Novel Writing – more than just story-telling?

Webucator” has asked some authors for their views on writing novels ….  here’s my response..

What a question! My thoughts on novel writing …. and as a part of the National Novel Writing Month campaign … well, that’s taking a risk!  Given what I’ve said about it in the past .. though now my views have mellowed.  So congratulations to all those who braved the challenge of writing 50k words in a month!

NaNoWriMo … love that abbreviation .. it wiggles round the wips … especially for non-americans like me .. who didn’t grow up talking out of the sides of their mouths!  I grew up in Australia, and we mumbled  – our excuse? .. trying to avoid the flies sneaking in .. it wasn’t really, t’was probably anxiety at hearing our own voices – like when you hear yourself on playback for the first time! Cringe.. Hey, that was a lifetime before YouTube! We were pretty self-effacing in those days. …So maybe writing is a way for me to say something without hearing my own voice… maybe that’s why I write… maybe. Maybe that’s Freud sitting astride the elephant in the corner.  “Tell me Sigmund … what do you think?” .. “Let it go, boy!” he whimpers. The elephant’s backbone must be hurting.  I do as I’m told.

So back to “Na-No-Wri-Mo”:  “try it” I say, “just try to say it”.  “Move your lips .. try it” .. the trouble comes when you get to the “wa-ri” … it’s the only way I can say it .. and even then it feels likecover3 I’m the only old guy at an elocution class.  ….. Sigmund tries and fails .. his guttural Austrian accent makes it sound like “Ve azk ze qvestions”..  I squirm.  “Should I be afraid?”   “Vy are you zo afred? Iz it somezing to do wiz yur childhood?” he offers … Disgusted. I shut him down…. perhaps too curtly. “Let’s get on with it.” I grumble.

… Now, I should make a clean breast of it. I’ve only written one novel .. it’s new cover is just here on the left … no right …  I’m still struggling to master wordpress’s  editing and formatting tools … especially as I have rather neglected my “author blog” for quite some time. I’ve even let down the twittersphere of late. Too much to do… No, not “NaNo”, though I do have a couple more novels on the slow burner and I’m just about to turn up the gas. … But I do have a good excuse for all this delay and neglect; and it does go some way to answering one of the questions you pose… notably, what pays the bills?  Well, it’s been a tragic year for novel writing as far as I’m concerned. I’ve barely had the time to translate my e_book: “Beginnings” into a createspace print-on-demand masterpiece !!!!.. and I’ve still not pressed the final button to set it free – I’ll do it tomorrow .. it’s hard to let go .. maybe I should ask Sigmund about that?  Sorry, he’s dropped off to sleep. Wait, I’ll do it now. I’ll publish “Beginnings” in print and be damned!

But yes, you’ve gotta “earn a quid” (or a “buck” as many of you would say) .. when you can. And it just so happened that a couple of the books I wrote in a previous incarnation needed new editions and a couple of others needed writing and the odd article … and they’ve taken me just about the whole year to do …. don’t scoff or scorn, one’s a 1,000 page plus encyclopedia on aviation law… it’s the third edition. The other two or three? .. Well they’re much the same sort of stuff but quite a bit less lengthy .. anyway only some ‘proofs’ left to polish off now and another little “spin-off” project to complete. ..  So my unfinished new novels beckon.  Anyway, it’s not that the money these publishers pay that actually pays the bills .. even though they’re some of the richest publishing corporations in the world ..  of course, they don’t stay rich by lavishing money on their authors.  But that’s publishing, I guess.  So, I don’t do it for the money …   No. No, I don’t rely on writing for a living. I wish I could.  So why do I do it? It’s tedious sometimes .. and frustrating .. and incredibly time-consuming .. and incredibly underpaid .. but I  think I must love it.  Just trying to get the words right .. or is it the right words … or is it .. just to write words right!

Sorry to say, but it’s the old career I gave 537026_10151863541959885_645410101_nup as an academic lawyer that just about finances my life now  – of course there wasn’t much less left after it subsidized going off and sailing the South China Seas … …but that was just another shattered dream .. and life’s full of  them. .. a bit like the internet and property bubbles that transferred all the wealth to the super-rich. Anyway, even if I had used all this last year to finish the sequel to “Beginnings“, the royalties it’d likely be bringing in might just buy dinner at a chinese take-away.  So it’s not for the money that I write. It wasn’t even for the money that I wrote books during my academic career. Lots of academics don’t do it. … It’s that you want to be heard. … Or I do! … You want to communicate. You hope that someone might  just get something out of what you’ve written…  learn something, think something new, get some pleasure or even some comfort ..  Ideas have a life of their own, after all  .. at least I believe that … and maybe, just maybe they can help to make the world a better place ….  My other books were useful and some were appreciated, but I was and still am hoping for much more with my novels. …. Strangely though, I’m a bit embarrased when my readers tell me how much they’ve enjoyed “Beginnings”. You’d think I’d be glowing! Weird huh!

Do I have any advice for fiction writers?  Decide what you really want to achieve. .. getting published .. making money or what?  Well, what I want to achieve may be quite a bit different to what lots of other writer’s want. I want to write great literature   … and I want to write literature that will be read in a hundred years’ time… and maybe even make a difference. … “Modest aspirations,” you say!  As to wanting literary longevity, my friend Sigmund would no doubt tell me it’s because I’ve written lots of ‘law books’ and they go out of date every few years or so and are forgotten!   “OK , Siggy … but it’s not just that!”  And what about: “great literature”? What is that? You may well ask. …. For quite some time I’ve asked myself that question  … and I even blogged about it… it’s hard to put your finger on it and even harder to do. .. Then, just lately, I read a little book called “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning“, about a young man’s wanderings by poet-cum-author Laurie Lee, and then an almost impenetrable mist thinned and  lifted,  dark ominous clouds parted and the word “poetry” appeared.  It reminded me of my old High School English literature teacher, “Buster” Bevan, when he quoted from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”:


“Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard of no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


And this was before  my university studies in English “literature” dashed for decades any hope of my actually writing literature … and left me with the law.  But to make that sublime choice of words, that flourish of imagery, elegance of simile and shock of metaphor …  it adds so much to what is just a nice little story .. and there are lots of nice little stories around, but not much literature …. yes … there were moments when Laurie Lee overdid “it” and maybe then “it” didn’t quite work .. when the flurry of words let something other than the simplicity and beauty of the image weadle its way in … maybe that’s what went on in de Waal’s “The Hare with  Amber Eyes” …  So I read the last book in Laurie Lee’s autobiographical trilogy, called “A Moment of War” when he trekked over the Pyrennees in winter to join the republican forces and fight Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War .. what a debacle … and  this time there was more than just a nice little story … and the poetry was back but muted  and never overdone … and I was back home again … back with my book, “Beginnings”  .. set in the Basque country in the aftermath of the conflict that should have warned the western world about the rise of fascism, but didn’t.  …  Doesn’t history repeat itself …

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