Friday, 22 June 2007

The left, right, left right of writing

In October last year, I interviewed a local author for a paper I contribute to. He writes under the name of Sebastian Beaumont and had just had his first mainstream novel published,Thirteen . By that I mean he had had six other works previously published but they would all be classified as gay literature. (Strange how we like to classify, categorise, segment, divide and rule; read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison for more on this theme.)

Apart from having the opportunity to review my first book – I summed it up as being ‘a psychological and textual tease’, and an excellent read it is – I looked forward to questioning Sebastian on how he set about his work. At the back of my mind, I was vaguely hoping to hear phrases like, ‘when I can be bothered’, ‘in an amphetamine-fuelled frenzied haze’ or ‘when the muse flutters down and settles on my shoulder’; indeed any phrase that would let me off the hook from writing something of length myself. But no such luck. The words he actually employed sent shivers across my keyboard; they were ‘discipline’ and ‘routine’.

“Damn,” I thought, “if I had wanted that I’d have joined the army.”

Routine is an anathema to me. I have spent my life avoiding any form of regimentation as I regarded it as the death of the creative idea. In one sense I still believe this to be true. You cannot manufacture or force creative ideas; they arise when your mind has defined all the parameters of the problem you face but not arrived at a logical deduction thereof, or writing would be the equivalent of mathematics in words. Creative solutions are Eureka moments. They arise when your concentration is elsewhere and some connection, or series of connections, is made in your subconscious, et voila, the solution; a unique solution, an original solution because the connections that were made happened in your head and were not mechanically grafted.

On the other hand, creative writing isn’t just about ideas.

There is that word ‘writing’ that implies some form of action. In the first place, writing per se may be regarded as a craft and as such requires practice and hard work. (To generalise, one can say the more one writes the better one writes, though this is not necessarily true for all: I once knew someone who wrote obsessively yet, despite possessing a startling imagination, everything he wrote read like an office memo.)

Within the context of creative writing, however, writing fulfils another function; it provides the parameters through which you create. By that I mean, as you progress so your characters become more sharply delineated by the events, situations or other characters they meet. It is part of the novelist’s job to create these events, etc. to help define the main characters. But as the characters take on dimension and colour so they themselves will help create new events in that they will act and react in a certain way to given situations. There is a poetic circularity to this form of creation.

My conclusion is the very act of writing generates the creative problems that need some form of inspiration to resolve. So if one wishes to write a novel, those dread words routine and discipline perform very necessary functions. Which is not say that you shouldn’t nip off to the wine bar or for a long walk when you become stuck for an idea.

I have discovered, for me, matters move along at a jauntier pace if I first write in longhand. The difficulty I have writing on-screen is that I am so used to writing shorter pieces I have this tendency to constantly self-edit, which means I am concentrating more on the craft than the flow. When I write longhand, I care less about my use of words or structure but become more entangled with my characters and their world.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Pictures of Children

This is just a very short blog - I am in the process of writing something else but this question has been bugging me.

I have my first grand-daughter, a two year known by me as Beach Ball as I have never seen a child with such a perfectly circular head. She is, needless to say, perfect, adorable, funny, enchanting, huggable and someone I see too little of.

I would love to show some pictures of her but stop short of doing so because I do not want her image to end up in some, how shall I put it, unfortunate's album, especially as my and her mother's name are very distinctive and would be easily traceable and , additionally, because of the indescrible horror the McCann family are living through at this moment.

What do other parents/grand-parents think?

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Living with Tarantula

Ha! I discovered my flatmate, the so-called Goth, secretly sunbathing topless on the balcony. Notice that she has covered her face so that when dressed in her trademark floor to ceiling black witch’s weeds none of her cronies will notice her betrayal of the most fundamental of their principles.

I know I’ve been a bit sneaky and doubtlessly would be sacrificed at one of the ritual meetings they hold every evening in the graveyard of St. Nicholas Parish Church if she ever found out. However, I think I am safe, as she doesn’t know I blog.

Her name is Tarantula. Obviously it’s not, it’s Camilla but she only responds to Tarantula.

She has just finished her first year doing art at Brighton University . Her end of year show was impressive in the way she refused to acknowledge that there was any other colour than black. And black, as we all know, is not so much a colour but the absence of colour.

‘That’s just so typical!’ she would retort. ‘You’re so prejudiced! You’re just like my stupid teachers always trying to shove their stupid theories on colour down our throats when it’s so obvious colour is just a social construct. You see black, I see a rainbow. God I hate this place.’

I have moderated her language as Tarantula does tend to season it well with coarsely grated expletives, this despite the fact she is actually very posh and attended Roedean , one of the more exclusive private schools for the education of young ladies.

As you can see she is not without talent, though slightly obsessive in terms of her subject matter.

You can’t imagine the storm of outrage that struck this humble abode when Damien Hirst recently unmasked his latest artwork, For the Love of God.

‘That’s just so typical. The b•••••d has ripped off my ideas. I did my paintings ages ago and he’s gone and copied them cos he hasn’t had a single original thought since he stuffed that stupid shark. I’m going to get Daddy to sue him for plagiarism.’ (This is a heavily censored and curtailed version of the actual tirade.)

