On rewriting fiction – again
Fig.1. One box from the garage: Five/Six project to work on here 😦
Thank you SWF Fall 14. [Start Writing Fiction. An Open University ‘Massive Open Online Course’ or MOOC that run from October to December 2014 on the FutureLearn platform]
A MOOC on writing fiction has rekindled my desire to be a published writer for the eighth or ninth time in four decades.
Writing in 1991/2 with a further burst of activity from 1996/8 and another from 2001/2006 and abandoned since 2008 I am glad, though daunted to be looking at drafts of novels and of screenplays that I just dug out of a lock up garage over 10 miles away. There’d be more if I could read floppy disks and ZIP drives.
These piles are stacked carefully enough, though some were tipped out of arch-level files when I started my OU MA in Open and Distance Education in February 2010. Here I am back again, as if these last five years have been something squeezed from me like the last teaspoon of paste from a tube of tomato purée.
I am thrilled to see a TV play called ‘Sardines’ – a farce in which some eight characters all end up hidden in the cupboards or under the bed of the same man in a penthouse flat in central London. I am gobsmacked to find variations something called ‘Form Photo’ which charts the relationships of one man from the age of 17 to 57 … mostly teens, with some first loves in his early teens. This is, I think, the one I am now turning to.
Also in front of me is the manuscript I may have given 18 months to – a typical time span, 18 months and 300 pages and 100,000 words. Working title ‘Journey To Work’ because the premise in 1996 was that a character wanted a car that would drive him to work … i.e. a self-driving car. It is not about the motor industry (although I was doing a lot of work for Land Rover at the time). It also has the title ‘Fifteen Roads to Nowhere’ about this guy who sets out on this mad quests: the car thing, a relationship with such enthusiasm … eventually he takes a bet to drive, or be driven by this homemade car across 100 miles of English rural and urban landscape. So there’s that one.
‘The Contents of My Mind’ was an effort to explore how a person’s mind is stored digitally after their death and in this instance is put into the brain of someone who had been in a coma. You end up with a hybrid horror of a person trapped in a body that isn’t theirs that also enforces a new way of thinking and doing on them. Toss! It went to the BBC, was read and returned. 2004 or so?
Hardly a novice writer then?
Always a novice writer. Even should I have the good fortune to be published eventually I will doubt what it is that I do or have done. My sincere hope, as I return to a commitment to writing fiction after a long break is that I now have a better idea of what it is I do, what makes this ‘chef’ how it is that I toss the ingredients down and pull out a meal that is enjoyable. A short film broadcast on Channel 4 that I wrote, directed and produced is my only broadcast credit; I have not been published outside a school magazine.
Editing that destroys what I write isn’t the way to write – it becomes like writing by numbers. I have plenty of examples of that too, where I have tried to write as I believe I am required to write. I did this with a 12 part historical TV series that I read today and it is about as thrilling as a telephone directory – there is nothing of me in it. ‘The Little Duke’ could be retuned wearing my new head.
Far better the outrageous, Tom Sharpe meets Henry Miller, of things like ‘Sardines,’ even ‘Exchange with a Frenchmen’ … the treatment of which I have seen kicking around somewhere. I cut and pasted hundreds of strips of papers into a long scroll. I think, as I am now doing with other work, that I am starting to know how to construct that prose.
I also found the proposal, in French, for a series of false news stories.
I was on the team writing, directing and producing these things for Antenne 2 in 1991. Outrageous. One story even ended up on the news. We told some lie about the French Prime Minister owning a Honda even though she claimed to be wedded to supporting output from French car manufacturers Renault and Peugot. At this time I also spent six weeks on the road documenting the lives of those in the HLMs outside major towns and cities where immigrants had been put. And I wrote a story about an Algerian boy who when stressed turned into sand … All this and I was translating from French to English a kids cartoon series called ‘Chip and Charlie’ from France Animation.
The funniest read is something I typed up in the Christmas Holidays when I was 13 1/2 I now look at it’s nonsense and think ‘Blue Lagoon … only in space’ 🙂
Still in the garage there is the manuscript for a kid’s adventure story called ‘The Time Telescope’, a kids TV series about a time shift device called after the main characters, brother and sister ‘CC and Susie’ and some kids’ stories written when my own children were six and four. ‘Hapless Harry’ comes to mind … a small boy who ‘transmogrified’ into everyday objects whenever he did something naughty. He turned into his dad’s brief case and got taken to the office in one adventure, I remember.
On why and how to blog – stop putting up resistance and just do it!
Sources of inspiration and getting it down.
Get this for a start: Use of Blogs (2006) Axel Bruns and Joanna Jacobs.
It persuades you why to blog. Each chapter is written like an academic paper – an essay at least. Chapter 5 I found I was copying out verbatim (which I can’t do here). Go see ‘Can Blogging Unspin PR’ Trevor Cook.
