Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Road Trip of the Soul

Lately I've been thinking about writing. With no vivid reason here to find (sorry, couldn't resist.) Specifically I've been thinking about what I want to do when I write a novel.

There are all kinds of novels out there. When I was younger (and didn't actually do any writing) I liked the idea of writing all different types of novels. I read and enjoyed lots of different types, rather than sticking to anything in particular, so it followed that I would want to do that myself, if I did anything. And I'm not talking about genres, either. I mean the structure of the novel, the different ways you can get to the reader by setting your material out in, well, different ways.

There's the "saga" type novel that spans several generations, yet keeps tight to the central thread. There's the novel that seems to flit all over the place, character to character, and has no apparent plot, yet still works. There's your suspense novel where you know what's going to happen, and watch in, er, suspense, as the hapless characters near their fate. There's the novel where the characters are all set up in the first third, then you dump the big one on them and they have to deal with it. Then there's the novel that builds and builds, cranking up the pressure all the way through to the end, where it may or may not explode.

That last one, I think, is the type of novel I attempt to write.

And I've come to a decision: Forget all those other types, I'm sticking with this one. I know what works for me, and I know what format allows me to do what I want to do, with the type of material I invariably drag out of the primordial soup of my brain.

What I want to do, OK, (dons beret and Gauloise) is take the reader on a journey. I'm interested in momentum. My ambition is to drag the valued punter to a place they do not want to go, show them something they do not want to see (or think they don't), make them think I've abandoned them there, then quietly open a door with a crack of daylight shining through it, and stand darkly by as they exit, trembling, heart thumping... and all the while they're loving it. It's lighting them up like they never thought a book could. They cannot put the thing down, and it's not clear why. (Remember: I'm not saying for a second that I've achieved that (or even come close), but it's what I have aimed for and STILL aim for.) The novels I want to write are like short, bloody battles, rather than your long and drawn-out war. They flare up and die down in a couple of days. The events in them might not change the world, but they affect the characters irrevocably.

You know what I think of, when I think of the kind of novel I want to write? (Please indulge me here...) (Remember I've still got the beret and the Gauloise...) A shaman. Or at least the picture of a shaman I have in my head - the guy dancing himself into a frenzy, surrounded by his tribe, working out all their psychic crap for them and then passing out. Of course, I am not the shaman. The shaman is the protagonist. He (or she - you never know) gets himself into darker and darker shit as the hours pass. As he digs himself deeper he enters new territory of the soul, and on it goes until he's at the place he needs to be, to confront the thing he needs to confront. He's still in the same old humdrum town, alongside everyone else carrying on with their daily shit, but within himself he's getting further and further away. He's going to places that no one else can reach, and this is what marks him out as your shaman.

I think the death of John Fowles got me thinking about all this. In THE MAGUS, Nicholas Urfe has to trek to a remote Greek island - the remotest corner of that remote Island - in order to get to where he is going. But in the Mangel books (which are in part about being trapped) Royston Blake doesn't really go anywhere in a geographical sense. Maybe a trip Hurk Wood, if need be. But, for me at least, he goes on a very long journey.

In other news, an Argentine woman has been living in a nest for a year.

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