There’s nothing in the wood shed. Except maybe some wood.
(Hopefully that’s far enough from being an exact song lyric to avoid a breach of copyright!)
I’ve recently started using the library more. Taking our one year old grandson (he absolutely loves it) has inspired me. I’ve been reminded of much I used to love the library when I was a boy. When we children in Coventry, we used to go to the library once a week with Dad. Mum was at home baking cakes and the house always smelled delightful when we got home. We would be excited (my brother, my sister and myself) to see whether Mum would like the book that Dad (or in our mind, us) had chosen for her. We also had our own books to be excited about.
It’s a joy to see that excitement passed down to the latest generation.
We have a £75 book token burning a hole in whatever ‘safe place’ we stashed it (we can’t find it…. it’s in the house somewhere…..) Despite having those 75 smackers, we have started borrowing books from the library. Oh and raiding charity shops too. Spending little or no money on books encourages us to diversify – choosing books we have never heard of, or new styles, obscure (to us) authors, different genres or left field non fiction. I have particularly enjoyed doing the last of these – essay collections and memoir being my favourite ‘go to’ at the moment.
That said, I’ve just started Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives, a cracking charity shop find for a couple of quid. I’d previous read Bolano’s epic 900+ paged 2666 and was chuffed to stumble across this earlier work amongst the Mills and Boon and thrillers. He has a way with story which I’d be a fool to think I could replicate in my own writing, but I hope his influence is occasionally apparent in my writerly voice. He was sadly lost to us in 2003 (at only 50 years old) as he waited for a liver transplant. His body of work sounds eclectic and fascinating. I particularly enjoy how he managed to make the two novels I’ve experienced seem quite lofty and literary (for want of a better, less high brow description) and yet they offer a rollockin’ good tale and plenty of titillation too.
Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely, eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms, and little wildflowers.Roberto Bolano
Last week’s library haul included a work of fiction by an author who shall remain nameless here. Unfortunately this book produced a rare DNF in my reading list. It is written by a man in the first person. He alternates narrators, all in the first person. The four main characters are two couples, and I would ordinarily think; ‘why shouldn’t a man write the voice of a woman?’
As authors we should be able to write robots, men, children, teenagers, women, people who are non binary, all genders and trans genders. We should voice people of all sexualities, colours, creeds nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It’s fiction, we could write the voice of a worm or an alien – it’s our story and our world. Well in the case of said library book, I just felt, and this really is just my thoughts, other readers may well have a much different experience of the book, the women’s voices sounded and felt forced.
In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!Anton Chekov
In my novel (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners), I have two main characters. One is a British, white, middle aged, middle class male. He takes the form of somebody who may just have been derived from a selection of my own characteristics and those of my peers. I have of course imagined him and built his personality over the last few years that I’ve been planning this book. He, in theory, should come naturally and feel authentic.
My second main character is a woman, although we also see her as a child too, who was born in Belgium. She is a Jew, her parents were both Brazilian and economic migrants. She has suffered extreme emotional trauma and has been on quite a journey up until she joins us in the book. She should surely will be considerably harder for me to articulate and portray faithfully.
There’s a lot of talk about inappropriate cultural appropriation in the arts. And I don’t believe that all writers are truly meticulous in their preparation to write characters from different backgrounds to their own.
But why shouldn’t I tell her story? As long as in the initial drafting, the writing itself and particularly during the editing process I ensure I am able understand the life of people from Brazil in the 1970s, why they might choose emigrate to Belgium. I need to find out how, as Jews, they practiced their faith in a different cultural environment and how they would bring their children up in a new country.
If we’re not willing to let authors tell anybody else’s story other than a version of their own, then surely all fiction will become boring and one dimensional. All of my fiction would be about straight working class to middle class white men.
Imagine if Stephen King could only write about people like Stephen King! We’d have missed out on some pretty diverse characters.
Anyway, how did my writing go in week 11?
It may not have produced BIG results but I have eliminated the influence of, as Mark Twain would say, ‘small people’, and focussed on the belief of those who really care about what it means to me to be a writer.
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.Mark Twain
Anyway, I haven’t moved the novel project along and writing opportunities have been sparse. But, I mean, come on, I have been busy you know!
I built and extension to the wood shed for a start, and wheel barrowed a couple of cubic metres of logs and stacked them.
Seriously though, it’s been mostly journal work and playing around with the short fiction courses from Writers HQ. I’ve said it before………. do check out Writers HQ “For bad arse writers with no time or money.”
And now, I’m off to the library. Onwards my friends, onwards………………………..