Monday, 14 June 2010

Reading as Consolation

I suppose it's not surprising that the less time I have to read the more urgent my thirst for it becomes. Reading really does feed the soul; it provides escape, perspective, mystery, consolation. At the moment I feel in desperate need of all those things.

After fifteen years making a living as a writer I'm stuck for the first time, and I feel like an insect trapped on its back. Everything's difficult: the industry's in turmoil, my agent - my guide through the publishing netherworld, my Virgil - has quit, and I'm flailing around trying to write a novel in the few hours a week I can steal from my boys and wondering if I'll ever manage it.

I'm scared about the future of books as a whole and books in particular, the books I still hope to write. I'm worried that in my first attempt at fiction (will I one day blithely refer to it as 'my first novel', or will be it a gallant effort that never sees the light of day, or will it be the first and last, the alpha and omega?) I was so intent on writing that I neglected the thinking - the planning, the day-dreaming, the made-up conversations and imagined scene-setting; all the stuff that gets left out of the final draft. I feel as though I'm trying to make a sculpture, slapping on more and more papier-mache which however hard I try doesn't quite cover up the fact that I forgot to make a coat-hanger structure inside first.

I picture myself physically stuck in my novel, standing at the centre of a bustling courtyard of an inn on the road north from Paris, in my jeans and old trainers, unnoticed by the people all around me: coachmen leading sweaty horses away to be rubbed down and fed; the landlady standing at the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron and assessing her new guests to see who will sleep where; revolutionary officials draped self-importantly in tricolour sashes, accosting travellers and demanding to se their papers. I see my heroine step cautiously down out of the coach, the basket that contains all her belongings in her hand. She's wearing a greyish cotton dress, once white but long-unbleached, with a knitted blue shawl over her shoulders, and I can tell by the slightly pinched expression on her thin face that she's nervous and hungry, in that order.

And then I lose impetus. Perhaps I've been doing it too long, without knowing whether it will work. Perhaps it's just not worth doing at all. The words and my worries spin around and around in my head. There's nothing for it but to find somewhere quiet and read someone else's words for a little while.

1 comment:

  1. It’s remarkable how universal this vertiginous feeling is right now in the world of books – for writers, publishers, agents. As you say, the industry is in turmoil, after a more or less uninterrupted 500 year run in which its methods, both mechanical and commercial, have gone unchanged. And yet . . . however they are delivered and sold, people will still want to engage with and lose themselves in words that extend beyond the length of an article, or a web posting (I believe someone recently called it, rather inelegantly, ‘longform writing’) because there is, quite simply, nothing else to touch it. All other art forms, however high or low, are much more passively ‘received’; the writer asks the reader to meet her half-way. It’s unique and, when it works, the effect is electrifying. That will not be foresworn, and though it’ll take a while to come through all of this, we will. We musn’t let the fear overwhelm us; we, you, will get there!AndrewK