” Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. ”
The simple answer is because I read a piece of advice for would be authors seeking publication. Having a writing blog to showcase your voice as an aspiring creative writer of fiction they said, was a good idea, it was something to include on the heading of your submissions. It made sense. If, even remotely interested in considering your request for representation, they may just take the trouble to have a look at a broader spectrum of your work, your style. Had you any talent? Was there more than one book in you?
Writing posts on my aspirations, reflections and inspirations, especially on writers, art and artists and including a few short stories of my own may, one day, wonder of wonders serve to tip the scales in my favor.
However, it quickly became an outlet for my frustrations of writing for no audience, at least I could publish, click that button, it was instant, no go between. Even if no one was interested in reading what I wrote. I would write anyway and so this was better than all the lost notebooks discarded in my travels. Completed stories written in longhand pre lap-top days. Of the children s trilogy that was all but concluded only the first mss remains in hard copy. The two others lost long ago somewhere in India. I still have these and other abandoned plots in my head, somewhere in one of those closed drawers stuffed with ideas, but Oh! the work involved, the lost hours irrevocably spent and the hours I no longer have to riffle through and start again.
I still have a fair stack of completed stories however, and enjoy immensely the process of creating new ones. Every time I re read and note small errors, corrections and improvements I could have made to the text, I realize that slowly I am making progress, I am learning. Even though I have temporarily laid aside the arduous and vital quest for an agent or publisher, as with my paintings , I simply embark on the next one in the hope that this one may actually be good.
Here they are! Arriving simultaneously in my head, two short story plot lines complete with titles. The catalyst, my deciding to walk to the lighthouse, something I had thought about doing since moving to live in Port Lympia the first, a name I read somewhere in a news article, the subject of which I no longer recall, the second. The two plot ideas are quite different, both one to another as well as aspiring to branch out from the basic romances that constitute the bulk of my previous work.
I hope this is all part of a learning curve.
No one, it has been pointed out, ever had a huge success with their ‘first’ book. It may seem to be a first when the acclaimed best seller by a previously unknown writer is suddenly hailed at the latest must read. However, as was pointed out in a post on the word press blog Novelty Revisions, this person has probably written ten unpublished novels before this one was taken up resulting in the author being catapulted into sudden renown.
This is just one small example of insights and advice about writing by writers who clearly understand what you are trying to do. Their perception of the doubts, as well as pitfalls which assail, as it turns out, all writers, born from personal experience as well as technical prowess, can send us soaring onto that new curve.
Before we realize it we are looking down on the place where we were discouraged. It is like seeing the sunlight filtering through the spread wings of a seagull, suddenly we are soaring with him, seeing ourselves clearly again. Who we are, who we aspire to be. This is innocent, devoid of guile or conceit. It is simply striving to leave something of beauty in this world.
Over the years I have become an adept.
With little trepidation the trapper in Jack London’s tale, To Build a Fire, took to the trail on the frozen river knowing it to be fraught with hidden dangers. His self-confidence, out-weighing his misgivings was, in the end, fatally misplaced.
He knew the risks; there were warning signs. The trek alone to the camp in the depths of an exceptionally cold spell, even his dog sensed the danger. Older more experienced trappers had told him of the possible consequences, the safety net of never undertaking such a journey alone. The necessity of having someone, or something, to fall back on if things should go wrong.
For some time it never once occurs to him that he may not reach his destination safely before nightfall. When after a mishap he is forced to light a fire and rest, his meditation is on his own ability and confidence to overcome the odds rather than the overwhelming evidence of experience and of the facts. He was taking an immense risk and those facts were cold and hard indeed, both literally and figuratively. He presses on anyway, by this time, even if he were to entertain misgivings, there is no going back. He cannot retrace his steps and he is running out of time.
When fear begins to take hold of him and the worst of them are realized, it is too late.
For years I believed I would get to my own destination before nightfall.
Skating on thin ice.
The American romance writer, Anita Shreve was born the same year as myself. She died last year of Cancer after a ‘long battle’, as it is often somewhat euphemistically described. It is a battle our besieged bodies fight within us, our conscious selves have few weapons other than attitude and perhaps diet.
We both began writing at a very young age but it took me a lifetime to approach my writing seriously, to focus. She however, published the first of her prolific catalog of work in 1975. Possibly the most well-known of which, The Pilots Wife was made into a film.
In an interview she gave in the Guardian in 2008 she called writing ‘a solitary pursuit’. In this she echoed my own observation and it seems to me by definition, this goes hand in hand with a certain loneliness. However, it is a loneliness which somehow gives rise to inspiration and thus becomes a necessary part of the creative character. It was at first, she said, ‘ something to be kept secret’.
I saw myself scribbling away, twelve years old, immersed in a world of characters I preferred to real people. That these stories were to be kept other than secret never once occurred to me then.
The well-spring is very private.
This being the case, publishing lays one bare to hurtful disregard for our carefully expressed thoughts.
Later it became a way to express emotions I had no idea what to do with.
If someone were to ask me to give one reason why I write, realizing that what I write is of little interest to most people, I could do no better than to quote the above.
Finally, it morphed into its present incarnation; daydreaming with a lot of craft brought to bear on what makes it to the page.
I am working hard on the craft, the daydreaming comes naturally.
All above quotes by Anita Shreve.
Autobiographical Fiction: Takes the facts and fills the gaps with your imagination.
It seems this is an accepted category, ever evolving from the genre of fiction and one for which I recently discovered the above definition.
Reassuring, even if I get the impression, somewhat denigrated and certainly lacking the prestige, or heaven forbid, comparison with Literary Fiction.
