This was originally written for the Get Writing 2012 Advent Calendar.

 

It is true that Mr Darcy was not known to be a man of many words, but on this bright November morn he was even more taciturn than usual. He was sitting at his writing desk, staring at a blank piece of paper, apparently deep in thought.

‘Are you well, my dear?’ enquired his wife. ‘You seem ill at ease.’

Mr Darcy appeared to take some time to realise he had been spoken to. ‘I’m sorry?’ he said eventually.

‘Fitzy, my dear, is there something the matter? Your silence is particularly vexatious today.’

Her husband turned in his chair and gave her a serious look. He gave the impression of having some important news to impart whilst at the same time being unable to determine the most appropriate manner in which to do so.

‘Fitzy?’ she said again.

‘I … Elizabeth, my dear, I have decided I should write a book. A novel.’

Elizabeth Darcy blinked at him.

‘A novel, my dear?’ she said. ‘How perfectly extraordinary!’ This was indeed a remarkable development. ‘May I enquire as to how such an unusual notion presented itself to you?’

‘Well, ’tis funny you should say that, because the idea came about when I was discoursing with a chap I met in London recently. Member of the aristocracy in fact. Went by the name of – now what was it? – ah yes, Lord Byron.’

Elizabeth shot him a look and her husband’s demeanour immediately abandoned its brief foray into animation and reverted back to its former reticence. ‘Did I hear you say Lord Byron, Fitzy?’ she said. ‘Well, that is certainly most unexpected. I was unaware you had come into contact with him.’ (This was true – while Byron had most certainly taken part in their most recent adventures, at no point had the two men actually come into contact.)

‘It was … it was at … it was in London.’

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. ‘Really? I do hope you have not been frequenting the same establishments as that man. One hears tales of all manner of occurrences, many of which involve practices the like of which I do not pretend to even pronounce correctly.’ She paused. ‘Fitzy? You seem to be perspiring. Are you sure you are not unwell?’

‘No, I am perfectly well. I am … simply at a loss as to how I should proceed with my novel. I seem to be in want of a sufficiently well-stocked imagination.’

‘My dear,’ said Elizabeth. ‘I would sadly concur that for all your many excellent other qualities, you would indeed seem to be wanting in that area.’

Mr Darcy was crestfallen. ‘’Tis true then. But is there nothing I can do?’

Elizabeth smiled at him. ‘Curiously enough, there is. I have heard tell of a conference for writers being held not far from my parents’ home in Longbourne, Hertfordshire. There are guest speakers and even a chance to pitch your work to an agent or editor. More significantly for you, there is the opportunity to attend a workshop being held by none other than the famous writer Mr Jonathan Pinnock on unleashing the power of your imagination!’

‘Great heavens! I must go! But one moment – I recognise that name. Is he not the author of that ghastly travesty of a book about our recent struggles against the alien hordes that would devour our great nation?’

‘No, silly. You’re thinking of that dreadful Austen woman. The one who writes all the stuff about zombies.’

‘Ah, well that’s a relief, my dear. I’d hate to get attacked by zombies. That would be most unfortunate.’

‘’Twould indeed, my dear. ’Twould indeed.’

‘So when is this conference taking place? I must be certain to secure a place before it sells out.’

‘February 2012, my dear.’

There was a brief silence.

‘2012? Did I hear you correctly, Elizabeth? Surely we would require a time machine, and my understanding is that such a device is not yet available to us in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, the whole genre of science fiction barely exists today.’

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. ‘Imagination, my dear. You have to learn to use your imagination.’

Mr Darcy looked confused for a moment and then smiled absently back at his wife. ‘I see. I see. Or rather I do not see at all, but no doubt you will be able to do the necessary seeing for me. Anyway, this Pinnock fellow – what does he write about?’

‘Well, all sorts of things really. Aliens, funambulists, talking dogs. That sort of thing. Oh yes, and an elephant appearing in someone’s drawing room.’

‘How extraordinary! And why would it do that?’

‘It’s a kind of physical manifestation of a metaphor, I believe. The so-called ‘elephant in the room’. That is to say – ‘

‘I see the elephant!’ came a woman’s voice from the doorway. ‘I see his sharp ivory tusks! Watch the way the great leathery trunk swings back and forth, like an outsized – ‘

‘Ah, Charlotte, my dear,’ said Elizabeth to the newcomer. ‘I trust you feel refreshed after your sleep?’

Charlotte Collins stood there, swaying slightly, her eyes aglow with fervid exhilaration. ‘The walls!’ she cried, pointing towards Mr Darcy. ‘The walls! They run with the blood of a thousand gerbils!’

Elizabeth sighed. ‘Then again,’ she said, ‘There are some people who have sufficient imagination to keep a whole battalion of writers in work. I believe ’tis time for your medication, my dear.’