The Art of Writing No. 44
I spent the weekend with a writer, internationally well known and a long time close friend. We discussed my novella Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic Love Story, at some length. He had read it twice and made notes on it. It was the kind of experience most writers crave, if they are not too thin skinned, where virtually every sentence is turned over for sense and value. At the basic level he found ambiguities where I had not meant them, despite my attempts to produce sharp, clean prose. Yet it was in a subtler area of debate that I really benefited.
One of the pervasive threads of the novella involves the central character being a writer. It is he who undergoes ‘gothic’ experiences. My friend (who eschews publicity at all costs, unlike me!) felt that to have a writer as the main protagonist made me vulnerable to a particular kind of hazard. Since the hero of Through a Mirror Clear is very successful in his authorship, this possible pitfall is cranked up (or dug deeper). Not only is he internationally famous within the horror genre but his reading matter appears to be from the top, classical drawer. What my friend argued was that by casting him in my tale thus, and by invoking his highbrow literary interests, I was by implication placing myself shoulder to shoulder with the greats and promulgating the merits of my own prose. How could I presume to invent such an individual and his world without antagonising the reader or at least inciting him/her to be far more critical of my work than would normally be the case?
So, does it take a great writer to create the life-world of another writer and provide the reader with a profile of the inside of such a person’s mind? I never thought so before. On this basis a novel which includes God as a character would be a step too far, even for Tolstoy.
To be even implicitly self-aggrandising was not my intent. I wanted to develop a drama in which the writer’s success in his genre might provide ironies and resonances when he became faced with strange and unsettling challenges to his reason, as horrifying as any in his own work. What I would say is that it tests nerve and skill to include quotes from your author-character’s published text. I had to do some of this in Azimuth and found myself later scratching a lot of it out.
But, as I have stated many times elsewhere in these blogs, what the writer thinks s/he gives and what the reader receives can be two very different things. I suppose we hope that if most of the people most of the time are mostly unperturbed then we have done ok.
So there’s a thing to prick the conscience of any king of words. In the manner of Russian dolls, here am I in a blog on writing, discussing a fellow writer’s thoughts about the art of writing, particularly the problem of being a novelist writing about a novelist’s relationship with his writing. And finding it extremely problematical and labyrinthine!
All my own writing, including Azimuth and Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic Love Story