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.
Jonathan Franzen on writing
On Jonathan Franzen
From edited extracts from ‘Why Bother?’ a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen.
This essay is, ‘How to be alone’ that appeared in the UK’s Saturday Guardian newspaper.
Jonathan Franzen’s model when he got out of college in 1981 for the kind of novel he wanted to write was Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’.
This was 1992. So what is it now. I presume a bit of TV and radio would have given way to the Net’
‘The ambitious young fiction writer can’t help noting that, in a recent USA Today survey of 24 hours in the life of American culture, there were 21 references to television, eight to film, seven to popular music, four to radio, and one to fiction.’
I like how Jonathan Franzen relates the fall of the Soviet Union to the shift on car purchasing in the USA.
‘In 1993 -the swollen minivans and broad-beamed trucks that had replaced the automobile as the suburban vehicle of choice – these Rangers and Land Cruisers and Voyagers that were the true spoils of a war waged to keep American petrol cheaper than dirt.’
This brings a rye smile from me:
‘I was becoming so depressed that I could do little after dinner but flop in front of the TV. I could always find something delicious: M*A*S*H, Cheers, Homicide. Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt.’
I zap between E.R., Friends, Coupling and Simon Sharma.
‘If you are a novelist and you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anybody else to read your books?’
This prompted me to go out and buy Zadie Smith’s, ‘White Teeth’, Tony Parson’s ‘Man and Boy’ and something else … Michel Houellebeque’s ‘Platform’.
‘In the 19th century, when Dickens and Darwin and Disraeli all read one another’s work, the novel was the pre-eminent medium of social instruction. A new book by Thackery or William Dean Howells was anticipated with the kind of fever that a later December film release inspires today. The big, obvious reason for the decline of the social novel is that modern technologies do a much better job of social instruction. Television, radio and photographs are vivid, instantaneous media.’
What is a ‘social novel’ ?
I never studied English beyond school. I.e. Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Pope.
‘The essence of fiction is solitary work: the work of writing, the work of reading.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992
This is why writers need a shed. Or a yacht. Or a hermitage. I need to be alone, travelling, away from the phone and the internet.
I’d like a hermit’s cage; I’d like to be sent innocent girl’s in search of God so that I could put the Devil inside her. (If she were consenting and over the age of 18 of course, or is 16 in England.)
‘However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992.
There are echoes of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ all about ‘resistance’ … though Jonathan Franzen wrote this a decade ago.
Ripples, synchronicity. Blah Blah. Writer who writer about writing as they write.
‘Even harder to admit is depression. It’s not just that depression has become fashionable to the point of banality. The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort or will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into the corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new McWorld … Instead of saying I am depressed you want to say I am right !’
And a bit more
‘Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.’
Don’t think about it, just do it.
Don’t even hesitate to look into your soul. Don’t do an Elvis. Narcissism and writing equals stalemate
‘There’s evidence that young writers today feel imprisoned by heir ethnic or gender identities – discouraged from speaking across boundaries by a culture in which television has conditioned us t accept only the literal testimony of the Self. And the problem is aggravated when fiction writers take refuge in university creative-writing programmes. Any given issue of the typical small literary magazine reliably contains variations on three general short stories: “My Interesting Childhood,” My Interesting Life in a College Town,” and “My Interesting Year Abroad”. As a reader I mourn the retreat into the Self and the decline of the broad-canvas novel.’
Just do it. Site down and write.
Lock yourself in a shed. Drink, wank, let go. Then write. Get on a yacht. Disappear to sea. Fly a rocket to the moon. Isolate yourself. No radio, no TV, no papers. No reference books. No contact with the outside world. No ‘writers groups’ at all. Sexperts are permitted.
‘I used to distrust creative-writing departments for what seemed to me their artificial safety, just as I distrusted book clubs for treating literature like a cruciferous vegetable that could be choked down only with a spoonful of socialising.’
Ha ! I knew this writer’s group thing was a waste of paste and space.
‘Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.’
Michel Houellebecq’s Platform
Platform’ by Michel Houellebecq Read within 24 hours I’ve been saved by a ‘Book Lite’ (sic) the size of a box of matches and ‘Platform’ by Michel Houellebecq.
