You have to reinvent for the book. Your life doesn’t appear to have changed, but the book is telling you it has. The book is a way of acknowledging more than one thing you already knew. Now you come to think of it, life’s been weird since you finished the last one. You couldn’t settle. You felt belittled, especially in your nightmares. That’s always a conversation with the writer down inside. He knows more about everything than you. He catches on faster. He’s come to some understanding, he’s made some decision. Look around, there’s plenty you don’t intend to lose. But bridges are going to be burned. It won’t be one of those scary 100% conflagrations of the past, but something’s got to go. Indeed, something’s already gone. Now you’re going to find out what. That’s what a book is for, sunshine, finding out who you are now.
Tag Archives: writing
Stop reading. Stop being anxious about your relations with books. Assume your skills are adequate. Assume you don’t know who you are. Go away to another town. When you get there, don’t “write”: instead begin recording what you see. Describe a life you can only be on the edge of. Get those people down. Get down what they do, what they say, how they say it. Aim for observational accuracy but understand that you can only ever proceed from emotional & moral judgements you have already made. Never try to resolve that opposition. Never think beyond the problem of getting things down. Keep everything. After two years go back to where you came from, if you any longer believe that to be possible, or if you believe yourself any longer to be the you that went away. You can start trying to “write” again now.
That afternoon the whole of Lambeth–street after street spread out in the sun–smelled of roasting coffee. I sat on a bench outside St Mary’s, surrounded by the continual groan and thud of traffic at the Lambeth Bridge junction, listening to a thrush as it shaped and defended its territory among the ornamental shrubs. Daisies and dandelions were already out in the grass. At the edge of the path grew lesser celandines, yellow, star-shaped flowers like flat buttercups with eight pointed petals. I had cycled across from Peckham to see the garden at St Mary’s, but it was shut. The light falling across the south flank of the church was almost enough to make up for that; the faint shadows of the plane trees were like the shadows traced on a limestone cliff on a warm winter day. Water the colour of milk chocolate roiling under Lambeth Bridge in the strong sunlight. Tourists blink and laugh. A women on her own stares down over the parapet. They photograph the barges: THAMES & GENERAL LIGHTERAGE COMPANY.
Sybille Bedford, JIGSAW: “To say that Jules, the Julius von Felden of the novel [A Legacy], was my father would be as misleading as to say that he was not. Jules is like my father and unlike; to what degree of either I do not know. My intention was to draw a character in fiction; I used facts and memories when they served and discarded them when they did not.” [p18, my insert in squares.] This is a very adequate description of what went on in Climbers. Bedford clearly feels no guilt. Neither does she feel that definitions–of fiction or autobiography–have been strained. In this she resembles Colette or Pritchett rather than Isherwood, who felt he had to apologise for “lying”; or Edward Upward, who as a young man allowed his identity to become fatally intricated with his own imaginative product, and who to counter this spent the rest of his life transcribing his life like a book-keeper. What is the difference between these two kinds of writer?
Sometimes a writing problem will begin to resolve itself when you recognise that you haven’t been acknowledging pivotal events in your life. You’ve changed without knowing it. You were looking in the wrong place for solutions because you were looking in the wrong place for yourself. This recognition, however, doesn’t provide automatic or short-term relief. It’s unlikely to be a professional solution. The problem of writing is always the problem of who you were, always the problem of who to be next. It is a game of catch-up, of understanding that what you’re failing to write could only be written by who you used to be. Who you are now should be writing something else: what, you won’t know until you try.
Brutalise all plans & conceptions. Lose patience with last 10 years of ideas, now seen as prison. Bolt wrong components to wrong components! Sustained acts of Frankenstein & self-piracy! Address current emotional issues not 5 year old ones! New observations/notes; new philosophical/political insight; new structural problems/solutions. New imagery. Sense of adventure. Sense of risk in the material. Explore & affront your hopes for yourself. Glee at breaking own definitions & taboos. Carnage in the files. Parameters missing at the outset may be the things that writing will show you. In the end you have to get frightened enough to push down the pillars of your own establishment.
Adam Roberts rounds up the year’s science fiction. Jonathan McCalmont continues his assault on “the hotbed of empty phrases” that is traditional sf criticism. While Tim Maughan explains himself to Sense of Wonder. I like Maughan’s first answer– “the western middle classes … feel like the future – which they were always told would belong to them – is slipping out of their grasp” –because I’m interested in writing the deflation & melancholy of the people he describes. More interested, in a way, than pursuing the “future” that has left them behind. Science fiction has always defined a future as a global trend successfully isolated & described: the futurologist’s future, the cultural analyst’s future. All that interests the sf writer is the wavefront, the shock of the new. Cold, man. Because the future is also the umwelt of those who are left behind & muddle on–accepting this, rejecting that, failing to acknowledge or even detect macroeconomic shifts. In fact that’s really the only actual future, the non-discourse future, the non-speculative, non-theoretical future, the future on the ground. It’s all around, now. One of the many ways science fiction might delimit itself is to write in that direction, rather than always going for the shiny stuff, the Googie of the day. Bruce Sterling meets Anita Brookner & they totally fail to understand one another at the Hotel du Lac.
“What is literature, and why do I try to write about it? I don’t know. Likewise, I don’t know why I go on living, most of the time. But this not knowing is precisely what I want to preserve. As readers, the closest way we can engage with a literary work is to protect its indeterminacy; to return ourselves and it to a place that precludes complete recognition. Really, when I’m reading, all I want is to stand amazed in front of an unknown object at odds with the world.”
–David Winters, interviewed by Alec Niedenthal at HTML Giant.
Learn to exactly mimic having written a story, an ageing science fiction hack once advised me: then learn to write a story in a way that exactly mimics having written a different one. Write each separate sentence, paragraph & chapter of every book as if they’re mimicking some other sentence, paragraph or chapter. Soon there’s this odd, constant sense of implication in the text. It seems loaded. It seems like the alienated echo of something else. That something else is your gift to the reader. Your gift to the reader isn’t a lot of words. It’s to have a grasp of syntax & inflexion that lets you load more into the text than it seems to be able to accomodate. He’s dead now of course, his books passed over as ragtime & illiterate, but I’ve taken up where he left off.
L reports, “As a child I often found a piece of fiction deeply odd, an iceberg the visible ten percent of which indicated a hidden ninety, only to discover a few years later that I simply hadn’t understood its social or emotional subject matter.” That’s the effect she looks for in her own fiction under the designation uncanny. “It’s always produced by some relational shift of the elements & you have to withold the later moment of understanding.” I say that I think we’re describing the same thing & that I find it easiest to do in a near-to-mainstream short story; though most of the time it’s a quarry pursued & not quite caught. L isn’t beyond abusing what she calls “uncanniness theory”, but says she’s neither content with anyone else’s definitions nor interested in whether the product meets theoretical conditions. “A story tries to open an angle of vision that shouldn’t be there. Look along it. That’s the best I can offer.” In case that fails, she makes sure there’s always plenty of other stuff–horror, the bizarre, people & actions seen from wrenched perspectives, jokes, allusions & narratives that work themselves & the reader into unpleasant corners. “All the gubbins,” she writes to me, “provided traditionally by that kind of fiction.” I write back that the word gubbins dates us both; while she decides that, as a child, she was “a precocious reader but a backward human being.”