Some Subversion Deep Below

Once, in a future world where great metal trains ran underground in long snaking tubes that criss-crossed under the mass of the vast city above, something of great and small significance took place. One man saw: though it can’t be ascertained if any other citizen of the place took note. The city-world had reached a stage of insouciance, and citizens weren’t citizens at all — in the old-time sense of it all: citizens were dwellers of the caves they’d found, and every other soul had Medusa’s eyes.

Up above, in the constant throng, the city was a glass array of screens, and virtually every existence was not an existence of the space and time of the place itself: virtually everyone lived elsewhere, had their punch-drunk minds locked into other realms, such was the state of the state they were in. It was a sore world of small segments looked upon. No-one saw the sky. Life was millions of individual paving slabs wide.

Down below, in the catacombs of the tubes that writhed, one man saw an accidental sight that maybe wasn’t permitted any more: a woman sat locked into her own small segment still, opposite him as they trundled by and by and through and through, riding the central line core of the subterranean realm; yet her segment slice was lightly dusted with the gritty glitter of something wondrous but dangerous. She pushed a heavy finger along the insides of the object in her palms. Her lips moved, but it didn’t matter: the man was mesmerised.

Here was a deviant: a subvert who might easily be hauled away and flogged for her flagrant disregard of the modern ways. She held the thick, large object open and it was clear she’d had it for some time. No-one else saw, or chose to see: or, if they did, they didn’t seem to realise what it was she held. The man knew it as a book. It was real and crisp and loved and dense with words. There was paper still, after all. He wanted to reach out and touch it, have it, hide it away.

The woman scraped her hair behind an ear and kept her eyes down. What courage and naivety; what immersion and foolhardiness she showed. To think, a book, open and in full sight, even if in the tubes that writhed under the city mass above. Up there she surely wouldn’t dare. Down below, at least the dwellers of the caves might be dulled enough not to raise their neck hairs in fear. The man wiped the sweat from his forehead. He had to leave, yet he wanted to stay.

The doors slid apart and the fleshtide swept him out into the dank, warm, moist air. The woman and her paper book slipped away and into the dark. He wondered if she’d have time enough to hide her love, somewhere down the line. Out and up in the city mass, the heave of the modern future world swallowed him whole again. Down below, deep down where eyes can’t pry so well, or where thoughts don’t rush because of dullness, a real thick book exists: read in actual time and space.


In the Times of Paper

I wake slowly . . . my thoughts entangled. Soft grey light seeps round the edges of the shutters into this wide and cluttered space, outlining the shrouded furniture and feeding my struggling consciousness as though it were a growing shoot struggling out of the clinging clay.

— Iain Banks, The Bridge (1986)

. . . in the chilly chapel . . . the slick material of the blouse trembling in the light from the translucent panes overhead, black silk hanging in folds of shade from her breasts, quivering.

— Iain Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5 (1969)

Twenty years or so ago I collected such offerings as I considered delicate, or striking, though didn’t attribute them to their authors. I kept them in a small notebook bought with my final Deutschmarks in the pre-Euro west of Germany. These snippets would be like pressed flowers, slowly desiccating in between the dark pages. However, they would, I felt sure, retain all their flavour all the more if the author wasn’t marked alongside them. When I creaked open that notebook, I needed to know who had written these flavourings. I had inklings, but I needed to be sure.

We didn’t have the world wondrous web back when notebooks and pens and paper were alive and well. Now we can find what we need instantly. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Banks had written the former offerings. There is a poetic resonance to these words which, all this time in the dark, I find still taste of something rich and smooth. Vonnegut, on the other hand, struck me from the pages of a recent reading: he wrote in times of paper and how things just were, it seemed.

In the time of paper amazing seeds were being sown, I found: did I have some unconscious attachment to certain ideas inside me all along, or is it just co-incidence to find threads of plots or themes or scraps of thinking from twenty years in the dark manifesting in the more mature writing of now? Either way, I find that a little disconcerting, eerie, spooky. Maybe some writing takes all the time between the necessary closing and the necessary opening of a notebook to be. If we believe in such things, when the notebook urges itself to be opened this is the time when everything is ready . . .

