Friday, September 23, 2011

Back in the saddle

It’s almost the end of September and I haven’t written a word since July.
This of course is an exaggeration. I have written a great deal – some blog posts (though not enough), a number of long e-mails, and some advertising material for my recently published booklet. So when I say I haven’t written anything for two months, what I actually mean is that I haven’t added so much as a line to either Children of Eden or Albion’s Millennium. And it’s beginning to get me down.
There have been the usual disruptions to my routine, some pleasant – like a house guest – some not so pleasant – like a sick cat – plus I have had paid editing work that needed to be done. Nevertheless, I have been complicit in letting these daily events stand in the way of my productivity. I have let perfectly good half-hours slip through my fingers because each one didn’t seem long enough to get started so I might as well check Facebook instead.
This is the subtle art of procrastination, an art which I have practiced all my life. I know I’m not alone in this and may, in fact, be less guilty than many. And it’s true that I don’t have the full-time helpmeet or amanuensis that every writer needs to smooth the path to productivity (and nor does anyone else these days). But the bald fact remains that I don’t make the best use of my time for the purposes of writing.  
Yet, if I don’t write, my mental health begins to suffer. My sense of purpose gets buried, making me lose track of who I am and what I need to live a full and satisfying life. And I am always conscious of how fast time goes by and how little one can afford to waste it.  
So it’s time I got back in the saddle. Like exercising, it can be hard to get back to it after a layoff but once you do, everything seems possible – the 10lbs you’d like to lose, the novel you’d like to finish – instead of a far-off goal separated from you by insurmountable obstacles. I can’t wait to feel like that again.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lost in a Haunted Wood


I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One Woman's Imagination

On my recent trip to the UK, I was getting out of a cab at King’s Cross train station when I saw a long line of people queuing outside the station. Curious, I walked to the front of the line and found that all those people standing in the heat were waiting to have their photograph taken against a plain brick wall with a sign that simply said Platform 9¾.
No explanation needed. This was incontrovertible testimony to the power of one woman’s imagination. That and the 450 million Harry Potter books she’s sold and the eight movies that have grossed $7,672,299,413 worldwide. Not to mention the merchandise, the theme parks, and the forthcoming interactive website PotterMore.
I was at King’s Cross to take a train up to Scotland. While in Edinburgh, I had tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake at The Elephant House. This was the coffee shop where that very woman, J.K. Rowling, then a penniless single mother, used to sit for hours nursing a coffee and putting her imagination down on paper, her baby daughter asleep in a stroller beside her.
Which is where it starts for all of us writers of fiction. Applying the seat of the pants to the chair and putting one word down and then another and another. Not being afraid to write badly, not letting your internal critic get in the way. Being bold and brave and confident, even when you are writing about something that you doubt if anyone else will ever understand – a world that you carry around in your head, that you are creating out of nothing, out of thin air. Just telling the story and not thinking or caring about what becomes of it afterwards. Writing because it makes you happy and because you just have to do it.
Bringing to life a whole, rounded, full-bodied story is – and must be - a satisfaction all of its own. But if you find your book makes people so excited that they queue round the block to have their picture taken with a blank wall that your imagination created, then that’s the icing on the cake.