Your starting off point can be anything at all, once you start (for me at least) it is like opening a vein.
Who cares if it is a note to yourself. If it’s work or course work remember that you can compose then recraft as often as you like, what is more, you can turn access on or off as you please too – even allow comments as you please – with other blog platforms the list of linking choices is as broad as the destination board at Heathrow – you can ‘blog’ to a person, a group, people in different groups and so on. But this is a level of complication that may put you off.
If you are at all stuck for content ideas then my suggestions are:
1) Write about the deep past everything you write is of course in the past – what this might means is thinking of your earliest experiences of whatever your blog may be about – if it is about education then try these:
2) Your best friend at nursery school
3) Your first day at school
4) The funniest thing that your witnessed or did at school
5) The first thing you learnt and how
6) Add a caption to an old photograph then expand these thoughts into the era.
7) A birthday party
8) A Christmas
9) A first book
All of the jumping off points, once you’re in flight you’ll be surprised how easy it is to steer where had planned to be and who cares about the journey you took to get there – you can leave it in or edit out the first paragraph / chapter.
If you kept a diary at any time in your life – milk it! Put it up, selectively, verbatim and / or relived – you can even retrofit the date.
Getting it down
There is a beauty and simplicity to pen/pencil onto paper. Personally I find typing it up afterwards tedious and will find myself inevitably expanding beyond the way the thing was initially written. The mistake here is that you can/do with ease turn a natural, conversational flow of thoughts into something else – verbose at best, disjoined at worst. You then get into editing and saving sections/chunks for future entries.
Ideally, whether you have notes, an essay plan or mind map to guide you, I’d recommend typing directly into the Blank Box. The QWERTY keyboard is a piano keyboard and you’re playing a ditty or having a jam.
Most blog platforms have ample editing tools, the only warning is to save regularly in some if you are prone to distraction.
Even back up onto a clipboard or Word, though personally I’m not a fan of overworking a piece in Word first.
Have a notepad, record a thought on paper or into a digital recorder, have a device that you can readily use on the go – my most fruitful blogging years were when I had a Psion – I could type this spec-case sized device and draw it into my Mac to upload.
I’ll discover in due course an iPad can offer this facility – I believe it will (and some).
A final thought for now – if you can touch-type and write stream of consciousness then how many words can you get down in so many minutes?
Let’s say you think at FIVE words a second, talk at THREE words a second and type at 40-60 words a minute. In theory in five minutes you can blog between 200 and 300 words. Perfect length. Have a plan, three or so points to make and fire away.
The merry dance of my mind – on writing Science-Fiction
The Brilliance of H.G.Wells
We could all do this!
‘The quickness with which Wells seized on the notion of travelling through time illustrates the way he worked in his later scientific romances. He heard of some new concept or invention. He next set the novel theory in a conventional background. Then, having made the incredible acceptable by his attention to detail, his imagination was free to make what fantasies it pleased out of the resulting conflict. This trick of the pen was a formula that he exploited repeatedly throughout his career and it accounts for much of the suspension of disbelief on the part of his readers.’
P65 ‘The Time Traveller. The Life of H.G.Wells’. Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie.
Twelve Books that Changed the World
Which are my ‘Twelve Books that changed the world?
Help me decide.
According to Melvyn Bragg the Twelve Books that Changed the World ( BBC TV Series) are those that follow – then I give you mine. And then you can offer yours !
Melvyn Bragg deliberately limited himself to British books
- ‘Principia Mathematica’ by Issac Newton (1687)
- ‘Married Love’ by Marie Stopes (1918)
- ‘Magna Carta’ by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)
- ‘Book of Rules of Association Football’ by a group of Former English Public School Men (Etonian’s I believe) (1863)
- ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin (1859)
- ‘On the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several version (1789)
- ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
- ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1859)
- ‘Paten Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine’ by Richard Arkwright (1769)
- ‘The King James Bible’ by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the King (1611)
- ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith (1776)
- ‘The First Folio’ by William Shakespeare (1623)
I don’t see me reading any of these, though I made read Melvyn Braggs book available from Sunday Times books 0870 165 8585 for £17.99.
A week later the Observer has an article with the crash title ‘Writing to Bragg about’ with a ridiculously posed shot of the aging TV presenter, LWT Million wannabe novelist author man. (It costs 99p less from the Observer).
As a reader at the Bodleian Library (I renewed my reader’s ticket) I could walk in next week, find a seat and order each of these books, in turn, from the shelves. I dare say there’d be a cue as I might not be the only person indulging myself in this way – going to the original sources, always better than taking it second hand, and preferably done BEFORE reading Bragg’s book, rather than afterwards. ‘ ‘Eh lad, there’s an academic in ye struggling te get out.’
