An Atomic View

Be mindful of the moments: like atoms, they make up everything.

If we cannot capture moments, we cannot write. We can write an epic vista over the massive wastelands, but if we don’t catch the moment of the wind blowing a strand of hair across the eyes, we’re not writing.

How many times have I dug up old Jack Kerouac here? He’s just a ghost who’s squinting in the sunlight, already on his slippery slide, sat in the chair just next to me. Years before, he wrote a moment I can’t ever shake from my head:
Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the colour of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments.

(Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957)
Of course we can always also sentimentalise, caramelise our feelings, because when we feel struck stuck, what else can we do? I refer to what we often term as ‘love’, or words we use that might approximate this. There are love stories to be told in atomic ways:
You keep our love hidden
like the nightdress you keep under your pillow
and never wear when I’m there

(from Love Story, Adrian Henri, Collected Poems 1967-85)
Of course we can always write from the iron tasting otherness, where it’s devoid of sugar and where we’re driven differently. We’re honeyed and we’re rusted, both, and all textures in between:
We made love in Sissel’s copious, effortless periods, got good and sticky and brown with the blood and I thought we were the creatures now in the slime . . .

(Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites, 1975)
How many moments have we truly really felt? Of course there’s no way to tell; yet, what we know is often more about the scene we’re in than the realisation that this, here, is significant. Do we know and feel the slime we occupy, the significance of the absence of an object or another, the fragrant air?

A strand of hair falls across the eyes as they scan the epic wasteland vista . . someone is mindful of the moments, knowing that atoms make up everything.

Interview by Nick Wale

I return from my travels with the possibility of words forming. Until they do, however, the following is a majority excerpt of a recent interview I gave to Nick Wale. Nick helps promote books via his site Novel Ideas and contacted me a few weeks ago through my Facebook writer page (see the link in the side bar here). He’s helped me and I’m happy to help him in his venture by publicising links on my blog. The direct link to the interview below can be found here.
Q) So Joel, why did you become an author?

A) It’s a compulsion, a drive, I suppose. When you write you just need to keep on writing.

Q) What does a compulsive drive to write feel like?

A) It often feels like blocking out, locking in, sinking in. You know? Some days it’s a rush. Some days you read and re-read and it’s like you’re looking at something that shines (or might shine) and you want to keep that, show that, have that, always.

Q) Do you ever find it hard to stop yourself from writing? Is it like a daze or a dream you can’t break from?

A) Physically writing (or typing), yes, I suppose. I mean, it can be extremely immersive, as many writers will know. However, that immersion also plays itself out in the day-to-day, pen not in hand, computer not on. Words (or the possibility of them) are everywhere.

Q) Words are your thing as a writer? So what is your favourite word?

A) What an excellent question! A barman asked me what my favourite book was recently (your question reminds me of that): how to pick one? You can tell by the long pause that this has given me cause to think. I can tell you what my most recently learned word is (and, by extension, a current favourite): tenebrous.

Q) Tenebrous? So what does tenebrous mean?

A) It’s to do with the obscure, the dark, as I understand it. This isn’t a reflection of my writing; rather, the word has a sort of rhythmic quality to me.

Q) Well, you have to learn something new everyday! So, lets reflect on your writing. What do you like to write about? Tell me about your writing.

A) In all its forms, long and short, my writing is intended as a means of finding the small gems of this world. There are hidden things in between what we just see on the surface — there are textures and layers to relationships, subtleties, moments. I’m looking for the moments that also linger. There are ‘objects’ of beauty, even in the laments, in many places.

Q) It’s interesting that you write about ‘beauty’, as everyone’s definition of beauty is so different. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written about? What is ‘beautiful’ to you?

A) Well, beauty is subjective, of course, but I’m sometimes taken aback by how things turn out. It’s unexpected. There are moments that happen which I read time and again because they still have some power over me. In one of my stories, a child’s brief interaction with the narrator takes me in every time; in another piece, it was something I wrote in a female voice because I needed to do this more, I was there with her, as her, in Venice because the words were in that flow state; poetry is a vanity, but there are lines of colour and there are lines that sink me sometimes. Questions such as these are like choosing between children!

Q) If you could write anywhere in the world, where would it be? What landscape would really incite your creativity?

