no cigarillo

Happy to report that the short story I entered for the mslexia short story competition was one of fifty that were shortlisted this year. It didn’t get placed. But given that there were over 2000 entries, and that this is mslexia we’re talking about – one of the biggest writing magazines with some of the highest standards – it’s not too shabby.

It’s not good enough, though. It’s encouraging, and tells me I’m getting closer to achieving some of my goals – but I am impatient. And competitive. I want to win. And I want it to happen NOW.

I guess the trick is to let those feelings motivate me to improve, work harder, reach more of my potential as a writer. I feel like I’m on the edge of making a leap forward, leveling up somehow, but then I’ve felt that way for a while. For a while I got frustrated about it, wondering what was holding me back, or what I was holding back from my work. But that way of thinking is too self-critical; it just makes everything harder. I prefer to think that things take the time they take. My writing will get better, but I can’t force it. All I can do is stay willing, and keep working.

disturbed by her song

I am currently reading ‘Disturbed by Her Song’ by Tanith Lee ‘writing as and with Esther and Judas Garbah’. Beautiful, beautiful, as is so much of Lee’s writing. Why this woman doesn’t have a deal with a major publishing house is a total mystery. Thank goodness for small presses such as Lethe Press, who are publishing some of Lee’s considerable back catalogue.

This is the first work of Lee’s I’ve read where she claims to be channelling the stories of two other writers, who in fact are creations of her own imagination. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I’m wondering if I could steal it for my own writing.

What interests me is whether I could imagine or create a writer who is better than me. A writer who is more disciplined, more rigorous, more poetic, more talented than I am. A writer who never gets blocked would be good; someone who thinks nothing of churning out a thousand brilliant words every day. If I could create such a writer in my own imagination, could I then become that writer whenever I needed to? And if I could do that, would I be that writer all the time? Would I ever want to be the writer I am now?

Essentially, I’m wondering if I can create a brilliant writer to murder me and take my place.

Maybe I’m just having a weird day. You should go and buy all Tanith Lee’s books now.

wild things in suits

When Max grew up he became a Financial Consultant, a rather astute and clever one, and he made a lot of money and bought a bloody nice house.

Now, when he shut his bedroom door and the forest grew, and he sailed through a day and through a night, and in and out of weeks, to the place… to that place, he found it all a little bit infra dig. He was King of the Wild Things, and a King can rule, so Max said: “All of you! Be quiet! I have a headache.”

And the Wild Things tiptoed clumsily around him, and grunted quietly, and all the while Max thought Kingly thoughts until finally he said: “There is to be no more Wild Rumpus! You Wild Things must Grow Up and Get a Job!”

Because Max was the King of the Wild Things, and they loved him so, they all sat down on the deck of Max’s white yacht, and sailed in and out of weeks to Max’s bedroom.

When they got there, Max had his Savile Row Tailor come over and set up the Wild Things with nice suits. The Wild Things complained and said the suits were itchy, and the Savile Row Tailor complained and said the Wild Things were bitey, but eventually the job was done and the Wild Things looked a lot less rude. Haircuts and manicures followed, and by the end of the day, Max felt satisfied and gave all the Wild Things a job. Mostly they worked as salesthings for Max’s Financial Consultancy.

It should have been a good life, but the Wild Things weren’t happy. They missed the Wild Rumpus. They missed their juicy jungle home. One night they got drunk and totalled Max’s BMW, and left childish messages on his girlfriend’s answering machine.

Max punished the Wild Things with a strong telling off, but things only got worse. Now when potential customers turned them away from their doorsteps, the Wild Things wrenched their front doors off the hinges and smashed up their houses. They roared instead of whispered, let their hair and their claws grow, chased dogs and ate whole raw chickens in the supermarket aisles.

Max’s life was totally ruined.

Even the Wild Things said he was no longer fit to be King. And the next time Max sailed, through a day and a night, and in and out of weeks, to the place where the Wild Things were, they showed him their terrible claws and rolled their terrible eyes and gnashed their terrible teeth, and Max felt scared and could not look them in the eyes.

making strange

Reading Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet was an incredible experience. I read it in an afternoon, sitting in the kitchen with the dog asleep at my feet, and rain beating against the window. Not that I was aware of my surroundings for long. The voices in those pages spoke directly to me, called me into their world, and I was drawn completely inside – or rather outside, or elsewhere: this beautiful dark rough nature.

This book is an evocation of feeling, it compels the reader to inhabit the language and be overtaken by it. Nothing happens for the sake of show in Garner’s writing, but each image is organic, profoundly simple, dense with meaning, mysterious, and true. His magic is steeped in physical history, in the landscape, in the intimate connection between humans and the land we live from. The knowledge passed down through generations, which encompasses the true nature of the material, and works with it in precise, sympathetic, patient, intuitive ways. Crafting yourself so you can do the work without fear.

Garner’s craft is fluid, natural, timeless. His craft is to find the seam of magic running deep under everything. His infallible mastery of language is necessary in order to bring these old true stories back from the mists of time.

In 1999, Garner gave a brilliant speech in which he talked about what language is for and how it works:

Unless words are metaphor, they are dead. You will find this wherever you come across a jargon, which is a valid construct stripped of ambiguity in order to communicate matters precisely, simply and beyond misunderstanding. The words are not elegant and have no literary value. They serve, but never dictate.

What we need to follow, then, is the ambiguous, the strange, the nonsensical. There is no urgent need to worry about making sense. What we must do is make strange.

A work of art is a dream. For all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is always ambiguous. A dream never says, “You must”, or, “This is truth”. It presents an image. To grasp its meaning, we must let it shape us as it shaped the writer. Then we also understand the nature of his experience. He has plunged into the healing and redeeming depths of the unconscious, where we are not lost in the isolation of consciousness, but where all are caught in a common rhythm that allows the individual to communicate feelings and strivings to mankind as a whole.

This connection to one another, deep in the heart of this dream, where all is strange and obscure — is where we find the hidden magic of our lives. And that’s what art is for, to serve that connection and to increase its vibrancy and power.

the opposite problem

I’ve neglected this blog a lot recently, and I’m not quite sure why. I enjoy writing posts here and talking to all of you who comment here and on facebook and elsewhere.  I think sometimes I just don’t really want to do the things that I enjoy doing, including writing. Sometimes I just want to feel the way I feel when I don’t do those things. It’s a different way of relating to the world.

Perhaps it is simply that I have grown comfortable with being alone, not really sharing much with others. Many people I know are deathly afraid of their loneliness. But I have relaxed into it as I’ve gotten older, and I have the opposite problem these days, that I sometimes fear connection with others. For me, it is so terribly painful to be misunderstood, to not be known. I guess that is a kind of loneliness, too, now that I think about it.

Of course I like to think that my inner life is more real and full of depth and meaning than any interaction with others.  You have to think like that in order to become a writer, and being a writer, you have to talk about it as though it makes you somehow special, when perhaps any introvert will feel the same way. It becomes more comfortable to be alone, to try to contain yourself and all your worlds inside your own body.

I think that when a way of being becomes safe and comfortable, it is time to change. Perhaps even to destroy, annihilate, devastate and abandon! If not, we get stuck in a ‘safe place’ with our writing, and we fail. We are too scared to throw it all out and start again. But creativity is always yin/yanging with destruction. True artistry does not spring from balanced contentment, but is the phoenix that is born from the flames as the old world burns to ashes. I’d really love to write that sentence in a less pretentious way, but there it is, that’s exactly what I want to say right now. Change or die, people. Change or die.