Monday, 13 February 2012

'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader'- Robert Frost

So, I’ve had my second stint in the MA hot seat (with my novel under the collective magnifying glass) and again, it was completely helpful and encouraging and inspiring, BUT… I have noticed that somewhere in the process of critique-reflection-renewed resolve-frantic scribbling-critique, there’s a slump, where the whole thing seems impossible; where the notion that a novel can ever be completed becomes ludicrous, and where you read all the wonderful work by your colleagues and decide that your own is appalling and that you’re the worst wannabe-writer in the world, ever.

The peer feedback is fantastic; it is essential, and it will no doubt prove to be the most beneficial part of the degree, but you do need to be careful that you can filter through all the disparate opinions and not be discouraged, and can take on board all of the suggestions without feeling overwhelmed.  The critiques prompt questions where non-existed before, and draw attention to weaker areas that you may have been oblivious to, and while all the compliments have bolstered you up to the point where you’re rolling up your sleeves and getting prepared to pummel all of your problem prose into pulp, there’s a weedy, wounded side of you snivelling in the corner and cowering as your book rustles its big, scary, stupid pages in your face.

Then, of course, the next deadline looms, fretting is jettisoned, the next session is undertaken, and then you’re back at the beginning, thinking, “Yes! A few more months of this and I’ll have a proper chunk of book under my belt!” (Or nervously stored on countless hard drives/memory sticks/email drafts, in case there’s a fire.  Or a burglar.  Or a cyclone.); but then it starts again: “mmm, is my dialogue really that stilted?” and on, and on.

It all feels a bit bipolar, this flitting between delirious elation and crushing self-doubt, but then, consider the whole writing process: living day-in, day-out inside your own crammed cranium, your cohabitants all your neuroses/fears/hopes/memories/disappointments (who have to be the most despicable bunch of housemates ever); as you become gradually immersed in your imagination, insular, desocialized…well, it just isn’t healthy, or sensible, or sane.

While I loathe people who call themselves mad (as they’re usually infuriatingly sane, boring fuckers who call themselves “random” and say things like “woah, I’m wacky I am, I’m a right nutter, me!” at any given opportunity); I am intrigued by the link between creativity and madness, and the studies that seek to make connections between the two.

On this, a quick google of “poets” and “mentalists” unearthed these two articles that are worth a peek:



And then I found this, Chuck Wendig’s ever-amusing exploration:


I would have to agree, and not because I’m like, really fucking wacky, but I do think that writers do see the world differently, and make associations and connections and find resonance between things that may not be apparent to other people.  Thoughts/people/actions are over-analyzed; conversations are clues to character; a cigar is never just a cigar. Like I said, far from healthy.

But of course, then there’s the opposite, to quote Graham Greene:

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

Best stick with it then...


Right, in other writing news:

I had a short story, Brotherhood, published in What the Dickens? Magazine (pp 28-30), which is based around the Pre-Raphaelites and their muse, Lizzie Siddal, and narrated from the viewpoint of her dowdy, overlooked workmate.  Lizzie is often seen as 19th Century supermodel/Kate Moss type, hanging out with the boho folk, letting them near freeze her to death in the bathtub (for Millais' Ophelia), which called to mind all of the discourse surrounding this era regarding the male gaze and masochism, and also Angela Carter's comparisons of the the Marquis de Sade's Justine and Marilyn Monroe:

...both have huge, appealing, eloquent eyes, the open windows of the soul; their dazzling fair skins are of such a delicate texture that they look as if they will bruise at a touch, carrying the exciting stigmata of sexual violence for a long time, and that is why gentlemen prefer blondes."  

Siddal may have been a redhead, but you get my point, and I was keen to reflect some aspects of this in the story, and hopefully succeeded. 

Big Jim was also published, a flash fiction piece that explores masculinity and blokey behaviour and cherubic assault.

Ubi Sunt was also published, as part of Paraxis magazine's 'transformation' themed edition. Ubi sunt means "where are" from Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?- "Where are those who were before us?", which is a common motif in Anglo-Saxon poetry, used to reflect upon loss and the transience of life (and here's an article exploring its use in Beowulf).

I’d actually been trying to get my head around Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation (largely unsuccessfully), and then starting thinking about lack of meaning and tradition, which led to thoughts about tattooing; more specifically the infuriating Miami Ink school of elaborate-sob-story-behind-my-kanji-nonsense, with a nod to all those absent parents on Jeremy Kyle who prove their 'devotion' by getting their kid's names etched into the necks, which then led to a reflection on heroism and masculinity and all the other gender issues that always seem to work their way into my writing.  But if all that doesn't sell it to you, it's just a creepy tale about an odd kid getting inked.

Google research history:  Latvian customs, Wordworth's 'The Solitary Reaper', drugs that enhance memory, ration books, The Little Mermaid and slaughterhouses.