I don’t see anything from the 21st century which surprises me; although only a few years in, in matters of fact and science in particular, much has moved on.
Something on warfare, 21st century politics or Global Warming?
Or medicine, on genetics?
On electronics or Information Technology?
On the bursting of the Web in 2001?
At least here we’re invited to make up our own list of a dozen books and to email in our choices with our reasons.
I’m likely to read ‘Twelve Books’ though I’m unlikely to read any of the books themselves. They read like a list for Oxford & Cambridge hopefuls, pack this lot in between Jan and the exams in June and you would have been able add a fourth A’ Level in the form an A Level in General Studies. I took a fourth A Level in Art. I got a B. I wasn’t going to push it by attempting a fifth A Level in General Studies.
My interest in any subjects beyond art, history, english, geography and sex were myopic in my teens.
Melvyn Bragg has made his selection the way a writer would – it is both personal and contained. What would a panel of worthies come up with? or a TV vote? A right joke. My choice These books, Melvyn Bragg adds, do not need to make a good read to be on his list. Who after all is going to ready Michael Faraday’s three volumes of ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ ? I think he is wrong here – the influence was outside the book, if the book could not be read or was not widely read.
The book was a mere expression of an idea that had a better life beyond its pages.
My twelve books that changed the world … that is, until it becomes the twelve or more books that have had an impact on me. Not very academic. But this is a blog after all.
1. ‘Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine, (Part I in 1791, Part II in 1792)
Written by a man who lived here in Lewes, became a local councillor, complained a lot about the local landed gentry and then ran off to America where he joined in enthusiastically to have the ‘colony’ seek independence from Britain and a parliamentary democracy that had a monarch as the head of state. Still relevant today. I’m all for a Republic. The Monarchy needs to go.
2. ‘Utopia’ by Thomas Moore (c 1515)
A must read during my History A’ Levels, or the Oxbridge Exams. Interesting Sci-fi – the first ‘Brave New World.’ Insightful. We’re clever people us humans, when we thin, then get it down.
3. ‘The Prince’ by Nicolo Machiavelli (1513)
Another must read. Probably on some A’ level reading list, which is when I read it. Explains the word ‘Machiavellian.’ How many of those do we know? I’ve not much of any of the following, just read about them and a bit of each: Arthur C Clarke A prodigious writer of fact and fiction
4. The Manual for the Vickers MKII machine gun. (c1910)
This given to all members of the Machine Gun Corps. I have my grandfather’s copy. He was selected for what was ‘nicknamed’ the suicide squad in 1915, then saw action in Arras, on the Somme, at Passchendale and Ypres. He must have been considered good with the weapon, he said he never saw any of the thousands of Germans he must have killed – spraying bullets was his trade. It was ticket into the Royal Flying Corps where he would continue to fire a Vicker’s Machine Gun, this time through the propeller blades of a Bristol fighter. What a weapon, what a book – how they put their stamp on the 20th century and history and many millions lives. A piece of English History or on English History? Churchill?
5. Eden by Tim Smit (2001)
How to get something done in this country against the odds and especially against the obstructive councillors and characters in our councils whose response fed by activists in minority groups is generally ‘ no you can’t.’
6. French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1987)
Gorgeous, a great read, wonderful to cook. A piece of mid 20th century history too.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1999)
Something Historical by Neil Ferguson
Good non-fiction reads I’d recommend though would be: These are not only a must read. They are books you should keep if you enjoy, sprawl with notes and share with others. They may not have defined the world we now live in, but the help explain it. When an OXford undergraduate he wrote something called ‘The Labours of hercules Sprout’ which we shot as a film … on video. 90 mins. I should know, I was the cameraman.
7. The Hite Report by Shere Hite (1982)
Informative, red with a voracious appetite by men and women and super fun to put into practice! There’s nothing a studied harder or with more gusto, or shared around (or for whom I bought copies) than this gem, this bible for those who are new to sex (or just thinking about it a lot, which is what I did when I first got my hands on this one age 15 or 16).
8. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
And Capricorn, and Plexus, Nexus and Sexus. A good male read, not a wank … not porn or erotica, just a man and his stiffy.
9. Henry and June : from a Journal of Love
+ the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1932
The film Henry & June introduced me to this pair when I was living in Paris. I bought Tropic of Cancer, and Anais Nin’s erotica. Then I started to read the diaries. All of them. Then everything Henry Miller had written … and their correspondence, as well as biographies.
10. What’s Going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Elliot Ph.D (September 2000)
Because all parents want to know, and this is intelligent and fact-based, written by a neurosurgeon but not a science text. No parent should be tempted by the popular twaddle that publishers try to make them real. Babies are creatures, extraordinary vehicles of potential. They should be understood.