What did the writer of twenty years ago know? Still nascent loves and early wanderings of the world could only fold out into words in ragged ways. What does the writer of now know? Love and form and knowing how to see may well have evolved, but his words are just as ready for the pressing into dark pages as scraps of twenty years ago were. One day, when the time of paper will return for sure, something unknown and unknowable will blink out into the early morning light, slowly, as though it were a growing shoot struggling out of the clinging clay.

A World Seven Billion Stories Deep, at the Very Least

Stories beget stories. I was group leading on sessions of discussions recently and we touched on subjects such as spaces from our childhoods: places of found sacred, secret and otherwise special significance. I watched as people told their tales of far-off times, of places in the far-off east and hidden oases of desert kingdoms: stories fed into stories, faces changed, bodies shifted. Stories told rooted out the hidden treasures of stories in others, whose tales came blinking out into the light.

When we talk of our individual truths — with the colouring of the exotic otherness each of us holds over any other — we hold all the glitter and the stardust of the universe in our palms. We should treat our tales told, and the tales we hear, with reverence. Each story has its own flavour, texture, rich- and deepness. Each story is unique in the world.

There are seven billion stories in the world, at least; there must be more. I see flickerings of television screen offerings: cities teeming with possibilities of the overlapping stories of all its inhabitants, and more. How many stories does the vessel of each of us hold? How many stories overlap and, in doing so, become coloured, washed, textured differently with each perspective telling? There are seven billion stories in the world at the very, very least. There are more. How many stories have ever been?

The planet is one vast book of tales. The stories we just don’t see . . . I’m intrigued by the smallest things. So when I see and hear a group of tellers digging into their pasts to bring forth the sacred delicacies of their childhood haunts, and the faces on the listeners fall into such moments from afar, even for seconds at a time I see new stories — such as these here — start to unfold.

I took a walk, days later: I saw three children sitting on a doorstep playing cards, reading comics, just the way I did when I was their age. I saw them for a few seconds and I was taken back and back. The stories I’d forgotten, or kept in keepsake corners in my memory, found their way up and in. Today I read back on blog posts and see the tales I’ve told myself, over the years, start to weave their way into the telling of my writing. We’re each of us made of stories, comprised of personal parts of legends and micro-mythologies of time and place. We’re woven with the significances of others who, in that moment of their love and impact, pressed themselves to our skins — and beneath — for ever more.

We may be skin and bones and liquids but our hard and soft material selves regenerate over time; the stories that we’re made of are our elemental permanent selves. That we choose to give them away, strangely, only makes them stronger inside of us. Our stories given out and over have the power to transfix the listening other: such is the gravity they amass in time. Stories beget stories, and they — seven billion or so at the very, very least — fizz in the air around us and in the essences of us all.

Perspective Shifts: From Agency into the Magic of Reality

Following on from my previous writing (as linked to the recent magic realism blog hop), I find myself delving deeper into the magic of the real world. Lynne Cantwell wrote a thought-provoking piece titled Urban fantasy and magic realism: a matter of agency, and it prompts me to reply here as a post (my attempts at a direct reply were thwarted by the convergence of hardware, systems, the forces that be — all in the moment).

Despite her advocation that ‘alternative realism is a better descriptive name for the genre, mainly because it takes the ‘taint’ of magic out of play’, she goes on to write that ‘the magic in magic realism is woven into the fabric of society’ where ‘no magical creature’ need intervene. She adds that ‘the crucial difference between urban fantasy and magic realism [is that] urban fantasy requires an agent to deliberately effect the magical change’.

It’s not my intention here to quibble at length over the differences in definitional stances; I intend to look into the magic woven into the fabric of society. It’s interesting to read another writer’s perspective that some external agency might be the cause of magic, in certain written forms. That the fantasy construct is dependent on the magic inherent in an object (such as a ring), or a creature, or a person, or a creature-person, suggests that ‘grafting on’ process I wrote about recently: an almost superfluous layer, an oil-slick on what we usually see.

Lynne goes on to write that ‘one of the conceits of urban fantasy is that the fantastic is happening right under our noses — it’s just that most of us either aren’t equipped to spot it, or are more than willing to explain it away.’ Cue the creatures with the higher powers, greater knowledge, wisdom, call it what you will?

