AROUND THE BLOCK • by Jonathan Pinnock

Can’t think who it was who I first heard about it from — in fact, can’t even remember where it was. Probably at last year’s conference, or perhaps the summer school. Or was it one of the circle meetings? Hardly matters. The thing is, as soon as I heard whoever it was, wherever it was, mention it, I realised that was what I needed. Took me a while to get hold of some, though.

I finally tracked it down to a little shop just off Acre Lane, called the Writers’ Apothecary. I’d vaguely heard of it years ago, and I must have walked past it dozens of times, but I’d never actually noticed it before. When I went in, the counter was unattended. Behind it stood rows and rows of dusty wooden cabinets, full of little drawers, each labelled neatly in faded black ink. I rang the bell. Whilst I waited for someone to appear, I scanned the yellowing testimonials from past customers that were pinned on the walls. I was studying a letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, expressing his gratitude for the medication, without which he would never have managed Kubla Khan, when a voice jerked me out of my reverie.

“That was before they revoked our Opium licence,” remarked a man in a white coat.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Coleridge. Regular customer, so they say. Mind you, we’ve served them all here. What can I do for you?”

“Er… yes,” I replied. “Need a Writer’s Block.”

“Writer’s Block, eh? This should do the trick.” The pharmacist opened one of the drawers and produced a small purple phial. I examined the label closely. It read, “Patterson’s Lex Lax. Guaranteed to open the creative sluices.” Lower down, in much smaller print, it added, “May cause drowsiness in readers.” The penny dropped.

“Ah no,” I said, “I haven’t got Writer’s Block. Writer’s Block is what I need. My problem is that I can’t stop writing.”

The pharmacist’s eyes narrowed. “We don’t usually prescribe anything for that unless it’s really serious. What line of work are you in?”

“I’m… not. Got fired last month. Mind not on the job.”

“Married?”

“No. Left me the month before.”

“Kids?”

“I… think so.”

“How many?”

I hesitated. It was so hard remembering these things sometimes.

“Okay, it’s serious,” agreed the pharmacist eventually. “Now, have you tried any of the standard techniques?”

“Such as?”

“Well… have you tried just concentrating on writing one totally inappropriate thing, like an EBASIAN?”

“EBASIAN?” I queried.

“Extremely Boring And Self-Indulgent Autobiographical Novel.”

“Oh no,” I replied, “I did write one of those once, yes, but I couldn’t help writing lots of other things at the same time. Couldn’t switch off. Finished the novel eventually, too.”

“Any good?”

“No, dreadful.”

“Hmmm. Have you tried obsessively concentrating on the first paragraph of a short story until you have got it just right?”

“No, if it’s not right, I just leave it and come back to it later. Either it gets going eventually, or it turns into an article on bungee-jumping in Nepal. Or possibly a BBC3 comedy show.”

“A BBC3 comedy show?”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“I see. Do you use a PC?”

“Yes.”

“How about giving that up, then?”

“I’ve forgotten how to hold a pen.”

“Okay, how about using a really nasty and frustrating word processing package?”

“I looked, but I couldn’t find one. They’re all too good these days.”

The pharmacist was beginning to show signs of exasperation. “All right then, how about social networking instead of getting down to writing?”

“Oh, I tried that. I ended up writing a guide to Twitter hashtag games.”

“Have you tried just staring at the wall?”

“Oh yes. I didn’t realise how interesting walls were. I wrote a poem called ‘The Crack’. Anthologised in ‘Poetry Now: Interiors.’”

“Sounds awful.”

“It was.”

The pharmacist looked me in the eye, shook his head, and gave a long sigh. Finally, he went to another drawer, and produced an unlabelled bottle of yellow pills.

“Okay. You win. Twice a day, after meals. Five pound twenty-five, please.”

I gave him the money. “Is it any good?” I asked, as an afterthought.

“Is it any good? Is it any good?” He checked to see that no one else was in the pharmacy. Then he bent down and took a photograph out of a drawer. The woman’s face looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it until I saw the signature across the bottom.

“Oh, I see.”

The pharmacist nodded sagely, and tapped the bottle. “Over fifty years since To Kill a Mockingbird. Is it any good, indeed!”

I left the Writer’s Apothecary with a spring in my step. It’s been three months now, and this is the first thing I’ve written, and I’ve only written this because I feel that everyone should know about it. And the really wonderful thing is, these days, I can stop whenever I want. Just like this.


Jonathan Pinnock has had quite a lot of stuff published here and there and has even won a few prizes. His novel, “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” will be published by Proxima Books in either the Autumn or the Fall of 2011, depending on your linguistic preference.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Nina

    Love the dialogue. The first two paragraphs were tough to get through, though. Nice finish.

  • I was expecting an end that reflected back onto this article itself, but I was expecting it to use itself as an example of how the author couldn’t avoid writing, not of how the writing became under control.

