I’d like to read you a story, one that I wrote earlier this year. It’s called Bread And Olives, and you can download it, if you like, from Ether Quick Reads, via their app. It’s free, and it’s very short.
Last night I did a thing that I have not done for a a very long time. Last night I was impelled to stay awake in order to finish the book I’d begun reading earlier in the day. The book? Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce. Buy it. Read it. Love it. (And when you buy it, why not go to your nearest independent bookseller – it’s Independent Booksellers’ Week. Keep books on the High Street, help prop up the pitiful excuse for our economy, and keep people like me in our jobs.)
And now that June is almost ended, the philadelphus joins with the honeysuckle in scenting the briefer hours of darkness. And I’m galumphing through another book… and will soon be galumphing back to the Second Draft. I’ve been re-inspired.
The Muse – one’s Muse – is a strange beast. Flighty even. But I trust mine. Sometimes, it is true, it does let me down; who has not experienced the allure of a new idea, a new story that promises so much, yet once the writing of it is begun, it peters out, dissolves into nothingness, leaving the writer frustrated, peevish, and in my case, sleep deprived and a nightmare to live with? I know that some of you are nodding in agreement – I’ve read your Facebook posts ; )
But when the Muse leads me straight and true, and the words flow and time bends – those are the good times. When the scribbled notes that last week appeared only as a random agglomeration of feelings and half-thoughts merge into a cohesive theme, expression, or even – dare I whisper it – a plot, those are the good times. This is why I trust my Muse, even when I am led to write things that I would not normally consider writing, never mind reading. There is no limit to creativity, only moulding, shaping, refining.
The writer writes, the reader reads. Once the chosen words are committed to the page, after all the processes of editing, redrafting, swearing, staring out of the window, finding wondrous new ways of procrastination etc, etc – in short, once the piece is actually finished, then the writer’s involvement in the reader’s experience is over; the old gap between – perceived – authorial intent and the reader’s expectations/experiences, begins here. The writer is not responsible for the reader. The beginnings of that chasm can be seen in the crit process. There will always be those in the crit circle who ‘get’ the writer, and there will be those who see something else on the page, something that the writer didn’t intend, didn’t envisage, or simply did not put there. I find this curious – baffling even, but I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for other peoples’ stylistic preferences, or prejudices. For instance, someone recently made what seemed to me to be a very curious assertion in relation to a short story draft. They suggested that it was wrong for one character to say of another that she looked like a mermaid, because they were nowhere near the sea. The more I think about it, the more baffled I become. Never mind the issues of voice, of what is in keeping for how the characters think, speak, act, never mind even the blurring of the line between realism and verisimilitude. Is it just me? Or is that simply… baffling? (And by the way, this is not to imply that I do not respect the opinion of the one who made this suggestion – I do. But I’m still baffled.)
I have a dilemma. And it’s all my own fault. The story that I’m trying – and the emphasis is definitely on trying – to partly re-write/edit/not butcher, has a section that reads like a bad 80s pop video, circa 1983. Think Adam Ant, and lip gloss. This is the story that is on its 8th life. And it is the 80s section that needs most work.( Oh yes, and the ending.) Now the thing is, I know how to fix it. It’s just actually fixing it. I know what needs to change, and where the changes need to go, more or less. It’s the writing of it that is driving me around the bend. I’ve spent all this month, and most of last month, thinking about this – it takes a few weeks for things to sift through in my head; the breakthrough only arrived properly last Wednesday night, if I recall. And I’ve grasped the edges of it, and have begun to draw the cloth of it towards me, reaching into the middle to change the pattern. So why isn’t it happening?! I’ve done the procrastination thing. I’ve done the housework – most of it anyway. I’ve baked, I’ve cooked, I’ve roasted. I’ve finished reading another two books. (The City And The City, Miéville, and We Are All Made Of Glue, Lewycka – both thoroughly enjoyable.) I’ve got to the point where even contemplating blogging has become a new prevarication. Hence the lack of a new entry up until now. I’ve tweaked things in the story, tightening phrases, cutting extraneous details that add little to the overall effect. But how do I go from 80s pop video to something sleeker, deadlier, darker? I can feel it. I can see it. I just can’t seem to bloody well DO it. Grrr.
Things have been a little slow here lately, largely owing to the ongoing battle with my own head. A combination of stress and poor sleep has culminated in a rather ugly migraine, which is still doing its best to linger. I am winning however, and damn me if I don’t prevail!
Before my head started doing its best to beat me up, I managed to finish my little unexpected foray into the genre of Horror. It still needs a proper title, and a major editorial overhaul at a later stage, but it was jolly good fun to write. I’ve shown it to a couple of people – and even though horror isn’t their thing, either – they loved it. This one might have legs…
I will be reworking the story that is currently on its 8th life, as soon as the new printer cartridge arrives. This one needs editing on the page in order to be effectively rewritten. And of course, the play-list will need reviving too; I’ll be listening to a lot of Muse, later this week; I need to, to get the right feeling for the Main Character. She’s a whole year old, born of listening to Muse after seeing The Watchmen at the cinema, last February. And recently I changed her name, just a little. The prospect of revisiting her, and her first story, makes me rather happy.
What else? I finally finished reading The Pregnant Widow. I have to say that I quite liked it. Bits of it – chunks of it – I found quite puerile. But then to take the meaning literally, perhaps that is Amis’ intent? Of course, I have not the experience of having been a confused young man trying to get laid – and more – during the sexual revolution; given that this is sold as an autobiographical novel, then I pity the poor sod. I seriously doubt that to have been his intent however. And the rest of it? Once into the swing of it, I rather enjoyed the reading of it. Interesting, thought provoking, even at times, arresting. I can’t say that I’m inclined to rush out and read his back-list though; too many books, too little time! So what will it be next? China Miéville’s The City and The City? Or Marina Lewycka’s We Are All Made of Glue? Or perhaps a change of pace, another foray into historical biography? Decisions…
Another thing which makes me inordinately happy is that the apple tree is about to firework into blossom – gloriously heady scented white blossom, and then the aquilegias will be out, and the wisteria will acquire fatly swelling buds, and then it all rushes together, this lovely season we call Spring.