I’m not altogether comfortable with the term ‘alternative realism’. I was comfortable with a description coined as ‘alternate poetic reality’, in depicting some of what I’ve written, so why not the former? Perhaps it amounts to the thinking that in the former there’s the suggestion that what is ‘real’ (i.e. real magic in our actual reality) is somewhat devalued; in the latter, in the alternate poetic reality, it is that our own perspectives of the thing we see (reality) shift, rather than the reality itself.

We aren’t usually equipped to spot the magic. Yet we don’t need external agency to be able to affect that change in perspective: we need only internal belief. Belief is, after all, all powerful. What we believe is true. This I know. This is the power of stories, of story-tellers, of myth and magic. There’s no way to believe these words here unless what they aspire to transmit is also felt in you, the reader, by personal experience. Go into the garden, or look out over the hills or the sea, or up at the clouds: what is that you feel?

In haiku it is that very sense of ‘now’, of almost absolute comprehension, of a ‘feel’ for what ‘is’ that is the essence to be captured. What is that essence if not the magic of the world? This is not something I can, or should, try to convince you of here: I would almost be external agent and that would be counter to my point. You should go out into the world that seeps around you and feel for yourself what is there: the flavours and the ripplings, the shifts in light and the different densities in gravities, all the ways your slice of the place we all live on ‘is’, not just could be.

Here, after a shortness of rain, the ghost of a cloud shreds in distant utter silence. It’s what I see and feel, and it’s the magic of the real: not tainted by the term but enhanced by it. It’s what I believe and what I know, here, now.

Real Magic and the Mythkeepers of the World

This world we live in has a different ‘shape’ to the ‘shape’ we often think it as. By this I mean that the world is arranged in ways other than what we think we know. We block out what we don’t see because we either do not understand it, can’t countenance it, or have been swamped by a modern veneer that is an oil on our sights and skins. What we block out is magic. By this I don’t mean the Harry Potter type of ‘magic’, or the stage illusionist’s ‘magic’: I mean real magic.

For millennia humans have been storytellers. We used to embrace the mythical, the lore of the folk, the poetry of epic tales: we saw real magic in the world. The world was a wondrous and sometimes confounding and frightening place. There were phenomena beyond our comprehensions in the spaces where we lived, in the cycles of the planet, in the lights above our heads. Our ancestors could only gaze in awe at what they saw; give praise to invisible forces that filled the gaps in their understanding; accept that much of what happened around them happened in some vast ineffable space and dimension, far bigger than their collective comprehension or ability to control it all.

In the modern world we live with an inflated view of our selves as omniscient beings. We live behind our screens which shield us from sensory interactions with the planet and the stars. We do not, or will not, or cannot see the real magic of the world.

Some writers have been and are continuing to address this. What we label ourselves as isn’t so important: what is important is that there is magic in the world and awareness of it should be shared. The ‘magic (or magical) realist’ writers (depending on your persuasion) fused the fantastical elements of possible other dimensions, for example, into this world we see here (Márquez, for instance, wrote as the ghost of a long-dead child in Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses (1952), published in his collection Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories; painters such as Mark Rothko recognised the myths and archetypes of our primal selves and incorporated this thinking into his work; religious texts make reference to inter-dimensional beings as very real in this ordinary world (the jinn of the Quran, for example).

Writing magic into one’s work isn’t simply a grafting on of fantasy elements (the reader knows this isn’t ‘real’ but will go along with the flow of fantasy in this way instead). Fantasy serves its purposes but the magic of the real is an acceptance, knowledge, that what some might see as fantastical is an ordinary part of this world. In illusion and fantasy we can suspend our disbelief to create the self-delusion; in the magic of the real we see that other ‘shape’ and way of the place we live in, and on, as true — in all its ordinary extraordinariness.

In the artistic embracement of myth and archetypes, we understand that we are a part of what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’: we are linked entities, not merely limited-dimensional beings, behind our modern screens. From this we might see how we’re writer-mythkeepers and that we can all connect, with shamanic clarity, to the truth of the stories we’ve always told: to the ghosts and gods and goddesses, to the mesmerising hybrid creatures of the sea, to the dream visitations and other wondrous logics of spaces we breathe in. We can see objects infused with powers and energies, and we can make some sense of the way things play out because they do not play out according to the logic of what we’ve been taught. In seeing the real magic of the world we can find comfort in amongst some vast cosmic realm that’s far bigger than our imaginations can conceive.