A) On a beach, in the mountains, in a forest, all of these. Specifically, though I’ve done my fair share of overseas travelling, I’d come back to the west of Cornwall. Standing on the cliffs overlooking some of the little unknown coves down there, the sea and the wind in your hair and on your face, that huge sky (it really is huge, like they say in their tourism promotions), makes words just come in for me. The artists there laud it for the light; I just can’t get enough of the energy.

Q) I understand that you’re published so others can enjoy your creative energy. Which of your works are currently available?

A) I’ve got a collection out at the moment (Disintegration and Other Stories). I loosely label this as literary fiction (though that term can be interpreted in many ways). DaOS is out in ebook and print. This collection came together in an odd way: I didn’t realise that there’d been a thread running through some of my writings for a number of years. It was like seeing invisible ink slowly become visible. I’m working on a collection of micro fiction, which will be a first volume (Four Kinds of Wreckage) to be added to. Micro fiction is much misunderstood. Away from fiction, I’m also published in the field of what’s known as ‘playwork’ (a particular way of working with children). I’ve had writings taken on by the national/international playwork publication for the sector, as well as credits with the organisation concerned with psycholudic playwork practice. (Now though, I fear I’m stepping into the jargon of my other calling — though writing is also a big part of this, too).

Q) So tell me, Joel — why did you want to be interviewed by me?

A) You do a good job of finding writers, Nick. When I became aware of your work I came over to your blog, and yes, I like what I see here. What you’re doing is exactly what writers need — a way of getting their words out there.

Q) Thank you, Joel. One of my stock questions is to ask — if you could be any writer from any time who would it be?

A) As far as writers are concerned, I have a range (as we all do probably): Milan Kundera, Gabriel García Márquez, Jeannette Winterson, Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, Adrian Henri. There are others. I wouldn’t want just one small list to define me, though we start somewhere with questions such as these.

Q) Characters are important to you. What makes a good character for you?

A) The unusual wrapped up in the usual. Subtlety people often might not see. The strangely put. Love in odd places, ways; perceptions of this. Someone who aches in some way.

Q) It has often been said that ‘repeated readability makes a book’. Would you, as an author, agree with that?

A) Yes, I think I would. Who was it who said that journalism is read once, whilst literature more than this? Something like that. Anyway, it’s the sentiment here that counts. There are books on my shelf that I come back to time and again; there are passages on some pages that just astound me. Kerouac wrote about ‘fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries’ in On the Road. I come back to that time and again.

Q) You strike me as an intellectual — someone striving for the beautiful things in life. Would you agree with that?

A) I don’t know about intellectual! I certainly am on the search for the beauty of the world though. That’s in words, in moments, in art, in love and lament, in the play of children, in the play of us, in nature.

Q) What would you personally deem as ‘ugly’?

A) There’s nothing so ugly as not wanting to see, perhaps. Ugliness is also wrapped up in the politics of power, greed, deceit.

[End of excerpt]

Thunder in the Air

We made love in Sissel’s copious, effortless periods, got good and sticky and brown with the blood and I thought we were the creatures now in the slime . . .

Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites (1975)
I lived in the dead centre of Europe — pretty much — for a short while, a long while ago. I was away from home and missing English. A small sanctuary developed within the pages of a notebook I bought with old-time Deutschmarks — when I really should have been spending the money on food or paying the rent. In the notebook I collected written gems. They comforted me.

Ian McEwan’s small comfort, above, has always hit me from several angles all at once: it has a rhythm, to my ears; it has a somewhat disquieting feel; it strikes me as what a writer who just wants to write would write; it has its own awkward beauty.

Some writers write for shock value. Maybe McEwan was angling this way as well. Time passes. Other words are written. It must be a fine line though, this balancing act between shock and awe: too ‘full on’ and the reader isn’t impressed, sees through the ruse; if ‘hitting from several angles’ then the reader is left with a flavour that still lingers, even after twenty years.

It’s been twenty years or so since I first read McEwan. He peaked early, but better to peak than to never hope to peak at all, perhaps. As a writer now, I take from McEwan — and from Sissel — not so much shock value, but awe: that small possibility that some line or paragraph of weight, or depth, or significance, or just of lingering potential, could be written. The potential of such lines just keeps hanging there in the air, like waiting for the thunder . . .

What gems, what awe in lines of writing, leave you waiting, waiting on?