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‘Can a novelist draw on his friends and family without incurring their rage and tears

So asked Norman Mailer in 2003 (when I blogged about it). Hethen quotes a description of Kitteridge, the protagonist’s love interest in ‘Harlot’s Ghost.’ Darlingest must have left it open for me.

Norman Mailer describes how in life there is rarely a beginning, a middle and an end

‘We live in and out of ongoing plots every day of our lives, but they are discontinuous.’

Anais Nin described her life as a multitude of threads, threads she unravelled in her journals she never got to grips with plot, which is why she failed as a novelist; she couldn’t let go.

‘One could argue that our love of plot – until it gets very cheap indeed, comes out of our need to find the chain of cause and effect that so often is missing in our own existence.’

Norman Mailer continues, staring out from a picture of the author as a young man in 1965.’

On to plot or not

‘The decision you make while writing fiction can leave you uneasy. I look to find my book as Igo along. Plot comes last, I want a conception of my characters that’s deep enough so that they will get me to places where I as the author, have to live by my wits.’ Norman Mailer

Not to plot

‘Working on a book where the plot is already fully developed is like spending the rest of your life filling holes in rotten teeth when you have no skill as a dentist.’ Norman Mailer

On exploiting family:

You cannot write about people you care about and not hurt them or, to the contrary, even worse, allow too little to be wrong with them. They then come through as boring. That is the first mark of bottom-level amateur writing

On using your imagination, not relying on what I call ‘method writing’ in which you have to do what you characters do: get drunk, have a car crash, go to a brothel, have an affair …

‘Part of the art of being a novelist is to play that delicate game of obtaining experiences without falsifying it by the act of observation. Generally speaking, it’s easier to take in such knowledge when you are part of an event that is much larger than yourself – like the fall of the Twin Towers.’ Norman Mailer

From ‘The Spooky Art’ by Norman Mailer.

I’m reading ‘Harlot’s Ghost’ so I give you this on marriage

‘A devil’s game. I believe in matrimony, you know. I do think sacraments are taken between God and oneself, and are just as binding as legal contracts are supposed to be in all of the corporate, judicial, industrial world, much contract can be broken, but not too many, or society’s ills reach critical mass. By analogy, I think too many sacraments are violated, God communicates less with us.’ Norman Mailer

I caught this idea as it ties into another novel I’ll neverwrite called ‘Splat’ tat takes Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Atomised’ in a less European, more ‘destruction of the family’ direction.

On bereavement

‘For many months, I would open my eyes with the uneasiness of those bereaved who awaken in the morning without being able to tell themselves at first what is wrong. They know only that someone is gone. Then memory presents itself like a hangman at the door.’ Norman Mailer

On depression

‘Inhabiting a depression was not unlike camping out on the marble floor of a bank. Sharp sounds damped into murmurs, echoes told you more than clear speech, and you always felt cold.’ Norman Mailer.

I’d say it was like being in a dry dock on a deserted Tyneside shipyard


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