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.”
“No. Left me the month before.”
“I… think so.”
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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.’”
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.