For those of us who choose to accept the role, it is our duty as mythkeepers to uphold the lore of the folk, to keep alive the stories of the magic of the world. If we lose our connections to this magic, real magic, we lose our connections to each other, to those who’ve come before us, to where we live, and to what’s above and beyond us.

This post is part of a ‘magic realism blog hop’. Please also visit the other blogs in this specific community (see below):

What is Magic Realism? (Zoe Brooks)
Night Logic (Kirsty Fox)
Dragon’s Breath (Karen Wyld)
Magic Realism or Fantasy (Zoe Brooks)
Flying High with Magic Realism (Leigh Podgorski)
Magical Realism and a Floating Life (Tad Crawford)
Urban Fantasy and Magic Realism: a Matter of Agency (Lynne Cantwell)
Serendipity — Down the Rabbit Hole (Rebecca Davies)
Facts and Fiction: Historical Magical Realism (Evie Woolmore)
Magical Realism Blog Hop — Giveaways! (Edie Ramer)
White is for Witching (Laura at Curated Bookshelves)
Magic Realism in Movies (Christine Locke)
Every Little Thing I Read is Magic (Susan Bishop Crispell)
Everyday Magic(al Realism) (Jordan Rosenfeld)
What The Masters of Magic Realism Say (Muriellerites)
Magic Realism Blog-Hop: The Moon and Cannavaria (Children’s Fairy Tale Short) (Eilis Phillips)
Some Brief Descriptions of Magic Realism Books (Zoe Brooks)
Extract from Company of Shadows (Zoe Brooks)
The Unknown Storyteller (Karen Wyld)
Interview with Leigh Podgorski, author of Desert Chimera (Evie Woolmore)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Zoe Brooks)
The Bagman (by Rachael Rippon) Review (Jeridel)
Timeless Voice (Karen Wyld)

The Shape of Settled Words

Words can settle. They’re sand and silt and then the hardened sedimentary layerings of the person, once, who wrote them.

Words often should be left to settle: all the immediacy of somesuch lack of grace leaves them, written into them as it can be. Here, the layerings are of tea strainings sitting out the winter, drying in the warmth and depths of the compostings. In the spring, or the spring after, when they’re good and forgotten, we may come across them. What’s left is the brittle crumblings that can be reassembled because there’s no immediacy of flavour to them.

I mix all my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.

Some words, of course, need no such settling: quite the opposite manner of formation takes place. Kerouac wrote never to drink outside your own home, or words quite like these; though out there in the world words of the very now can have the weight and ‘correctness’ of slight light alcoholic colouring. Some words feel immediately fine. These are rare but they happen.

On the whole though, I believe in the settling process. I sometimes come upon a piece lost in some depths and I don’t remember the me who wrote these fragile things. This is good. This takes me out of them and leaves them to their own breaths: I can crack the hardened silt and sedimentary layers of the person formed around them and I can find the truth or core of the piece within. Then I can reassemble them, if the will takes me.

The trick to it all though is knowing when to crack open forgotten pieces, when to know they’ve settled long enough: perhaps we know it’s time when chance takes us to their sand- and silt-filled rooms again.

I mix my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.

The Writer and the Peer Review

The reader often has clearer eyes. It is these words (written as the final line of my previous post) that I come back to again. It’s quite by co-incidence that this line tallies with another writing experience of the week. I’ve been sitting on a bunch of short stories, which I’m gathering for my next collection, and I don’t usually sit on them in this way. I usually send them out for peer review. For some reason I’m not entirely certain of, I’ve been sitting on this batch. I’ve been brooding. The brooding has resulted in the stories pushing their backs more and more into the coop I keep them in.

The reader often has clearer eyes; though some writers and commentators more or less dismiss talking about- or letting others see- their writing before they consider it ready for public consumption:

Never talk about what you are going to do until after you have written it.

— Mario Puzo

I just think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.

— Norman Mailer

Don’t tell anybody what your book is about and don’t show it until it’s finished. It’s not that anybody will steal your idea but that all that energy that goes into the writing of your story will be dissipated.

— David Wallechinsky

I don’t care to talk about a novel I’m doing because if I communicate the magic spell, even in an abbreviated form, it loses its force for me. Once you have talked, the act of communication has been made.

