Saturday 15 June 2024

Dogs chase their tales, too – by Rowena House

Turns out, on reading back over the past year of ABBA blogs, I’ve said what I was going to say this month many times before.

The happy-clappy gist of which is: these posts are great self-help tools. By making me write something worth other people's time to read, they have built into a craft library of experiments and techniques that have got me (very slowly) about half-way through the seventeenth century witch trial work-in-progress.

What is scary, though, is how much I forget what’s come before. How I repeat myself. Somewhere on ABBA, I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned that private creative journalling never appealed, a preference I put down to being an ex-journalist and liking deadlines. So what? It’s a brag, isn’t it? A way of reminding myself I used to be a professional writer. Look! I got paid once and everything.

These blogs are also lengthy self-justifications for procrastination. E.g., this is from a year ago:

“For plot purposes, in Act 2, Tom must go off on his own to investigate the evidence which led to the executions of eleven convicted witches. In the latest iteration of his motivation for this action, he doesn’t understand his own behaviour. It is his subconscious which manipulates his desire to defend his ‘tribe’ from accusations of corruption and rationalises his atypical action – going off alone.”

It’s all gone. Tom doesn’t go off alone. He doesn’t investigate anything. He makes stuff up. He’s a writer, not a do-er. So what was that all about, then?

If anything, she says, as the June rain settles into a steady drizzle outside the kitchen window, these posts read like a chronicle of someone rushing around, with tail-wagging enthusiasm, vanishing down yet another hole.

For a while this morning, re-reading these posts did feel like hands stretching out over time, passing along the message, Stop with the self-sabotage, woman! Yeah, sure, they said, writing fiction might be a self-indulgent time suck with opportunity costs strewn along the way and a bitter fight for publication at the end, with all its nonsense about money and marketing, but a work-in-progress is not just about the ‘book’. It’s about the journey.

Writing fiction is an opportunity to set aside time to study people – Others and Self – with the explicit intention of unearthing something original to say about them, based, however tangentially, on one’s own experiences. Writing fiction is about the chance to craft something dramatic, entertaining, and honest.

And maybe there is some truth in that. I dunno.

I think what’s going on here is the (navel-gazing) repercussions of news yesterday that a school which had been loyal to The Goose Road, my WW1 debut, as their summer read emailed to explain why they are dropping it. 

Apparently, they have a policy of building up their pupils’ personal and physical libraries; now they cannot find a supplier to fill a bulk order, that is the end of that. Eighty odd copies which would otherwise have been sold every year now won’t ever be sold again. Eighty young people who would have cried for Amandine and be glad for Angelique and Napoleon won’t ever know they ‘exist’.

Six years after publication, and ten years after I began researching that story, I hadn’t expected to care so much. But I did. I felt gutted. Silly, huh? It’s only a book. I was lucky it got published.

Before that email, I’d booked onto another online Arvon masterclass for today, the first in over a year. And you know what? It was fun, thanks to Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s passion for the subject of writing about fictional families, and the ‘deliciously chewy’ nature of relationships where love and antagonism reside side by side.

Did I waste two hours of my life sitting in front of the computer, imagining Beth’s family? Am I wasting time writing this now? I don’t think so. But then, I can’t help remembering what ‘they’ say about the ‘hero’ story we tell ourselves: how, really, we are in control of the events of our lives; how it all makes sense when we think about it...

A decent hero story, apparently, can stop us from going mad about the purposelessness of it all.

So, happy, heroic writing, everyone. Chin up. It’ll be worth it in the end. 


1 comment:

Nick Garlick said...

Writing is definitely stopping me from going nuts right now. Most times it's like trying to roll treacle uphill, but NOT doing it is worse. I liked your post. (And rough news about the school dropping Goose Road. I really did like that book.)