It must seem to my regular readers that nothing much happens in my literary life. I have no whistle-stop tours of signings and readings, no local radio appearances and so on to report. However, I’m far from inactive, and the notion that nothing happens couldn’t be further from the truth. So what is happening?
Well, firstly I am writing a new novel, or rather one that I had had some notes for a while ago but had shelved while I finished From My Cold, Undead Hand and the sequel KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE. It would be difficult to say at this stage what it is ‘about’, because I am trying to walk a tightrope between experimenting with form and style and producing something that is readable. For a while now I have been taking part in discussions, notably with Millie Ho and her blog-followers, about… well… how to write. Millie has some brilliant ideas, and if I take issue with many of them it is merely because they stimulate thought. One topic in particular has been that of working towards an ending, and my concern is that literature has been stuck in a pattern that has lasted for centuries, if not at least a couple of millennia, going back to the concept of ‘catharsis’ in classical Greek drama. What this has meant for fiction is that it has largely resisted major innovation, and that it is alone as an art form in doing so. I have written on this subject before. Fiction, pretending to give us a narrative progression from a beginning to an end, more often than not is driven by that predetermined end in a way that life is not – ‘Destiny does not send us heralds,’ said Oscar Wilde in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and neither should the writer of fiction be obliged to function as some kind of prescient, wiser than the rest of us. As readers we ought to be able to cope with fiction that hands us a slice of life to look at, and the knowledge that life continues after that slice is finished.
In our discussions we have been looking at the problem of how to give a novel ‘closure’ – giving the readers the sense of its completeness – without necessarily having a structural ‘resolution’ driven by the dictated need for catharsis.
For my current novel project (working title The Deptford Bear) therefore, I have a probable direction of narrative travel rather than a definite ending in view. I can see where the narrative may possibly lead, but I am open to the journey of exploration taking a turn and leading instead to somewhere unexpected. For this reason, and because it’s the way I actually enjoy writing, I haven’t been plodding, chapter-by-chapter, from the beginning. I have been writing ‘episodes’ in an almost random order, which I will sew together later. I have been writing from inside the head of the protagonist, hopping from happening to colourful happening in her life. An added challenge is that the whole of her story is being told to a third party – a Scotland Yard detective – and there is probably a lot she is holding back, even from the reader. The story has a strong element of ‘detective mystery’, though whether the mystery will be cleared up when the novel closes is another matter. It has elements of ‘steampunk’, being set in a Victorian London where nineteenth-century history is telescoped or concertinaed in on itself, ‘Montgolfier’ balloons traverse the city from mooring-tower to mooring-tower, and messages are passed between police stations by a vast, steam-driven network of ‘Lampson’ tubes. But how much of this is real, and how much is in the imagination of the protagonist is hard to say. She is, apparently, an amnesiac, and has a strange way of relating to the world, and of expressing herself, learned since she lost her memory as a child; she is a clairvoyant who admits to being a mountebank but who might be genuinely psychic; and she may be something much, much darker than that. Her London is peopled not only with thieves and murderers, toffs and paupers, but with hawkers and buskers, with carnival people and mummers, perhaps with monsters and changelings, and is haunted by one sinister, silent figure – the ‘Deptford Bear’ himself, a creature of deep ritual significance. Or is it she who is haunted rather than the city?
Regular readers of the blog section of this web site will know that I have other novel ideas on my shelf, for which I have written sketches. It’ll be The Deptford Bear I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future, and the others will remain on the shelf. I’m up to about 15,000 words so far.
Secondly, work continues on turning my short story Axe into a film or TV script. I have provided some extra narrative material, and a Scottish screenwriter is currently working on it. I have seen his summary of how he would like to tackle the dramatisation, and the first draft of the opening, and it is developing in quite an exciting way. To go back to the matter of how to end a piece of fiction, those of you who have read the short story will notice that it did not ‘resolve’ in any conventional way; the extra narrative material I have given, along with the creative input of the screenwriter himself, perhaps a little more of a conventional resolution. Nevertheless, this is an exciting project and something totally new for me.
Thirdly, other stuff. You will no doubt remember that my short story Voices was amongst the winners at the Winter Words festival a few months ago. Well, as often happens, that win gave me a boost, and I have already written two further macabre short stories, and sketched out a third, which will fit well as entries for next year’s competition, and the year after that… and the year after that. Also I’m preparing some new poetry for a forthcoming anthology.
So, although my blog section here isn’t full of a mad social whirl, inactive I am not. I’ll keep you all posted.