Apart from a children’s story written during my years in India, my stories and novels to date have comfortably fitted into the category of Romantic Fiction. Sometimes called Women’s Fiction. Even my attempt at mystery writing was, in the end, overshadowed by the romantic element linking the two principal protagonists.
I have given much thought to just what it is that makes a good writer. I do not mean great. I have never for one moment been deluded to the extent of aspiring to such heights as those of Conrad, Henry James or their ilk. However, winner of the Booker Prize some decades ago, Anita Brookner, is described as ‘ one of the great writers of Contemporary Fiction’. Another term, and incidentally, one which gives me pause for thought.
In The Bay of Angels published in 2001 we find again the recurring theme of all her work. Disappointment in love and isolation. Although an Academic, she came to writing relatively late in her life, at age 53. She never married and took care of her parents until their death. She died aged 87 in 2016.
I rarely walk now beside the Bay of Angels here in Nice where I now live, without thinking of her, or of this novel. The haunting sadness of wasted life. Both the daughter and the tragic mother seemed incapable of grasping the joys held out to them.
In my new novel, on which I am at present embarked, I find myself reflecting on life’s regrets. On missed opportunities, on untapped potential. I wonder just how much of Anita Brookner is reflected in her characters which brings me back to the term, Autobiographical Fiction. Not because knowing some facts about her life explains a lot, but knowing one’s own life experience from the perspective of later years, I see how rich a fund of material is at my finger tips. How great an adventure this story can be. If not in literary terms then in enjoyment of a good tale well told.
The Bay of Angels
My immediate thought on reading the above quote was, ‘ Isn’t that what makes a writer?
Recently I saw a word press blog post by a writer complaining of his boredom, as though the task of writing was just that, a task, laborious and tiresome. I fail to understand, if he feels that way, just why do it since, with the exception of the very, and still more dwindling few, it is hardly lucrative ? However, it has been described as a ‘arduous profession’ by no less than Henry James.
The most arduous part, to me being the pursuit of publication the drudge of submissions. Mr James published his novel The Ambassadors in a popular journal in weekly or monthly installments before the book was actually printed. A current practice of the time.
In the preface of the copy I borrowed from the excellent Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra in Nice I noted an interesting and for me, significant anecdote. Because of the ‘peculiar diffuseness and obscurity of the prose’ the chapters were mixed up and inserted in the wrong place. This was not detected nor corrected for fifty years after its original editions were published. His time scheme apparently caused the editorial confusion. To further paraphrase the writer of the Introduction to this edition, Harry Levin, this was possibly because the story is reflected rather than narrated. The author here has a tendency to anticipate or reminisce over events, not necessarily sequential or even really having taken, or to eventually take place, within the story.
This, for my own, admittedly untrained but instinctive style comes as an encouraging acknowledgment that we do not necessarily have to fit into the popular view of the novel. Whatever our academic background, it is style that counts in the end. One of the characters in the novel advises another to take time when reading, the thread that links is stretched scientifically tightly, he admonishes, do not break that thread. I intend to take that advice with The Ambassadors.
Another admission by this illustrious author, again a vindication of a perfectly natural fact often presented as if it were a criticism in so many writers work was that he admitted freely,
the vague resemblance between the poor old hero and himself.
Never, never my girl riding far and near
In the land of the hearthstone tales and spelled asleep,
Fear or believe that the wolf in the sheep white hood
Hoping and bleating roughly and blithely shall leap, my dear, my dear,
Out of a lair in the flocked leaves
In the dew dipped year
To eat your heart in house in the rosy wood.
Now this really and truly is the last of the memories I am sending you. I leave you to do what you like with them.
I will keep you in mind and heart, those days in blue satin gloves, trailing behind you in Palma de Mallorca.
It was quite by chance that I discovered this forgotten artist.
I was living in Pondicherry South India in the late 90’s. A pleasant enough town if you live on the right side of the canal, although unless you have air-con, insufferably hot during the long afternoons. I was fortunate to live on the right side, that is, in the french part of town, one block from the sea front. From my roof garden I could catch the breezes that arrived with the monsoon season but the rest of the year all one could do was to take cold showers and lie under the slow moving ceiling fan until the sun set with its usual abruptness so close to the equator.
It was always a pleasure to ride on my faithful and much loved Hero, HERO being the standard bicycle manufactures trade name, which I rather liked, along with its racing green colour and shinny chrome beneath the trees and over the bridge to the French bakery across the canal as soon as it was cool enough to venture out. The bakery was air conditioned with a cafe. As was the bookshop next door. This was an especially favorite haunt, packed with classics in English, children’s as well as adult fiction, famous literary works, travel books, reference works and the Arts.Well known as a valued customer by the owner, he would proffer a stool so that I could comfortably browse for as long as I liked.
It was there in the window, halting my passage, The Forgotten Orchids of Alexandre Brun. I went in and without hesitation, splurged nearly my entire months household budget and bought the only copy.
A Frenchman, born in Marseilles before the age of photography, Alexandre Brun was commissioned to paint the orchids of a passionate collector of the then rare plants. Their fame and rarity in fin de siécle France had made them an obsession akin to the better known Tulip fever of the seventeenth century.
The book is full of prints of these spectacular paintings. The artist, as forgotten as his orchids. Their strange other- worldliness captured on the pages, they live still. The dark backgrounds, served to dramatize them even further and inspired me in many of my own paintings, to this day.
Maybe, that adage comes again to mind in his case, that as long as you are remembered, a part of you, or your work still loved, then you never really die.