11. Mother Tongue. The English Language by Bill Bryson (1991)
Amazing. Insightful. Sell it to the world.
12. A short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004)
Had I read this in my teens, had it been available in my teens, I may have read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and followed a different, more academic and cerebral career. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable Roget’s Thesaurus
The Human Brain by Robert Winston
Alistair Cooke by Biography A history book?
‘Read everything you can until you can hear the people speak.
My mother bought much of what I need on my modern history reading list pre-Oxford and sent it out. Nothing stirred me, otherwise I may have been more keen to stick with history Tocqueville, in French. Gibbon on the Rise & Fall of the Trigan Empire … or should that read Roman Empire?
Can’t think what else.
The geography reading list was equally turgid; I should have thought hard about either subject earlier in at Oxford and swapped out. An art book? A geography book? Pre-teens did I read at all if it wasn’t a school text book? I draw, I didn’t write. I looked at pictures, I didn’t read. I had a collection of from the TV series by Nigel Calder, such as ‘The Weather Machine’ and ‘The New Ice Age.’
There was the ABC of Space by Peter Fairly
How Things Work parts I & II
From my godparents, ‘How things works I’ for one birthday and ‘How things work II’ for the next.
The Chambers Dictionary of English
Something from my father which I had asked for, more to please him than for the amount I would use it, though I still have it and will at times still prefer this over Dictionary.com on the Internet.
How to Ski was a book from the Sunday Times
We took on our first ski trip, when I was 13. I broke my leg, so I hadn’t really anything about common sense. But what young teenager ever has common sense.
Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen (2000)
Still practical, if dull. Writing for the web and its lay-out needs to follow some simple rules if it is to be readable and scannable.
Hidden France by Richard Binns (1982)
12. Detecting Lies & Deceit. The psychology of lying and the implications for professional practice. Aldert Vrij (2001)
There are too many deceitful liars in the world. Read this to get a handle on who they might be, how you might or might not get away with lying, whether it matters and whether it does and knowing the difference. We should all be honest liars.
And some others I’ve thought of
‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ by David Ogilvy (1999)
The men who created modern advertising, aiming for hearts, not just minds.
Or ‘How to become an Advertising Man’ by James Webb Young (1963)
Given to all graduate trainees of advertising agency JWT.
The Beatles Song Book by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Iconic Art, a band that changed the nature of modern popular music, a book that so many wannabe guitarist, lyricists, pianists and buskers must buy and browse through. But which one?
Go. Off the top of your head. Give me twelve.
Like Anais Nin and Henry Miller
Volume 4 of Anais Nin’s Journal
I’m through volume 4 of Anais Nin’s Journal. I wish I could have begun with her childhood diaries, or at least 1931 in Louciennes, Paris.
I can commune with an ageing lady who evidently attracted much attention from younger followers.
One thing which could soon influence this journal of mine will be an increasingly descriptive stance on the world and the people around me rather than deep and tedious introspection. No longer the book of self-analysis but the book of observations.
As a teenager I was clear in my mind that I was an observer.
I frequently stood back from the world the better to observe it. I would go to parties not only to participate but to tick off another experience and then write about it. (Don’t all teenagers do the same?)
Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms
Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms, unless of course the indulgent world encourages and develops those early desires.
Character sketches. Like drawings.
Can I do them? I must. Can I picture the people with whom I am familiar, let alone newcomers? Dad, for instance, (give me two years and several million words), or Mum, neither of them simple people in analytical terms. Are any of us?
The traumas of his current break up with wife No 3 could turn into a Hardy-esque catastrophe.
If only he wasn’t so public school and conservative. He stamps his foot and thinks P will return to him to cook his meals and do his washing. He sulks and becomes ill to persuade N to give up things which matter to her so that she will nurse him.
I don’t have the nerve to be as blasé about money as Henry Miller
What in fact I crave is enough money to do more of this, precisely this, whether it makes a bean or not!
A diary is not book keeping with words
Finding Anais Nin and Henry Miller (at last) as allowed me to escape the book keeping approach to my previous diaries. Then the intention was to do little more than catalogue the events of the day, the week, the year (the cycle). Now, hopefully I can do much more. Here I can let vent, discuss, record, consider, practice my observations, try lines, invent words and phrases. Now, reading like a graduate, I can put notes in here (not in the Arch lever files).
As before I will dip in years later and find (or not find) reflections on those years gone by.
[This visit comes over seven years after the entry was written – 9th January 2000]
[Then this visit in August 2010 comes another ten years on]
- Do I change my mind?
- Have I learnt owt?
I wish I hadn’t driven over to a second hand book shop in Hay on Wye and sold my collection of Anais Nin diaries and the Henry Miller books I hadn’t graffittied with notes.
