come next?”
“Well,” she said, cutting the bread for some toast (she’s always eating toast) “why not go on to tell the story of the girl with the gift of ice.”
It was a good idea. But how would I get the story going. That was always the problem, getting the story to pick up speed.
“Well, you could write about an ordinary day, you know, just like this, when something odd happens.”
And strangely enough, at that exact moment there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” I said, “it’s probably that girl with the gift of ice.”
And sure enough – it was.
Alice Price stood on my doorstep. I had met her many times before, she was the daughter of a friend of mine.
“Dad sent me over,” she said, “he thinks I may have something you could use in a story.”
“Come in, please,” I said.
As I let her in I shouted out to my wife, “Mary, it’s Alice.”
She went ahead of me into the kitchen.
“Hi, Alice,” said May. “I was just making some toast, would you like some?”
“No, no, I can’t. It’s part of what I’ve come to see you about. It’s this gift. This gift of ice.”
Mary looked up at me. A very knowing look. “I told you,” she said to me.
“What is it, what does it mean?” I asked Alice.
“I’m not sure but let me tell you how it happened.” She sat down at the table.
“Last week, I think it was Thursday, I was doing my homework in my bedroom, it was about half past five. I was thinking of how I could start a story I’d been asked to write. The title we’d been given was ‘Looking for the Answer’. Well, I just couldn’t think of anything when just at that moment there was a knock on my bedroom door. It was my dad, he said there was a phone call for me. I went downstairs and picked up the phone. It was Sandy, a girl I’d met on holiday last year. She said that she was going to send me a present and when I received it I was to open it very carefully, it would break if I wasn’t careful. This gave me an idea for a story. I’d write about Sandy’s phonecall and make up the rest.
I wrote my story quickly and didn’t think too much about it. In my story Sandy sends me a bottle of perfume. It gives me a strange power – the gift of ice, everything I touch turns to ice. At first I’m able to get rid of things I don’t like. I touch ugly buildings and dangerous roads – they turn to ice then melt away. I touch factories that pollute and cars that are parked on the pavement, that sort of thing.
When Sandy’s present arrived, you won’t believe it, it was a bottle of perfume. Here look.”
Alice pulled a small box out of her jacket pocket. She took out a tiny frosty blue bottle. Etched into the glass were the words:
THE GIFT OF ICE
“Alice,” I said, “I’ve been looking for an idea. Can I use this?”
“But this is happening,” she said, “what should I do? Do you think I should open it? Do you think it could be the gift of ice I made up in my story?”
“Of course not, it’s just coincidence.” She passed the bottle to me. “No, don’t open it. Let me write a stroy about it. Let me finish, then open it. If it is what you think it is, well, we’ll just have to use it carefully.”
Mary munched toast. Alice stood in the centre of the room. I held the bottle.
I eventually wrote my story and showed it to Alice. She thought it was quite good but not as good as hers.
“Mine had a much better ending,” she said.
I didn’t ask her what it was but I expect she was right