I pointed out, very reasonably I thought, that making a platinum cast of a skull and then embedding it with 8,601 diamonds might take a little longer than four weeks – the time that has elapsed since the opening of her show. It was a mistake.

Sometimes I think life would be less complicated if Paris Hilton came to stay.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Avoidance Tactics or more on the Art of Procrastination

A couple of days ago Kate wrote about the joys of procrastination, which ended in a lot of comments about the role pillow washing plays in that process. (Weird or what?)

However she opens her piece by writing:

‘OK. So I have made a start on Book 6. Actually, I started book 6 late last year, got just under 10,000 words in the can, and then decided to work on Book 5 instead.’

And she has the cheek to call herself a procrastinator! She wouldn’t make it past the doormat at my procrastinators’ club. (The fact is no one makes it past the mat at my procrastinators’ club as all the members forever put off that dreadful moment they have to get off their arses to get down there.)

Sticking to the topic, I would add I find blogging itself is a curiously satisfying means of avoiding doing anything genuinely constructive. I don’t know whether this is true of every blog, but this one is particularly fussy. It’s not just a question of typing the stuff and posting it. I have to fiddle around with bits of code to create links, post pictures, italicize, etc. so what should take a few moments can waste a whole morning. Joy!

I have to confess, despite my addiction to putting off the inevitable, I have been writing my book! And to demonstrate just how unlikely this is, when I admitted as much to a friend yesterday afternoon she just laughed.

Progress is slow and painful but, nonetheless, it is progress. I still I have little idea where the book is going. Recently I read on a fellow book racer’s blog that they had created a grid for their characters and plot to help them organise their writing. (Apologies to the blogger concerned but I have just wasted a happy thirty minutes trying to find the original article without luck. If you should come across this, post a comment and I will create a link.) It seems an eminently sensible idea that I will attempt to imitate, but it does presuppose that I have a plot.

At the moment I have an incident, a number of characters, and a tone of voice that I am happy with. The personalities of the characters are gradually emerging and, though I can see the story developing in a number of ways, I sense their final development will dictate the eventual direction it takes.

So should I persist with my characters until they become fully rounded or should I decide on the final outcome of the narrative? Ho hum, decisions, decisions, writing a book, I find, is full of them.

Final word goes to Caroline whose book In Search of Adam is being launched next Thursday. Congratulations! Buy it.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Ismail Kadare, Broken April

Published in 1978, Ismail Kadare’s Broken April is a disturbing book, not just for the story it tells but also for the world it describes – the high plateau region of Albania where life, or more accurately death, is dictated by the medieval rule of Kanum.

The law of Kanum manages, indeed, profits, from the blood feuds between families or clans. It dictates how a man’s honour is offended and how it may be redeemed, it defines territorial boundaries, it decrees the periods of truces, the location of safe havens and the worth of an individual – a wound amounts to half blood and attracts a fine, two wounds are worth a life, a woman’s life has the same value as that of a dog and is equivalent to a half life.

The story opens with Gjorg, a twenty-six year old, fulfilling his blood duty in revenge for the death of his brother in a feud that has continued unbroken for seventy years and already cost twenty-two lives. The feud was initiated the fateful day a stranger sought the hospitality of Gjorg’s family. Under Kanum, the guest is a demi-god who must be honoured as such, so, when the man is shot just within the boundaries of the family’s village, his death becomes their responsibility and must be avenged.

The narrative follows Gjorg during the thirty day bessa, or truce, he is granted in order to make the journey to pay the blood money to the prince and his subsequent encounter with a couple of strangers touring the area on their honeymoon.

Kadare writes in a tight, sparse style but he is also necessarily didactic in order to explain the law of Kanum to make the tale comprehensible. And, the story he has to tell, haunted as it is by this barren landscape and ancient rule of fate, superstition and Homeric gloom, seems so foreign, so otherworldly, it is hard to accept it is set in relatively recent times.

( Though Broken Spring was written thirty years ago and much has changed in the world since, Kanum is still a malevolent force in Albania, I quote from a recent Home Office document, entitled, Operational Guidance Note: Albania :

‘Under the kanum, only males are acceptable targets in blood feuds; however, women and children were often killed or injured in attacks in 2006. According to the National Reconciliation Committee, approximately 860 families were effectively self-imprisoned during 2006 due to blood feuds. Property disputes accounted for four-fifths of formally declared blood feuds during 2006, with the remainder pertaining to issues of honour or violations of the home (e.g., theft, trespassing, etc.). The NRC estimated that there were several hundred additional blood feuds stemming from trafficking, which are typically not formally declared out of shame. Of the 738 families reported effectively self-imprisoned in 2005, 166 left the country, including 93 families that sought formal political asylum in other countries. The NRC claimed that fear of revenge prevented approximately 182 children from attending school in 2006, 86 of whom were permanently confined to their houses.’)
(Albania OGN v7.0 3 April 2007)