The torch has a clip that allows me attach it to the hardback cover of a novel and an extendable arm that allows me to direct the light onto the pages.
Instead of getting out of bed at 5.30 a.m. this morning I read 100 pages of ‘The Platform’, in which Michel has sex in a massage parlour in Paris, then a couple of times in brothels in Thailand.
I like Michel Houellebecq’s honesty, he has a Henry Miller-like disdain for everyone and everything around him, except for ‘pussy pleasure;’ there is a greater sense of narrative with Houellebecq than Miller.
‘Platform’ in particular, compared to ‘Atomised’ has the rhythm of H.G.Wells to it, especially ‘Tono-Bungay’. I want to read both in French, I query some parts of the translation (I was a professional translator of French to English for a period).
I don’t like to deface hardback books, let alone a novel I want to correct the typo or two that appears every 50 pages, an extra letter on ‘there’ making it ‘theree’ or a definitive article where it is not required. I don’t like folding over the tip of a page to bookmark a quote, but slumbered in bed, illuminated by my ‘book lite’ and not wishing to disturb ‘they that are asleep’ by my side, I resign myself to turning a page.
Michel crits the novels he reads while on holiday, he casts off the American best sellers with disdain, he jerks off to a few pages of sex from John Grisham’s ‘The Firm’ then buries this and another novel, like toilet paper on which he has wiped his arse while on the beach. He later alights on an Agatha Christie leant to him by fellow traveller ‘Valerie’; it is ‘The Hollow’.
I like the way he alights on the description of Henrietta, a sculptor, ‘in whom Agatha Christie tried to portray not only the agony of creation (the scene where she destroys a statue just after labouring to finish it because she senses that it is lacking something), but that suffering which is particular to being an artist; that inability to be truly happy or unhappy, to truly feel hatred, despair, ecstasy or love; the sort of aesthetic filter which separates, without the possibility of remission, the artist from the world. The author had put much of herself into her character, and her sincerity was obvious.’
I feel in drawing this conclusion, that Michel Houellebecq is revealing more of himself in his character than usual.
I liked this from Houellebecq: ‘I had an inkling that, more and more, the whole world would come to resemble an airport.’
And this: ‘We remember our lives, Schopenhauer wrote somewhere, as little better than a novel we once read. That’s about right: a little, no more.’
‘Reading is a skill: you have to be taught how to do it.’ Nabakov
Originally posted on 02/02/2003 in my Diaryland blog.
From Martin Amis
I read a review by Martin Amis each time I go to the loo; which is often given the column of vegetable matter and brown rice that I’m consuming.
J G Ballard ‘Crash’
A 1996 review of the film by David Cronenbourg with more reference to the book on which the film was based that was published in 1971.
I’m so ill read I didn’t even now Ballard had written ‘Crash’.
Everything about him as an author appeals to me though given how his writing style, especially his ‘early style’ as described by Amis. The local library does not have ‘Crash’ – if you have a copy do send me one. Address on request. Was I time I’d order anything on a whim from Amazon, tuck into my credit card; was I time I’d so the same in the bowels of Blackwell’s in Oxford.
I like the way it is explained to us that the main character, James Ballard, does one thing in the film and another in the book .. a book that preceded the firm by 25 years.
‘Under the sway of a ‘benevolent psychopathy’, a ‘new logic’, the entire cast surges eagerly towards an autogeddon of wound-profiles and sex deaths.
I like the idea that crash deals with ‘obsession’, I must of course, having read all of this, get a copy of ‘Crash’ – from the library I hope.
‘Crash emerged from a background of surrealism, cultural activism, hyper-permissiveness and lysergic acid.’
On being a A novelist or a B novelist.
- Nabakov: His Life in Part by Andrew Field review by Martin Amis
- Nabakov regarded cliché as the key to bad art, yet it is an attractive irony that bad art is what his life so frequently resembles.
- Lectures on literature by Vladimir Nabakov. Edited by Fredson Bowers. Reviewed by Martin Amis.
‘Reading is a skill: you have to be taught how to do it.’
Nabokovian advice. The only things that a good reader needs are imagination, memory, a dictionary and some artistic sense.
