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Your item will be delivered between 7am and 6pm, says the machine on the telephone. I have to stay at home all day waiting for the doorbell to ring. It’s an ideal opportunity to write a story.

I find myself tidying out the kitchen drawers instead.

Such is the contrariness of inspiration that it never strikes when you want it to, when you have a pen to hand or are sitting at your laptop and blessedly free from being interrupted. Instead it has a malicious habit of darting unexpectedly into your brain at the most inconvenient moment possible. An idea for a twist in a plot or another aspect of a character comes into your head while your nice neighbour is talking to you about the best time to cut the hedge. You try to pay attention but all the time your mind is drifting and you are worried that it’s showing on your face.

I once read – I hope I am not making this up – that Jilly Cooper used to rush into the ladies at parties to record funny scraps of conversation. That was in the bad old days before soft lavatory paper.

Provident writers carry a notebook around so that they can jot things down on the move – but you can guarantee that it’s when you forget to have it with you that a particularly splendid idea comes knocking.

This is bad news. For it’s not just that you dread forgetting the substance of the idea by the time you get home, but the dismal certainty that you will forget you had an idea at all.

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