Seen the road to hell lately?
It’s a mess. Paved with good intentions, the path to perdition is littered with bad decisions, the failed forays of famous folk who sought success in a speciality other than their own.
Many are called to cross-over but few are chosen…
Singers and sportsmen, authors and actors – the line of wrecks is long and varied, taking in everything from Ash Barty’s crack at cricket to Chris Cornell’s dalliance with dance-pop.
Now the Tasmanian novelist, Heather Rose, has come a cropper.
Last year Rose published Bruny, the follow-up to her Stella Prize-winning novel, The Museum of Modern Love, a work of literary fiction. Billed as a thriller, her latest book proves that acing a new genre ain’t easy, even for an accomplished author.
What went wrong?
It’s a good question. Bruny appears to have all the hallmarks of a respectable thriller: a preposterous plot, a cast of barely credible characters, an awkward romance and a nondescript style.
And yet it lacks a key component of any self-respecting suspense novel.
Show don’t tell – it’s the shibboleth most closely associated with creative writing. Despite its limitations, this tenet holds true for some books. Take the thriller: readers of this kind of novel need to feel close to the action.
Too often in Bruny the real business takes place in the background, especially as the story goes on. The result? The tension never builds. (And the book garners praise as a ‘satire‘.)
Sadly, some parts of the story kept me on the edge of my seat: namely the narrator’s tiresome tirades about the state of Tasmania. Would they never end?
Despite my reservations – all totally valid, I’m sure, and yet totally irrelevant – Bruny continues to sell well here in Hobart, almost a year after its release.
Which just goes to show: I’m as bad a judge of another writer’s work as I am of my own. Failure is clearly more transferable than success.
It’s happened to anyone who’s ever had a blog.
You get an idea for a post. The phrases are flowing and you’ve got time on your hands, so you decide to dash it off in one go. What, you tell yourself, can possibly go wrong? You’ll just whack out the words then polish, publish and preen.
So you sit down to get the job done.
You’re still at it days later, of course, your idea now a literary iceberg whose hidden depths keep surfacing.
What went wrong?
Nothing, actually. Writing is almost always a grind, even if we like to think otherwise. None of us is a lesser writer for finding it hard.
As Thomas Mann famously (and fortunately) observed: ‘A writer is a person who finds it particularly difficult to write!’
That’s me all over. I thought I’d finish this post hours ago.
I had an upsetting experience at work today – doubly upsetting because I was at fault – and I need to write it out.
Yes, write not ride.
Some people let their emotional storms blow themselves out. Alas, I’m not so stoic. When troubled I have an urge to put pen to paper, and I wonder why.
Does writing help me learn my lesson, like copying out lines does at school?
Is it a self-imposed punishment, the page being a paper voodoo doll I prick with my pen to inflict pain on myself?
Or do I write to purge myself of evil emotions, in a kind of ritualistic ink-letting?
Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is true: when the turbulent toss of my handwriting has subsided, the cool calm clear blue lines of the page will remain, and the storm will have passed.
I’ve been writing – my signature not my novel.
Too many writers, I’m told, suffer from autograph-induced RSI, all because they didn’t simplify their signatures before stardom arrived.
At the start of the session my head spun and my arm ached; signing my name was like clinging to a roller-coaster. By its end, though – well, more of that in a minute.
Some novelists made the move early on. Hemingway’s autograph morphed into cross-hairs, while Jonathan Franzen flattened his out so he now signs with a stroke.
Here’s food for thought: we’re told to sign on the dotted line but what if one’s signature is a dotted line?
I’ve always wanted to write about a character who forges his own signature. Some kind of murder mystery?
My new autograph looks like an arrow. The only way is up now that I’ve streamlined my signature.
Here’s the thing about writing a novel. No-one will care if I do it.
I mean, who reads novels these days? Hardly anyone I know. A couple of my colleagues maybe, none of my mates, a precious few friends and family. That’s not many folks.
Of course if I write something that sells, then people I don’t know might care. But what’s the good of that? As the least famous Churchill (Charles, the poet) wrote, ‘Fame/is nothing but an empty name’.
But why do I even care if nobody cares?
Because I’m human and humans crave unconditional love.
‘Growing up involves accepting that we’re not as special as we thought,’ Nick Hornby once said. ‘But artists have to keep that feeling alive.’
Come to think of it, I do know someone who will care if I write a novel.
And that someone is me.
‘Call me Ishmael.’
So begins Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s classic tale of whales and whaling, first published in America on this day back in 1851.
The brevity of the book’s opening line is misleading: Melville’s masterpiece has 135 chapters and more than 500 pages, making it a whale-sized story by anyone’s standards.
Was the novel the ‘draft of a draft’, as Melville himself supposedly suggested? If so, his editor ought to have taken a harpoon to the text.
Melville had a tough time as a kid. Money was short, his eyesight was weakened by fever, and the lad had trouble impressing his father, who described him as being ‘backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension’.
Melville’s success might be attributed, in part, to an early lucky break. Unlike his brother, who wrote nothing, he was not given the name Gansevoort. He was called Herman instead.
Me: When did you start writing?
She: When I was seven I wrote reviews of my mother’s meals and stuck them on the fridge.
Me: How did they rate?
She: Poorly. Especially the steak tartare.
Me: I meant your reviews. Why historical fiction?
She: So much of it is set in the past. Old things are awesome.
Me: What’s the oldest thing you own?
She: A brooch worn by Henrietta Stubbs.
Me: Who’s she?
She: Don’t know. She sounds ancient though.
Me: Do you do much research?
She: Loads. I use it as mulch on the garden.
Me: What are your hopes and dreams?
She: To write the perfect novel. Again. I’m joking, of course.
Me: Of course.
She: I’d like to become a yoga instructor.
Me: Good luck with that.
Riding the Waves and The Crestfallen Tailor are published by Penury.
So, you thought writing was to be your salvation, that it would save you from obscurity. But what if instead the opposite is true? What if your obsession has got you ‘entrapped’ (as the novelist, Amit Chaudhuri, puts it) and it’s stifling your life?
Such were my thoughts yesterday.
Picture the scene: I’m wheezing at my desk, suffering from a sudden attack of hay-fever. As I search for my asthma spray, a colleague jokes about shoving a pen down my throat to open the airway.
The wheezing soon went – the spray worked its magic – but the image of me choking on a pen stayed on.
Writing has been caught in my throat for a long, long while. Perhaps it’s time I swallowed my pride and gave the game away or coughed the thing up, took a deep breath and got on with the job.
I have a vision. Like Nature in the poem by Burns, my ‘eye [is] intent on all the mazy plan’.
It wouldn’t be my first. I’ve had more five-year plans than the Soviet Union did under Stalin, one every few months.
But does a writer even need a plan?
It probably doesn’t hurt to have one. Planning helps you identify goals, set your direction and keep things in perspective – good practices for anyone, I guess.
And yet writing is a notoriously unpredictable endeavour. Markets evolve, opportunities arise unexpectedly, ideas come and go, and our likes and abilities change as we grow. Success can spring from a single manuscript and some luck.
Try planning that!
It’s nice to think that we shape our destinies, though, so I’ll go ahead and make my next plan. That way I can relax and wing it all the way.