Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Next step - career issues for a working writer.

This is the shake up. I have been wondering what the 'next step' is for me. I have been lucky enough to take my writing up a notch every few years. Slow and steady with the intention of winning the marathon rather than the sprint.

I remember a moment when I was almost over the line with publishers, getting my books read by the editors but not quite accepted. Lovely personal rejection letters. Then for some reason I suddenly realised it was fine to write a book that people actually wanted to read. Till then I had been working towards an idea of perfection in craft. I was working on character and flow and sentences. I loved so many difficult but beautiful books. I was working towards making the perfect difficult book.  But it is just as hard to write a good novel that no one wants to read as it is to write a good novel that people want to read.

So I changed.  I focussed on the memoir. I focussed on sex. I broke through that wall.  I feel now like I have hit another wall.  Not with my writing, because I still keep steadily learning new things and moving from project to project. My books are well reviewed but not very financially successful. A few hundred copies is not going to delight my publisher and to appeal to a wider audience I don't have to dumb it down, I just have to find a subject that resonates on a universal level, something that is going to be easier to hook people with.  I need to treat this game like fly fishing. I have all the right technique, I have even learned how to craft a well-structured book (although this was hard at first). Now I need to change my bait. I need to find topics that are going to hit a cultural nerve. I can still write my difficult beautiful things - or try to, but now I need to step up. I need to write about subjects that people are going to want to read. I need to find those universal themes of interest and take my characters to those subjects and rest them there.

I am not the kind of person who was ever destined for a meteoric rise. I am not going to wow people with a big award winning book or become famous because of my personality. I am a work horse. I am a plain sturdy hard-working writer. Each rung of the ladder is hard won and I don't leap over any. I grab the next rung and haul myself up and it is exhausting but that is how you run a marathon.

The book I am struggling with at the moment is difficult but I can see how it is about something that people are interested in. It has wider implications. If I get it right it could net a new audience for my work. I feel sad for Steeplechase which I am fond of. It is a book that people like and a book I am proud of but it is a difficult sell with no razzle dazzle to wow a crowd with. It will quietly sit in my backlist, work horse that it is.

I just can't lose heart. I can't let myself slide backwards or fall off the track. I can feel sorry for the books that will fade despite all their careful work. I can mourn them but I have to keep running slowly even when my physical resources are stretched.

Next book then. This hard step up to the next rung on the ladder. Throw everything into the next step forward. Look back as the others are standing on the podium glinting with medals. Be happy for them. Allow for the inevitable day of sadness. Wipe tears. Move on. Remember this is the long game and that is not nearing an end yet.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

New Voice

Finding a new voice is tricky. Finding a new voice that is without voice is something that takes time. I crawl along snail's pace, no more than 1000 words a day and at the end of it I am exhausted by the acrobatics of non-language. I need smells and colours and textures for everything because without words, a person is not named. A person is a bunch of other understandings.  Anyway. I am following a lead. Here is a little grab of something barely formed. Just the beginning of my understanding of a new way of seeing and communicating what we have found:

S knows she is yellow like flowers. Like the explosive petals of a dandelion. S is yellow like a bright kitchen netted from memory, slippery fish of a long forgotten thought is S.
S like the words serendipity and savannah and psoriasis for she is not to know that the disease is not spelled the way it sounds.  She knows some words from magazines left open. Letters are things to be crawled up inside. Letters have sounds and words have  thicker sounds and all sounds are  a bright flash like a musket fire. S knows she tastes like  the grenade sizzle of icing sugar on the tip of a pastry. Everything loud and sharp and, even curled down like the S that she is, she is assaulted by sunlight which feels like a stained glass window sandpapering on her skin. 
Lying here open-mouthed she can taste the ocean, only faintly because there are bodies in the way. All the other people in the house are now familiar to her. Gus is an X, a xylophone, a percussive thump of complex chocolate, a chord but never a single note. David (E) is the water dripping down the outside of a frosted glass on a hot day. Sarah is opaque like toffee. She has no letter she is only Sarah. She shatters if you bite her and the sound of her  essence expelling from the tooth mark is sliced aubergine, weeping with salt tears. Paul is  a double M like sun on a wooden deck. Paul can be dozed upon, danced upon, but pull him to pieces and you could build him into a fence or a dog kennel. 
She is busy opening her mouth, sucking in the air and filtering it for the foam on the top of a breaking wave. She is trying to count the shells washed up on the nearby beach, sorting the ones that still have snails inside them, dead snails red and hard on the back of your palate like raw egg, live snails soft as butter. The beach is close enough for her to smell. The shells are a potent part of the strandal perfume. She is an olfactory adventurer and then the door is open and he steps inside.

She hears the word Vivienne which is what they call her. Vivienne and it is like nails down a chalkboard which she remembers from school. Yes she still remembers school. “David” and at first she imagines they are talking about E. She didn’t expect there would be two people with the same name in her house, but then there were three Jackies in her class at school (Jay, Jacky, Jacqueline) and two John’s (Big John, Little John). Two Davids then and this one is liqueur. She can tell by his voice and the scent of him which is felt. She wants to press her cheek to the sound of his voice. She moves from under one chair to the next. He is in the hallway. He is walking towards the kitchen. She can smell the crotchal must as he walks. Sunshine on sand, seawater soaked into a silk scarf. She is under the table before they reach it. The newness of his presence is like a container of gorgonzola opened and beginning to take up every cubic centimetre of the room.  He is all she can think of. There is no X laughing and slapping his hands together. There is no television mumble. The arrangement of the plates (smaller ones on the bottom of the stack, larger ones on top) no longer bothers her. She doesn’t care that the blue cup is sitting beside the green cup in a cacophony of cupboardness. She cares only about the information she can glean from his unique presence in the room. The assault of her senses with this new David and already she has given him an R for rose and rebelliousness and rambling and rapture. R. The essential letter in her alphabet. He has dropped into her life and suddenly the words can be completed. The alphabet is secure. R David. Her David. She was trembling.   Time  is not linear. Time exists all at once and now they have met he is always here as her parents are here, as her teachers, the other kids in school, all the letters she had ever come across, the ocean, all here now and always. Still, he roused her from the thick soup of everything at once. He, R David, was singular and linear. He, or rather, her relationship to him was something, and suddenly there was a sense to the hands on a clock. One minute followed another. R David would stand up and he would leave. He must stay. R David must stay must stay must stay. And when he moved his leg she reached out to him. She touched him and she was the cold sizzle from a sprinkler. She was life-giving. She was S and all the other letters vibrated against her in their joy of completion.