Dare I compare myself with the likes of Anais and Henry?
In my teens and early twenties I shared much of Anais’s sexual hunger (I adored the erotica she wrote and knew her for this alone for a decade or more). Today I relish the gutsy frankness of Henry Miller, flavoured by sticky fingers and his insatiable appetite for cunt. He didn’t have to intellectualise about loving a person the way we did.
I don’t enjoy intimate sex for sake of having sex.
There must be a person at the other end. “There’s nothing wrong with it if both people enjoy it,” offered Suzi on one of our very few affair like reprieves in September 1989. She was justifying her repeated infidelity, a trait I worried about in her when I first met her aged 15, cared less about when we starting going out together a year later … until we started to hurt each other another five years on from that.
If I’d known Anais Nin in my youth (20’s)
I would have been her Hugo making money not in the City, but in the cash crazy world of advertising in the 1980’s. Hard when my inclination was to scrap it all and do a Henry Miller . If only my hunger had been to find a personal voice rather than a public (and paid) one.
Though I’m struggling with “Tropic of Capricorn” after the narrative and journalistic rumpus of “Tropic of Cancer” I am still inclined to pick out a few truths. I am still keen to hear someone else’s voice justifying and provoking my difference:
“At this a faint smile paned over his face. He thought it extraordinary that I should remember such things. He was already married, a father, and working in a factory making fancy pipe canes. He considered it extraordinary to remember events that happened so far back in the past.”
And so Henry Miller goes on to indulge his memory on a rock fight that killed a boy when they were only 8 years.
Like Henry Miller I relish dredging up, reliving and reviving childhood events. (And Nabakov, some to think of it). Courtesy of a diary I started age 13 it is too easy for me to relive many moments, from many days, many, many years ago. An adequate entry, as no one got to see the contents of these diaries until 2000, was enough to bring the moment alive, to trigger the memory, to tag that moment, wherever it might have been. As an exercise I went back to my earliest memories, scrambling around the recesses of my mind to put down events from when I was four, five and six … first day at school, first day at boarding prep-school, my parents splitting up … the three day week.
I love to dissect the pain and pleasure of past relationships too, especially the passion and punches of yours truly and ‘Suzi Bean’.
Euphoria of writing
And describing the private joy of a day spent writing in the head:
‘At last I reached that point where you abandon all hope of remembering your brilliant ideas and you simply surrender to the luxury of writing a book in your head. You know that you’ll never be able to recapture these ideas, not a single line of all the tumultuous and marvellously dovetailed sentences which shift though your mind like sawdust spilling through a hole. On such days you have for company the best companions you will ever have – the modest, defeated, plodding workaday self which has a name and which can be identified in public registers in case of accident or death. But the real self, the one who has taken over the reins, is almost a stranger. He is the one who is filled with ideas; he is the one who is writing in the air; he is the one who, if you become too fascinated with his exploits, will finally expropriate the old, worn-out self, taking over your name, your address, your wife, your past, your future. Naturally, when you walk in on an old friend in this euphoric state he doesn’t wish to concede immediately that you have another life, a life apart in which he has no share. He says quite naively ‘feeling rather high today, eh? And you nod your head almost shamefacedly’. Miller, (1949 p29)
Well put!! Say what you want to say the way you want to say it. Hey, Presto! There are great chunks of Miller, some of which I may have already written out.
In Sexus, look at pages 77,78,79, then 92,93.
Here Miller describes the image of his wife when she discovers Henry’s intentions to leave her. It aptly describes my parting moments with X (No. 1) and Y (No 12 ?)
‘At this she hung her head. She looked indescribably sad and weary, like a human wreck hanging from a meat hook. I looked down at the floor, unable to bear the sight of her face’. Miller, (1949 p 91)
Art makes you restless, dissatisfied.
On art, Miller says this through the mouth of Ulric: ‘The world is going to the dogs. You don’t need much intelligence to get along as things go. In fact, the less intelligence you have the better off you are. We’ve got it so arranged now that things are brought to you on a platter. All you need to know is how to do one little thing passably well, you join a union, you do as little work as possible, and you get pensioned off when you come of age. If you had, any aesthetic learning you wouldn’t be able to go through the stupid routine year in year out. Art makes you restless, dissatisfied’.
On art, a variety of thoughts:
‘You only become something in order to be it – there wouldn’t be any fun in just becoming all the time’.
‘The enjoyment of a beautiful thought is nothing to the joy of giving it expression – permanent expression’.
