Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Think Herzog - Andrew Strong

Werner Herzog's ‘Heart of Glass’ is a film that still haunts me, long after I first saw it. The actors, famously hypnotised into stilted and glazed performances, play characters struggling to rediscover the recipe for blood red glass, a secret lost when an old glassmaker dies. Without this knowledge the village economy begins to collapse. It is apocalyptic, visionary, idiosyncratic and very, very weird.

There aren't a lot of jokes in ‘Heart of Glass', but like all Herzog’s films, it is extremely funny.

One of Herzog's more recent productions is a documentary about a man who wants to commune with bears. It's a true and tragic story. The bears eat him in the end. They do, really. And then there’s the film in which Herzog eats his shoe, inspirationally titled ‘Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe’.

Herzog's films teeter between the mystical and the insane; between high art and farce.

Whenever I set out to write a book, I watch a little of ‘Heart of Glass’. I want something of that weirdness in everything I do. Ideas for books usually begin with a subtle image: a dilapidated shop, a boy on sunlit steps. I want to create half-worlds in which realities are questioned and undermined.

If my books turn out a little weird (or ‘bonkers’ as one editor put it) then all the better. I realise it gets harder and harder for publishers to accept eccentric books, but I’m not going to write something that I hate, just to please someone who probably doesn’t really want what they are asking for in the first place.

Herzog never worries about what anyone wants. He does what he likes. He has been an outsider all his life, but has produced works of incomparable beauty and strangeness.

In these difficult times it may be that many children’s writers will take stock and decide to write something mainstream; something that will sell. Instead of doing what instinct has us do, we might try and determine a gap in the market, or attempt to have a guess at what will the next big thing. We’ve had wizards and vampires, what next, wombats?

I'm lucky, I have a day job, it affords me the luxury of being able to write what I like, and if I don't get published, I don't starve. But I still want to encourage everyone to Think Like Werner Herzog, do something extreme, and do it with all the energy you can muster. Be yourself. Be weird. You already are anyway. Just admit it.


Sue Purkiss said...

Interesting post, Andrew. I think you're right. Who knows what the market wants, anyway? The market is full of individuals who have different likes and interests: it's not a homogenous mass. (Though that of course doesn't explain the wall-to-wall success of vampire books or any other publishing phenomenon.) Anyway - am intrigued enough to want to read one of your books!

Elaine AM Smith said...

I think Werner Herzog whenever I see the information about The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. I haven't read it yet, in some respects the title is enough for me ;)

Joan Lennon said...

Permission to be weird. I just might print that out and put it on my wall!
Thanks for the post.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

It was good to read this post this morning.

I might now open a box containing a dusty manuscript which was deemed too off the wall when it was first submitted. A few years down the line and I have a few more skills; it may be time to revisit it.

I'll try and leave the worrying about markets and sensible decisions to the politicians. If they can't predict what's coming up, or get anything right, then I know I can't.

I need to see the film, though, don't I? Thanks, Andrew, for the tip.

frances thomas said...

Oh goodness, Heart of Glass! When I went to see this film I was two days into jet-lag that just wouldn't right itself. I'd taken a sleeping pill the night before to try to re-set my mental clock - it hadn't worked, so I decided to go to the cinema. Guess what I went to see. I was feeling about as zonked -out and disorientated as it was possible for anyone other than Keith Richards to be. Then I sat through that film.
It was beautiful - but oh dear, not the right film to see that day. I must catch it again sometime.
But, yes, Andrew, that strangeness of Herzog's is something worth thinking about and aiming for.

Andrew Strong said...

Herzog's films can be watched again and again; the narrative isn't so chiselled as to reveal everything (some might say anything!) first time. Frances - I think you saw Heart of Glass in the most apt frame of mind: slightly dazed, half awake. And Sue, I wish my books were weirder.