— Angus Wilson

The thinking on the loss of the magic or the energy, the detrimental effect on the creative act, is appreciated. However, for this writer, something has been learned over the years by way of interaction with trusted others. My brooding storage of stories has no real root (perhaps there’s a little laziness in not sending them out to those trusted others, but perhaps there’s also a gathering lack of faith in what the words are). There’s always a point when situations change. So I sent forth one tester start of a story, which may become a piece in its own right.

What transpired was that it was read in an entirely different way to the intention in the writing. That a sinister interpretation was made of what was intended as something quite the opposite took me by surprise. The result is that the changing of just one word might well alleviate that issue. This is a small epiphany in a long week, yet one that’s worth writing about.

If we don’t trust others with our words whilst they’re in their green form, we won’t see their misinterpretations and so forth. Of course, there is an argument to suggest that misinterpretations aren’t amiss at all: that is, that all interpretations are valid, that beauty — or banality — is in the eye of the beholder, that interpretations make the work all the richer.

Whichever way the writer falls on this latter argument, peer reviews can be valuable stepping stones along the way. In choosing to ignore alternate interpretations in the editing, at least we’re aware of them beneath it all (something we wouldn’t have had the chance to see if we held our work to our chests until the moment of editor approval and final publishing).

You do have an editorial input other than yourself, don’t you? If not, then you should have this. Even if you’re self-publishing (especially if you’re self-publishing), editorial input at the latter stages of the work will complement the peer reviewing process. It helps if that editorial input is also a writer (though many aren’t). I’m fortunate to say that I have the editorial eye of an accomplished writer and poet in her own right.

Perhaps there is argument to say that the loss of magic or energy is possible in seeking peer review support — I’d prefer to look on it all in the positive though: it’s all a matter of timing. Keep that magic close and don’t let it go in the initial writing process; brood if need be; know when other readers’ eyes need to see the green formations; amend your work if you see fit. You’ll be a stronger writer for it all.

Philosophical Asides on Themes

In laying down the bare molecules of a book that’s forming, I found myself immersed in the idea of ‘theme’. That is to say, in the first instance this ‘laying down’ isn’t a physical act of writing at all (rather, it’s a coercion of various strands of thoughts into something that might later become more coherent); in the latter instance, the theme is the continuing saga of what runs through this writer (rather than, necessarily, the development of the theme of the book).

The more we write the more we can come to be aware of that which pulls at us (by way of what others write about what they’ve read in our work). It’s a sort of ‘making visible’ process of what once was completely invisible, or at least translucent to us. It’s a ‘presence-at-hand’, of which I find myself reminded of a paper I wrote a few years back on philosophical matters of being (here).

By way of a quick preamble, regarding the word ‘stage’ from two angles ‘[i] as in movement, as in a step, progression of sorts; [ii] stage as in a platform, dais, where we present’, I added the following:

In this discerning of the stage we inhabit, I reflect on Barton’s (2011) review of Heidegger’s (1927, 1962) tool analysis. To paraphrase, when an object/tool is operating normally (readiness-to-hand) it essentially recedes into the background, is taken for granted; when in disrepair (presence-at-hand) we notice it, and it becomes present to us.

It is towards this idea of presence-at-hand that I now gravitate with regards to the developing theme that is any given writer, i.e. all that coalesces into who that writer is. In being made aware of the things I write about, having those things made more visible, are they — in effect — in disrepair? That is, recurrences and recurrences are wooden wheels on a bumpy track, and the more they go round the more the sound suggests that all is not well.

Some writers take years to develop their themes and thus the theme of themselves. The question asked is ‘at which point should we jump tracks in order for that overall ‘theme’ to be all the richer?’

Perhaps I’m confusing matters with my two uses of the word ‘theme’. Just as the word ‘stage’ can be seen in different lights, and to clarify, ‘theme’ here is in terms of ‘individual strand’ and ‘overall rope’ of that which is written and of he or she who writes it. If what we write continues to follow the same idea explorations, are we broken, in disrepair as writers?

There may be some relief in the following (ibid):

Barton presents that objects oscillate between these two modes [operating normally, readiness-at-hand; disrepair, presence-at-hand] and further refers to Latour’s notions of space as a network of objects in relation. Space is something experienced and lived, rather than something we merely move through.