On earning a living (or not)
‘Recognition and reward are two different things. Even if you don’t get paid for what you do, you at least have the satisfaction of doing. It’s a pity that we lay so much emphasis on being paid for our labours – it really isn’t necessary and nobody knows it better than the artist. The reason why he has such a miserable time of it is because he elects to do his work gratuitously. He forgets that he has to live’. Miller, (1949 p 128)
Miller, H.V. (1949) Sexus. The Rosy Crucifition
Henry Miller on the writer’s need for a disciple
‘It doesn’t matter how poor quality the disciple may be: it matter only that he believe implicitly. For a germ to sprout, some other person, some one individual out of the crowd, has to show faith’. (Sexus, p 28)
Who has this been for me?
Lindsay when we wrote ‘The French Test’. Katherine when I was setting up ‘Last Stand Video’. Vicki when I was composing ballads and singing – and now Richard with ‘The French Test’. (Spot the problem with this one, he is male).
For a time Joanna (and her kids) have inspired me with ‘Little Green Hannah’ and ‘Little Red Jake’. Who could be such a disciple? Annette –because the was she read ‘Henry and June;’ even Rebecca. Who else do I know who has tried, or is trying, to struggle with the same task.
‘Artists, like great religious leader show amazing perspicacity in this respect. They never pick the likely one for their purpose, but always some obscure, frequently ridiculous person’. (Sexus, p 28)
Who then? The choice must be theirs not mine, one which judges their enthusiasm, not their academic merit or related experience – a graduate wanna-be agent.
And Miller goes on, leading the way to Anais Nin who clearly made the writer:
‘What aborted me in my beginning, what almost proved to be a tragedy, was that I could find no one who believed in me implicitly, either as a person or as a writer, someone outside the vicious circle of fake admirers and envious denigrators’. (Sexus, p28)
Continuing with Henry Miller
‘He believes in you only in so far as he knows you; the possibility that you are greater than you seem is disturbing for friendship is founded on mutuality’. (Sexus, P28)
This seems like an excuse to be the lonely introvert – but how much is it necessary to cut yourself off? Can I take Darlingest along and live in a mud hut, or cottage, or chalet somewhere? That would isolate us from friends and family – but Darlingest is my friend and family. That is the compromise?
I would never sacrifice her to burry myself in some life long hermitage.
But I can see the sense in trying to confide in semi-strangers; in someone who might believe in me (whether or not they have the right to judge).
More of Henry Miller …. ‘It is almost a law that when a man embarks on a great adventure he must cut all ties. He must take himself off to the wilderness, and when he has wrestled it out with himself, he must return and choose a disciple’. (Sexus, p28)
My own idea of a disciple is a pupil – ‘Robin’ to my Batman, but probably (undoubtedly) female. So that there is a hint of sexuality, a taste of sexual involvement – something to make the blood race, lustre and speed to the imagination. Temporarily I have felt in such positions with VL and with TT.
I need my Anais Nin!!
Darlingest is my rock, my support, my love. I shouldn’t burden her with a side of my mind she accepts but cannot switch into – she is numbers, I am words; she is pragmatic, I’m inventive.
Indulging a desire to read Henry Miller and Anais Nin
Immersed in Henry Miller and Anais Nin
I’ve lost track of where my notes have got up to with Henry Miller and Anais Nin. I am still reading ‘Sexus’ and ‘Henry and June’.
Over the holidays I have marked passages and words.
There could be more overlap with where I left off, or gaps if I fail to go back far enough. The idea is to note passages that have personal bearing on my approach to life and writing and reflect on these in relation to the antics and writings of Anais Nin and Henry Miller.
For example, and this takes me some way back into ‘Sexus’ on the questions of the ‘Frustrated Creative’.
‘When one is trying to do something beyond his known powers it is useless to seek the approval of friends. Friends are at their best in moments of defeat – at least that is my experience. Then they either fail utterly or they surpass themselves’. Miller, (1949:28).
Continuing with the same passage:
‘Sorrow is the great link – sorrow and misfortune. But when you are testing your powers, when you are trying to something new, the best friend is apt to prove a traitor. The very way he wishes you luck, when you broach your chimerical ideas, is enough to dishearten you.’ Miller, (1949:29).
Even I do this … with X, with Y … but not with fellow ‘down on their luck writers’ like Z.
It’s as if the uselessness of my own ‘chimerical ideas’ is revealed when I hear others carrying on in the same fashion.
Dad is the worst of all for putting me down
He’s yet to say ‘grow up, settle down, behave’, but I can read it in his looks. He seems to despise the fact that I should seek happiness in what I do with my day-to-day working life.
There are others, I know, who would despair of me in that respect those who are similarly getting nowhere (or somewhere slowly) are my best allies: Ian Singleton, Richard Johns, Susanna White.