  • A very clever and pithy concept indeed, but then nothing less is expected from Mr Pinnock these days. Love the end line. I find the whole idea rather difficult to believe though, I mean, who would ever want to stop writing?

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Loved this one, although I agree it deserves a smoother start than that first sentence The dialogue was hilarious, and the problems familiar. I seem to have overlooked Twitter hashtags, though.

    Sheila

  • An excellent read.

  • Agreed the first paragraph was a bit frustrating, but after that, classic Pinnock. I’ll end here.

  • Do you ever feel that life is taking the p***? I mean, like somewhere very close there’s a parallel dimension where someone can tweak things to really wind you up. As of now I’m convinced 1) there is such a place 2) Jonathan Pinnock (or his alter ego) lives there, and 3) He’s got it in for me.

    To explain: Last Saturday – yes, just two days ago – Jon and a bevy of his cronies met up at an amazing event called Get Writing held annually by Verulam Writers’ Circle http://www.verulamwriterscircle.org.uk/ (book early for next year). And I almost missed the entire event due to what I can only describe as the worst case scenario of writers’ – or anybody’s – block (no, DON’T ask). Boy did I ever need Patterson’s Lex Lax.

    And you’re telling me this is all a coincidence? Infamy! Infamy!

    ‘Nuther great one, mate. (Do think they’re right about that first line though)

    😉 scar

  • Splendid piece. I always thought a writer’s block was a gallows.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    That’s a classic Mr Pinnock, sir. I might even write a piece on it in my blog when I finish the poem I am currently writing about writing the last poem I wrote or was it someone elses… 🙂

  • “Okay, how about using a really nasty and frustrating word processing package?”
    “I looked, but I couldn’t find one. They’re all too good these days.”

    Apparently the narrator has never used MS Word…

    Great piece. 5 stars

  • #10 Jeff Yay! *ROFL*

    😉 scar

  • Clever!

  • Thanks everyone – and many, many apologies, Oscar 🙂

  • fishlovesca

    Yes, clever and very British.

  • Jonathan (if I may):

    Having been born in a punnery to an unread mother, I adore wordplay. And I adored your story. Just picking apart “Patterson’s Lex Lax” for both the pun and the dig at the bestselling hack, was worth the price of admission.

    As a native of the rebellious colonies, I’m not quite sure of the significance of “BBC3.” I assume that’s the same channel that aired “When the Whistle Blows” starring Andy Millman? 🙂

    I agree that the first two paragraphs were a bit rough. In fact, in rereading it, I believe the first paragraph could be chopped off entirely and still leave a coherent story. But then, the last chapter of Huckleberry Finn had its faults as well.

    Five stars, old chap!

  • Jen

    A very intresting idea. I’ve never been lucky enough to need something to cause writer’s block but I’m sure the writer’s block cure would come in handy.

  • P.K.D. fan

    Hey, the comments are almost as good as the excellent story!

    I like #15 “Having been born in a punnery to an unread mother”!

  • Enjoyed this.

  • Sorry, Jon? Yeah, you would say that. Infamy! Infamy!

    🙂 scar

  • John Im

    one of the funniest stories I have read ever, especially
    for writers ! I think I need this medicine. I have too
    many ideas for stories which I wish someone else would
    actually write for me, being lazy by nature. The dialogue
    was as real and droll as Pickwick Papers or Mark Twain.

  • Rose Gardener

    I can imagine the sequel already…the little blue pills needed to couteract the side-effect of ceasing to write (boredom); then a little pink pill to overcome the side-effect of boredom, the hitherto unknown depression…

    I prescribe 5 stars and a large dose of Mr. Pinnock to any writer waiting patiently at a PC for inspiration to hit them. 🙂

  • I like it.

  • Kit

    Funny, breezy, delightful. Once we got to the pharmacy, the pacing was perfect and the back and forth between the two was so smooth and engaging. Really enjoyed reading this!

  • Nicky Phillips

    Good one, Jon – thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Keep ’em coming …

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  • Bonnie

    I think everyone has said about everything I was thinking when I read this story. So, I will just say five stars. Great stuff.

  • Many thanks everyone – really appreciate your kind comments!

  • Ev

    Heh, heh and ditto what others said. A very fun read! A nice twist on Writer’s Block (or lack thereof).

  • Chris

    Oh, yeah — add my voice to what has been said before:

    Great concept; stellar ending; delightful dialogue deftly delivered; and overall a fabulous story, although the opening is a bit rambling and could stand some chopping.

    4.5 stars, teetering on 5 with some honing of the first paragraphs.

  • Leah Casconi

    Because I work in the medical field I love the imagery this story created for me. Very funny story.

  • Thanks very much, Ev, Chris and Leah!

  • Absolutely brilliant. Loved it, Jon.

  • Thanks, Cate 🙂