That is, in the analogy, this space of the writer’s inner realm is a network of objects (themes) in relation. Our visible themes and those that vibrate invisibly in the background have sinewed connection with one another. That others may discern the repetitions of our current themes doesn’t therefore suggest that other themes aren’t possible. At which point should we jump tracks? Perhaps we have less choice in the matter than we think. Perhaps our invisible themes, vibrating gently in the background, manifest in us when they need to. They are written, and it sometimes takes readers’ perspectives to make us more aware of them.

Of course, as writers, we know what we write and why we do this, but we’re immersed in that writer’s realm, experiencing the space which has its own internal logic. The reader often has clearer eyes.

Barton, F. (2011), A twist on Heidegger: the ambiguous ontology of playspace. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.

Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and time (English translation). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

In Appreciation of the Writing of Iain Banks

We should write more about the authors we like when they’re alive. Bothering to write about them and their books only once they’ve died is perhaps a little disingenuous. Why we can’t raise ourselves to praise reflects our blinkered selves; or perhaps we just don’t appreciate those writers out there until we suddenly realise that there’ll be no more offerings from them at all. Iain Banks has died, and I feel a need to add my voice to the posthumous account of his work.

I’ve just read Neil Gaiman’s recent blog post about his relationship with Iain Banks. It reads as honest, but I wonder if Gaiman also wishes he’d written more about Banks’ writing and about him as a person when he was alive. This is an aside. What I’m most wary of here and now, as I write, is that Banks’ back catalogue won’t be getting any larger. Of course, he has his soon-to-be published last book out imminently (The Quarry, June 2013) but, barring any long-lost manuscripts, that’s it.

I certainly haven’t read as much of Banks’ work as I should and could have done. One day I’ll catch up on all of that (like I should be catching up on Kundera, Márquez, and all the other writers I’ve not become fully, fully acquainted with yet). However, what I have read of Banks has — for the most part — left me feeling extremely jealous, with certain memories, and occasionally astounded. This passage, from Descendant in his collection titled The State of the Art (1991) has remained at some level of my consciousness for many, many years:

This is our home town from before we felt the itch of wanderlust, the sticks we inhabited before we ran away from home, the cradle where we were infected with the crazy breath of the place’s vastness like a metal wind inside our love-struck heads; just stumbled on the scale of what’s around and tripped out drunk on starlike possibilities . . .

It was passages like these from Banks, and other authors who amazed me when I first found them, to inspire me to keep such treasures in notebooks specifically bought for the purpose.

For my money, and for that of many others I suspect, one of Banks’ finest works was The Crow Road (1992). That a novel can be started ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’ was a young writer’s lesson in opening lines in one fell swoop (not to mention dispelling the myth held by some critics that opening with such a ‘vague pronoun’ as ‘it’ is ‘unliterary’). Crow Road impressed me with its characterisation, family bonds, and geography. The other most cited Banks offering has to be The Wasp Factory (1984). I read this, I remember, way back but it was so way back that I need to read it again. It had an affect on me, but maybe I wasn’t sufficiently developed as a reader or as a writer then to appreciate it. As is the case with praising the recently deceased, we often find we need to read such books as The Wasp Factory again and for similar reasons.

Banks’ writing, for me, wasn’t all worthy of high praise. I suppose it’s inevitable that in any body of work there are some offerings that just don’t come up to the mark. The most notable of these, in my reading of it, was A Song of Stone (1997). It just didn’t feel like Banks writing this: I laboured with it for a while, maybe half way or so, maybe a little more, but it felt like he was trying too hard. That is, maybe he was trying to show us a new Banks, a new voice, or a tangential one at least. The writing attempted the poetic but fell short.

For different reasons I also came to a bookmarked year-long pause on Transition (2009). The writing in this isn’t so stilted, but it did take a few re-starts to try to get the hang of the various chopping and changing of characters and, indeed, places in time and geography. I’m sure I’ll pick up Transition again one day and give it a couple of days of dedicated attention.

It was at some point in the mid-nineties that I dedicated attention to Walking on Glass (1985). I know this because I remember sitting in a chair reading the entire book to my then partner, whose first language was not English. If I think hard enough I can narrow this down to a more or less exact point in time. There aren’t many authors who dovetail with such personal recollections. The Bridge (1986) was another Banks book to have left its mark: the strange liminal world depicted won’t be for all readers, but it found me at the right time, I suppose.

