Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Out damned spot" ...

So my life is in boxes in three separate locations and I can't help but feel like I'm back at square one. Which of course isn't true but I have a nagging feeling that I've been coasting for the last few years. But what could I have done differently? Don't we come to things when the time is right for us to have it in our life? Or is that just a complete fabrication we tell ourselves, to placate, to smooth down the feathers. Are we not where we want to be simply because we didn't work hard enough? I know, I'm being too hard on myself.

All of the stupid question marks that start floating up, like unsettled dust, over my head, staring down at me with blitheful menace as soon as you remove 'the stuff'.  But the hugest mark of all that is up there is invisible because it is more ingrained in me than anything else I know .... what is it that I want?  .... And the awful truth that I'll probably never be able to answer that.

But at least there are the words. And a small comfort in escaping my own life for the terrible life of my character. Because hers is definitely worse and it, if only for a limited time,  makes me feel a bit better about my own.

In the midst of it all I came across this. AL Kennedy was one of the guest tutors, for the fiction side of things, on my course in St. Andrews. I never saw her or even heard her speak. But she was much revered and feared in equal measure by the short story ladies. Lara tried to persuade me one day to sneak into a talk that AL was giving but her reputation preceded her and I remained in the relative safety of my poetry workshop. 

Anyway ....

As August is in the process of disappearing behind me I find that the unsettled feeling is settling slightly. And I hope that in the kick up of the dust that it throws up something that I had forgotten about, or something I didn't even know was there, or if I'm lucky something brand, spanking, new.

"Wherever I am. Onwards."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Truth versus Fiction

Great Article from by Irish Author Keith Ridgway from the The New Yorker.

Everything Is Fiction

Posted by Keith Ridgway

I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living. Mind you, I don’t know how to live either. Writers are asked, particularly when we’ve got a book coming out, to write about writing. To give interviews and explain how we did this thing that we appear to have done. We even teach, as I have recently, students who want to know how to approach the peculiar occupation of fiction writing. I tell them at the beginning—I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know. Don’t look at me.

I’ve written six books now, but instead of making it easier, it has complicated matters to the point of absurdity. I have no idea what I’m doing. All the decisions I appear to have made—about plots and characters and where to start and when to stop—are not decisions at all. They are compromises. A book is whittled down from hope, and when I start to cut my fingers I push it away from me to see what others make of it. And I wait in terror for the judgements of those others—judgements that seem, whether positive or negative, unjust, because they are about something that I didn’t really do. They are about something that happened to me. It’s a little like crawling from a car crash to be greeted by a panel of strangers holding up score cards.

Something, obviously, is going on. I manage, every few years, to generate a book. And of course, there are things that I know. I know how to wait until the last minute before putting anything on paper. I mean the last minute before the thought leaves me forever. I know how to leave out anything that looks to me—after a while—forced, deliberate, or fake. I know that I need to put myself in the story. I don’t mean literally. I mean emotionally. I need to care about what I’m writing—whether about the characters, or about what they’re getting up to, or about the way they feel or experience their world. I know that my job is to create a perspective. And to impose it on the reader. And I know that in order to do that with any success at all I must in some mysterious way risk everything. If I don’t break my own heart in the writing of a book then I know I’ve done it wrong. I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I know what it feels like.

I do no research. Given that I’ve just written a book that revolves around two London Met police detectives, this might seem a little foolhardy. I have no real idea what detectives do with their days. So I made some guesses. I suppose that they must investigate things. I tried to imagine what that might be like. I’ve seen the same films and TV shows that you have. I’ve read the same sorts of cheap thrillers. And I know that everything is fiction. Absolutely everything. Research is its own slow fiction, a process of reassurance for the author. I don’t want reassurance. I like writing out of confusion, panic, a sense of everything being perilously close to collapse. So I try to embrace the fiction of all things.

And I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.

So I love hearing from people who have no time for fiction. Who read only biographies and popular science. I love hearing about the death of the novel. I love getting lectures about the triviality of fiction, the triviality of making things up. As if that wasn’t what all of us do, all day long, all life long. Fiction gives us everything. It gives us our memories, our understanding, our insight, our lives. We use it to invent ourselves and others. We use it to feel change and sadness and hope and love and to tell each other about ourselves. And we all, it turns out, know how to do it.

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