Miller, H.V Sexus: Book one of the Rosy Crucifixion (1949)
Satisfying this ‘must’ called writing
I write when I want, about whatever moves me
But something must move me; I can’t just catalogue the routine of my hours, my journeys, my physical and mental joys and strains. I have to wait, in ambush, and capture a thought then run with it pell-mell as if it were running over heaps of books stacked in piles on the floor.
I want to write like Henry Miller
I’m reading like I’ve never read before. At last I’ve found a rich vein of literature that I enjoy:
- Anais Nin
- Henry Miller
- Bill Bryson
- Evelyn Waugh
- and Clive James with nuggets from
- Bruce Chatwin
- Ken Russell
- and Brian Keenan.
I want to write like Henry Miller
I to describe sexual encounters with verve and honesty, to describe my life as if it were driven – had a purpose.
To copy Henry Miller’s style would be like learning to stand upright on a log as it spins, learning to control it and guide it on calm waters and through torrents, over falls and through the sawmill ’til the wood-pulp has been turned into paper, the words written on the paper and the resulting novel is on display in the window of the book shop on Gosforth High Street.
Let it be so.
And so eighteen years on from writing the above, a hundred sexual encounters relived or invented, look for readers and a home. (Not here, I think.)
Four books on the go
I somehow manage to have four books on the go at any one time.
Only this can satisfy my boredom threshold:
- ‘Sexus’ Henry Miller
- ‘Volume Five: Journals’ Anais Nin
- ‘Neither Here Nor There,’ Bill Bryson
- and ‘The Letters of Henry Miller and Anais Nin.’
Is that all?
In between I have to dip into old (and find new) enthusiasms:
- Bernard Levin, ‘Enthusiasms,’
- Clive James (autobiography
- and Evelyn Waugh
(because his letters are being read on BBC Radio 4 each morning).
For the first time I want to quote from them, mark their books as I read them, read what they read, pursue my passion, stir harder the feelings they unsettle, then have a go myself, turn my own hand to these pages.
My problem is that a burst of enthusiasm gets me to 2,500 words.
Then I rethink it, rework it and like running into a tall fence of chicken-wire I can suddenly get no further, I become enmeshed by my own re-writing.
I must learn in one breath, not to need to go back over and plod about. Find your ‘Voice’ through writing honestly.
Again, on writing, on the experience, satisfaction and method of writing Henry Miller says, ‘It was revealed to me that I could say what I wanted to say if I thought of nothing else, if I concentrated upon that exclusively and if I were willing to bear the consequences which a pure act always involves.’
His search for ‘truth,’ for his ‘voice.’
Satisfying this ‘must’ called writing.
If only I had my Anais.
When I drew Lucinda I drew the sex and warmth of a horny 19 year old, I drew the revealed lust and smell of her, I drew with my organ. I held it in my write hand and stroked it across a series of pages capturing what I saw and the way in which I saw it. I wouldn’t sleep with her because that would extinguish the passion I was playing with at my finger tips. I was letting my excitement add fluidity and texture to each mark on the page. I wasn’t just drawing from the shoulder, I was drawing with my entire body, with my whole being. Each time I tore off a page to start again it was like squeezing my balls to stop me coming, each time I got Lucinda to pose differently, to close her sex and turn her back on me I was reducing the volume, turning down the heat, keeping my dick at heel! If I’d slept with her I wouldn’t continue to have wet dreams about the moment, after such a heated game of ‘look and see’ I would have burst my body on first touching her.
She is a story I must write and rewrite, draw and redraw.
We lived in France too
On France Henry Miller says how his friend Ulric had gone to Europe and how this man’s experiences so differed from his own approach (and my own). ‘I had more in common with Ulric than with any of my other friends. For me he represented Europe, its softening, civilising influence. We would talk by the hour of this other world where art had some relation to life, where you could sit quietly in public watching the passing show and think your own thoughts. Would I ever get there? Would it be too late? How would I live? What language would I speak? When I thought about it realistically it seemed hopeless. Only hardy, adventurous spirits could realise such dreams. Ulric had done it for a year by dint of hard sacrifice. For ten years he had done the things he hated to do, in order to make his dream come true. Now the dream was over and he was back where he had started. Farther back than ever, really, because he would never again be able to adapt himself to the treadmill. For Ulric it had been a Sabbatical leave: a dream which turns to gall and wormwood as the years roll by. I could never do as Ulric had done. I could never make a sacrifice of that sort, nor could I be content with a mere vacation however long or short it might be. My policy has always been to burn my bridges behind me. My face is always set forward to the future. If I make a mistake it is fatal. When I am flung back I fall all the way back to the very bottom. My one safeguard is my resiliency. So far I have always bounced back. Sometimes the rebound has resembled a slow motion performance but in the eyes of God speed has no particular significance.’ (Sexus, Henry Miller)
Thrill seeker or career builder?
Have I fallen? Not so far. Have I been the adventurer seeking experiences about to write about?