I need to read Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ perhaps, and ‘Galapagos.’ State otherwise.
The library doesn’t even have Kurt Vonnegut
I found a J G Ballard though (not crash). I’m after ‘Les Particules elementaires’ by Michel Houellebecq too.
I can pick holes in the translation of ‘Atomised’ – why? It’s been translated into American English. Ha! You see. There needs to be a English English version, an Australian English version, a Canadian English Version and an Indian English version … there are more. Now who was it who predicted, that like Latin, English would gradually form several separate languages????
- AUTO-Erotic Philosophy (theheterodox.com)
- Some thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer. (mymindbursts.com)
- Rushing to Paradise: Interview with JG Ballard (publicsphere.typepad.com)
- “The Cage of Sand,” J. G. Ballard, 1962 (jennre.wordpress.com)
From an article on Michel Houellebecq.
I like to read these author profiles. I know why I am attracted to them. I am vain and narcissistic. I want to be written about. I’d like to be controversial, preferable to being bland. I’d like to be described as ‘indefatigably provocative’. I don’t understand the depth of fuss over ‘Atomised’.
I’m reminded that I’d like to read him in French, I found parts of ‘Atomised’ grated – having lived and loved in France I feel I have a good sense of the appropriate way of saying certain things. The English translation I read was sprinkled with American expressions that aren’t appropriate for a European book (not that England or the English we speak has a lot to do with Europe).
As I did with film directors I like to figure out how old they were when they first found success; this game is becoming increasingly less encouraging as I age. Whilst some do get their break in the forties they aren’t many: Henry Miller, Oliver Stone … Houellebecq was born in 1958. He could be my brother for Christ’s sake. He is 44, I am 40. Ahhhhhhh!
His first book, ‘Whatever’ was published when he was 36 then. Hmmm. My first broadcast short film? 1996. I was 34. The first time I directed actors? 1990. Blah Blah. Hardly achievements. Nor are the hundreds of training films. I need an audience, I need readers. I need to get my voice, my vision, my world out there.
‘Platform’ is premised on the idea that sexual tourism will finance the third world. It is nonsense, but have sympathy for a novel having a theme like this. If the plots and sub-plots are the grain in the wood then the ‘premise’ is the wood itself, the kind of tree from which it has come. Sex isn’t a new theme at all, it is enduring, it drives ‘mankind’. We are sex driven.
I like this, on whether or not he deliberately sets out to be provocative,’most of the time you are just persuading yourself of things’
And from the reviewer, ‘something must have wound him up enough to write these books’ and, ‘Houellebecq has three subjects on which he speaks pretty effortlessly. These are: childhood, sex and alcohol. Or, as he might say, optimism, disillusion, forgetfulness.’
And Houellebecq’s excuse for drinking?
‘Alcohol is a great palliative. There are many reason to drink. To rest. When you are mentally agitated, it clams you down. When you are shy it helps you to socialise. And it destroys anxiety. It also can give you the impression of being brilliant and being brave.’
I could write ‘Atomised’
I’d call it ‘splat’. Over half he UK population will comprise of people living alone by the year 2010. I cannot think of anything more destructive for society. It is a times like this that I envy Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Sheikh families who are so better able to hold extended families together for the advancement and happiness of family members. ‘Splat’ – like a green welly stamping on a wet cow-pat our family has been flung, in shitty little bits, across the four corners of England and in one instance to the outer edge of Africa.
My experience of sex couldn’t be more different to Houellebecq
XXX but you’re not about to read about (not here leastways).
Where was I?
I couldn’t write of ‘sick sex’ the way Houelbecq does because I’ve never experienced it.
I put a wasp in my mouth
I had a can of Carlsberg open in the garden, It was in the can, the can went to my mouth. I hesitated when the forth of lager in my mouth began to fizz and buzz. It could feel it paddling about in my mouth. So I spat it out. Since then I’ve taken to pouring my lagers into a large coffee mug, helps with nosey neighbours too who may wonder what I am doing drinking lager at 9 in the morning. If wasps bother me now i dip my fingers in my drink, get their attention, let them settle and sip … then ‘wap!’ they are dead.