At the end of May, I had a weekend of fantastical bookishness – Saturday at the ‘Horse Tails’ conference in Cambridge (a whole day devoted to pony books!), and Sunday at the superbly energetic Linton Children’s Book Festival. Two weeks later, when it came down to writing about it, I discovered that as with so much in life, the detail seemed less relevant than a seed of thought that had squirrelled into my head at the first event, germinated at the second, and continued to grow since then.
The Horse Tails conference was a great excuse to hang around with some lovely writers and pony book enthusiasts, and I have to confess that that was the main reason I went. But there were all these ideas flying around the place, zooming past my ears (a more thorough description of the conference can be found on Jane Badger’s blog post here). Good ideas. Interesting ideas. Crazy ideas. And then, as always, the one idea that irritates me, and just refuses to go away.
This one involved an analogy between riding and writing, exploring the term ‘Throughness’.
It’s a term used largely in dressage circles to describe a circuit of energy flowing between horse and rider. The idea behind this analogy was that the rider/writer is the conscious mind and the horse/story the unconscious mind, and that writers should strive to achieve ‘throughness’ with their stories in the same way that riders seek to achieve ‘throughness’ with their horses, i.e. by harnessing and containing the energy, which then leads to a deeper understanding of/ greater ability to plumb into the unconscious mind.
As an idea, it was interesting and poetic. But the way it was used – placing the rider/writer as the conscious being, and the horse/story as the unconscious one, I didn’t like at all. I told myself I was being curmudgeonly, because I’m just not that keen on the horse-rider relationships in dressage. Then to illustrate the point, two photographs were shown, one of a suited-and-booted horse and rider achieving ‘throughness’, and one intended to be an example of poor riding, and lack of ‘throughness’.
|Lack of 'Throughness'||(copyright: Maximiliano Baratero)|
I’m pretty sure that when I ride a horse, I look like a 'poor' example – reins slack, legs dangling, quietly slouched in my saddle. But I have a great deal of fun riding, and my horse is happy. She knows what I’m asking her to do, and I know exactly what she wants, and what she’s looking at, pretty much every second of every ride (cows, I’m talking to you). I think of my horse as an equal, conscious being. When our ideas coincide – that quicksilver gallop up the hillside, that perfect leap over a dangerous puddle – we spring into action together, and it is wonderful. And then we go back to slopping along, silently chatting about cows. Horses and riders can be full of energy, finely-balanced and waiting to spring, even when they do not look as if they are.
So I think the reason for my irritation with the idea of ‘throughness’ was that this is perhaps more how I see writing, as well. I don’t feel that writing is tapping into something unconscious and controlling it with my conscious mind, it’s accepting that my ideas are worth as much as I am, and have lives of their own. My task as a writer is to learn how to listen to my idea, and to live in it – to understand the shape, the colours, the flesh of it. I often feel, when I write, like I’m tracing around the contours of a world that exists entirely apart from me, and trying to translate it as best I can. I try not to talk about stories ‘writing themselves’, because I’m pretty sure that I do all the writing. But the story world does exist in itself, in a part of my mind that I often cannot manipulate.
At the Linton Children’s Book Festival. I was on a panel answering questions about the writing and publishing process. The last question was ‘What’s the best part of writing a book?’ My answer – that moment when I’m sitting, writing away, and my characters have crowded into the room with me, and then the walls disappear, and I’m there, inside the story. Helen Moss called it being ‘in the zone’, and that’s certainly what it is – being right inside the perfect place, where the story races along effortlessly and exactly, and I’m scribbling and scribbling just to keep up with it. It is a kind of trance, where I am at one with the story, and at one with my fractured self. I have dissolved into a more spectacular world.
It is a kind of ‘throughness’, I suppose, if ‘throughness’ simply means harmony. But it’s not a polished, precise and practised harmony. It’s just wild, and very good fun. Is the story that comes out as good as if I’d practised dressage on it? I don’t know. Possibly not. I guess that’s just the way it works, for me.