We all have writers in our reading histories who affect us enough (through their good work and despite their not so good offerings) for us to go back to them again and again. Iain Banks was undoubtedly one of those writers for me. In appreciation of words, I shouldn’t have left it till now to say this. I should also consider all the other writers I enjoy reading too, and I should consider them and their words here and now.

A Voice Analysis of a Body (of Fictional Work)

In a continual analysis of the way I’m writing, in building a new collection of fictions, I find there’s a need to be aware of the way of writing that is taking place ‘now’. That is, it keeps changing: what is it now? I’m of the opinion that a writer needs to be in touch with the idea that analysis of their own writing is important. Even in streams of consciousness writing, we can analyse the process. Being able to deconstruct certain elements in the writing or reading process (if not necessarily in writing that all down, then at least in thought), contributes towards a fuller whole. A body of work can be read in various ways: simple chronology of works created forms a basic frame of reference; maybe that body of work can also be read by way of deflections in and out of themes, motifs, structural arrangements, influences, ways of representing concepts and characters, etc.; maybe the body of work can be read by way of individual voices, or tones of the same voice, within the whole.

The trouble with writing a collection that follows a broad theme, but yet is intended as an array of situations and characters, and which allows for deflections in and out of all the above in the previous paragraph, is that one strong piece written in a certain manner becomes the unintended benchmark. This is an aside, yet something discovered in the process of analysis. That a piece can be strong in its own right, without a need for it to have to correlate with the strengths of the other piece, is something that might need embracing. Matching fictions within a collection against each other might well end up converging on the same way of writing: the same first or third person point of view, the same archetypal characters, crucibles or conflicts, resolutions, and/or patterns in twists in the tales.

In analysis of the individuality of fictions found in various notebooks, as the weeks go by, I’m left wondering about the individual voices contained within each, and whether they’re on the path towards aggregating into some coherent whole. That is, the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive (maybe), the unreliable, might converge into something substantial; yet the ‘now’ being such as it is, we’re not to know. Can we leave it to trust, or should we hone in on one strand (because at least then we know what the end result will have the feel of)?

A recent TV documentary about psychological studies into preferred human states concluded that we tend towards people who present as authoritative. Similarly, in our reading we prefer a strong hand, someone to lead the way in the writing, telling us that this is the way things are. We don’t want someone to be evasive or unsure. We want to be taken somewhere and they can steer. We’ll just enjoy the ride. This is true.

Is this true? I’m often drawn to writers who offer me a chance to think for myself, by way of their reflection, or their device of reflecting so as to draw me into what they want to say. In Dark Back of Time, Javier Marías writes in the very first line: ‘I believe I’ve still never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once.’ Similarly, in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, her first line offers a thought: ‘Why is the measure of love loss?’

My next logical step from reflection is the possible defensive. The tone that is ‘I write this because I have to’, as I read it, often opens windows into the writer’s body of work. ‘Having to’ being an implication of the dark draw or gravitational pull of words that will out, no matter what. Franz Kafka wrote a series of meditations that he, perhaps, would have preferred not to be published. In The Men Running Past, he writes: ‘If one is walking along a street at night and a man who can be seen a long way off . . . comes running towards us, then we shan’t lay hands on him . . . after all, haven’t we a right to be tired, haven’t we drunk so much wine?’ Writing because the writing needs to be laid down can be less dour than this. An injection of energy, because the energy of the moment requires it, will run through the whole. In this way it’s real.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita could be the epitome of unreliable narration. Within this strand of thinking — that we can fuse reality and fiction as writers and leave the reader wondering which is which — is a constant fascination for this writer: it’s akin to trying to differentiate the blurred line between indoor and outdoor space (when there are no doors, no marks, just some indication of a possible roof overhead). Or it links to cartography and the way that maps of the edges of islands are never correct: if the map marks the high tide line, or the average tide, this is still never the exact shape of the island at any given moment. What is the exact definition of inside/outside, outline of island, reality/fiction in a piece of writing? This individual way of writing is a strong pull.

Can we leave the potential aggregation of voices (tones of the same voice) to trust (the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive, the fusion of reality/fiction or unreliably natured)? Will trust result in a coherent voice in the whole? Analysis and deconstruction, at least, help this writer to understand the writing of the ‘now’.