Quitting JWT and tumbling from a flat in Whitehall Court to a bed in a Lewisham Terrace?
My trip to Gottingen, my run, safe run to Grenoble and the Alps?
My even safer return into Darlingest’s arms?
Have I been neither one thing nor the other? Neither reckless idiot on the streets of Paris, begging, nor the die-hard executive in the UK.
God don’t let me become Ulric.
Nor let me stumble so far into misery that I will be a pain to myself and my family. The time is right to write I have enough experiences to keep me writing for the rest of my life.
Like Henry Miller I make the idle boast about the number of words I have written.
These diaries alone (paper form and online come to 2.5 million words +. Then there are the screenplays (eight), TV adventure series (six), short films (thirty) and songs (seventeen).
Here in 2010 there may be a million more words in boxes, on floppy discs and zip drives, on CDs and memory sticks and boxed in one memory block to splat across cyberspace should she so please.
As Thoreau wrote, ‘How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.’
To an outsider it is like a revelation of a serious malady.
‘How could I do this to myself?’
My earnings to date?
£500 for the rights to a short film (That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendale) that never went into production.
I could see it at one of my mum’s coffee mornings, doing a Henry Miller, happy to join in as the scrounger of lives, picking their brains for snippets. I suddenly announce to the genteel Gosforth gathering:
“I’ve been xxxxxing since the age of 11. For the first 15 years I kept it up once, twice, sometimes four times a day. Nearly 5,500 times.”
They look at me in dismay, then look at Mum and sympathise. I hear them remarking how much better it is to have me at home than in an asylum.
And so I feel when I tell Dad I have diaries and stories of various half finished kinds making up another million. It’s not that tears fill his eyes, its not that his lip begins to quiver, but you know he is feeling despair.
‘Too many words,’ were his words of dismissal or encouragement for lyrics to a song. Lyrics.
Not that I’ve failed to climb the ladder of some multi-national, not that I’m so impoverished (and inclined) that I’m temporarily living at home, but because I have expended so much time and effort getting nowhere (flagellation in a corner for my own self satisfaction).
Must I prove anything to him (or anyone else?)
I’ve shown that I’m capable of writing for a living, but incapable of boxing my words into a neat publishable package, incapable of deriving any satisfaction except from my own way of doing (and saying) things.
My life in a box
Moving my life from place to place in boxes has become my way: from mother packed trunks and tuck boxes at school, to the castle and stately home covered Post Office cardboard ones I filled with my books and stationery in London, to the yellow French cardboard boxes filled with the scraps of Paris.
‘My Life in a Box,’ always (nearly always) on the move.
Where next? It’s something to be settling, but back to Paris first, then Prague or Milan? Anywhere to fill my words with experiences (or my experiences with words). The awfulness of television – a 1946 perspective Anais Nin wrote in 1946 about the awfulness of television. Fifty years later I feel we have gone (are going through) a new phase. So much of experience is television that fiction must go beyond the first reflection of reality and reflect the reflection.
Decades on my boxes are now ‘Really useful.’ Is this because we cannot afford the furniture or don’t want to purchase the furniture or because I want to be ready to move on?
Instead of holding a mirror up to reality, we must hold up a mirror to the reality already reflected in TV. Our fiction must be that much more extreme, more violent, more cookie, bigger, bolder, brasher, faster. I’ve gone this far. Crude. Violent. Pat Califia kind of stuff. Scary. Nightmarish.
Gulp it down – TV overload
Audiences (and readers) are used to gulping it all down in an over-spiced smorgasbord of channels. Can I deliver?
‘The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters, meetings, introductions which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a great amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch with a great amount of people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.’ (Anais Nin, Vol 4, Journals, May 1946).
Inspired to be up and at it!
For the second night in a row Darlingest has been up typing a marketing essay into my Amstrad. This morning I came down at 5.00 a.m. and joined her. Two hours later I am still writing.
We are joined by Mum; she too wished she was ‘up and at it.’
I agree. She should be painting, not worrying about the time of day (or night), what the neighbours think or the would be purchasers of her house. We joke in the family that Mum likes to keep the house tidy and bare as if it is up for sale. I must get her to read Anais Nin’s Journals about a woman’s struggle to find her creative outlet. To write you have to read. If you want to read a ‘how to write book’ (or books), read Henry Miller and Anais Nin.
Between them, across everything they wrote, Henry Miller and Anais Nin have produced a library on how to write.
Ray Bradbury, with an abundance of gusto, does the same in one slim volume, ‘Zen in the Art of Creative Writing.’ Zen in the Art of Creative Writing. Whilst I don’t hold Ray Bradbury in the same esteem as Henry Miller or Anais Nin, but ‘Zen’ is worth reading.