Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Extract From A Novel That Will Probably Never Be Finished

This is a post about a project that just failed, by the narrowest of margins, to be massively successful.

It's also a post that shamelessly plugs a couple of writers who put my dire scribblings into the shade

And it's probably as close as I will get to talking about my current dissatisfaction with my creativity.

Back in 2003, just before I was about to start in the company that would lead to my present job, I started to write a novel. It was called The Firewalkers

Something of a departure from my usual guns-blazing, lots of shouting and aliens going "blerg" around the place, it was a historical romance set around a travelling circus selling their schtick just before the outbreak of the 1st World War.

Based on a short story that I had written in the 90's (of which i think the only copy got killed when my computer went foom) It was the story of a love triangle between (knife thrower and newcomer) Gino, (the son of the sadistic ringmaster) Marcos and (the object of both their affections) Isobel, as well as a story of redemption (Marcos), growing up (Gino) and freedom (Isobel - sort of) - but also of the mysterious Firewalkers led by a strange young boy named Bally

And for a while it went well - i probably got, oooh, as far as chapter two before I started thinking "this is shit" and had to start again.

This time I got all the way through to chapter eight before having to go right back to the start.

There were all sorts of problems: the writing wasn't very good, the characters weren't doing what i wanted them to - but mostly there simply weren't enough words.

And so the project got shelved

And so I started again

And so it still wasn't very good. And it still wasn't anywhere long enough - I just can't seem to make the words stretch and have reached a point, half-way through the story, where everything seems to be resolved.

And it's not like it's the first time - the previous novel to that one took me five or six years of going back to the start and was still pretty awful, and The Benefit (written last year in a month) was fun but if you took out all the swear-words and the bits that were thrown in just to get it to the Nanowrimo minimum length you'd have about five pages left.

Now I don't know precicely how creativity afflicts you. With some people (lucky gits to a soul) it travels in linear fashion: they get an idea, they can follow it through. ME?? My ideas flip about like goldfish in a tank.

Think of it this way: I play guitar. i quite like playing guitar and writing songs - it makes me happy (or via writing extremely bleak songs stops me feeling quite so bad - and I'm sure the Watercats will appreciate where i'm coming from with that one), but put me in a room with anyone else who can play and immediately it's clear i'm not very good.

Same with art, same with writing. Now this may sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet here - but just occasionally I write something really good (not this, admittedly) - but take a quick look at the following blogs:

Existentially Dynamic
(and apologies to all the other brilliant blogs, but i just want to focus on two for the moment - particularly as a) they are men and b) there are a lot less men blogging than women)

Firstly - Existentially Dynamic, come on people - why aren't you visiting this site??? the "Clandestine Samurai" writes with passion, energy and commitment that deserves your time. The thought that someone as eloquent as this could see their talent to go unused is terrible.

Pohanginapete - this man makes words flow as easily and as beautifully as water. Nuff said.

And yeah - you might think that none of this really matters: that creativity can be its own ends if it makes you happy - but I find that I am constantly frustrated by my ability to get great ideas and then not feel like I am able to bring them to fruition - and it's this feeling that I'm not as good as i would like to be that is a constant thorn in my side.

So I ask myself: what's the point? How come I get all these ideas? Wouldn't these ideas be better off sloping along to someone who can actually do something with them? What is the point of a book that is never read, a song that is never shared?

Anyway - enough of that. Here's the first page of the book. Maybe one day there will even be a last page, but don't hold your breath.

The Firewalkers

She span high above the sawdust, her body floating like a flower in the breeze as she moved. Her fragile limbs twisted madly in the heavens, arms and legs intertwining with soft, fluid motions. Gravity seemed to look away and sigh in defeat as she swung higher and higher across the canvas sky.

Suspended only by the bit between her teeth she flickered like a shadow cast by a candle, dancing through the air as if caught by the wind.
A single slim hand reached up, clasping firmly onto the bar. A second followed not far behind, fingers curling effortlessly around the cold metal.

Below her the lights were dimmed in the almost empty arena; only the pale light of the sun through the thin canvas walls and the dim flicker of the lights below illuminated her frame. They caught her costume, reflecting broken shards of sunlight. Pointed toes arched up and above her head, sending stray sequins glittering down to mingle with the sawdust. Her feet entwined around the ropes, like a slender vine climbing an old and cragged wall. Slowly, with no sign of effort, she pulled herself upright and onto the bar. She took a moment to enjoy the view, waving her arm to an imaginary audience. Finally she began swinging, faster and faster, legs kicking out in front, cutting through the turbulence.

Gino watched as the girl passed overhead, feeling drab and dull against her peacock colours. He glanced down at his worn-out clothes. The trousers were falling apart, held up and held together by string and will power. His heavy work boots were scuffed and worn with age, his waistcoat hanging uncomfortably on his thin shoulders. Both his shirt and jacket were two sizes too big, despite Mama’s best efforts to adjust them. Both were engrained with the dirt of a thousand places, worn in so deep that they could never be washed out.

Gino let his hand slip slowly beneath the corner of his waistcoat, allowing it to rest on the hilt of the dagger beneath. The weapon’s familiar weight reassured him, made him relax slightly under the wilting gaze of the Ringmaster. Still, he couldn’t help but feel their decision not to change into their costumes had been the wrong one. Perhaps their Circus costumes, paper thin and gaudy as they were, would have given a firmer grounding. He locked eyes briefly with the Ringmaster and knew that nothing he could do would make any difference.
Gino smiled nervously, trying to gauge the mood of the man in front of him, he was offered only a scowl by way of return.

The Ringmaster was a big-built man, fists permanently scarred from fights. His grey eyes were cold and calculating, almost impossible to read and his face could have been moulded from granite. A young man, clearly his son, stood silently behind him. He was about Gino’s age, with dark eyes that reflected some of the chill emanating from his father. Give him a couple of years, Gino thought, and he’d be as big a son of a bitch as his father. The young man caught Gino’s gaze and acknowledged the attention with a slow nod. A shiver ran through Gino’s body: perhaps he had been wrong about the son after all.


Argent said...

It is with the utmost glee that I can honestly say that this post of yours is 99% bollocks. I say this because I have read a lot of your stuff and it IS good, it IS original and if you can't get stuff finished or arranged in the way you like it's becuase, like most of us, you probably have to do stoopid days jobs and run a house etc. I really want you to finish Firewalkers and Darkening Wall. I'm struggling with a lot of the same things as you are. I'm not a good guitarist myself. You may not be Clapton, but you can crank out a mean song (not just the legendary Terraccotta, either). Don't lose heart. Writing is like exercise - you have to keep at it. I have a big pile of half-finished stuff here at home that nags me all the time. Hang in there.

pohanginapete said...

Crikey — thanks!

I agree with Argent, too, in several respects. I've only read what you've written on this blog, but that's enough for me to say you have a distinctive voice that's a delight to read. I reckon I could read your work without knowing the author and say to myself, "That has to be the hungry pixie."

And Argent's point about writing being like exercise — YES. Keep at it. Write every day.

I want to be able to say I was reading the hungry pixie before the book topped the charts.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Argent - only 99%?? I must try harder! I guess it's just frustrating coz i'd like to set these ideas free to interact with people in the world, maybe even make a living from it instead of this rubbish

pete - for some reason your comment isn't counting on the front page right now, but thanks for your thoughts

Dominic Rivron said...

I can sympathize: I have had several similar experiences trying to write a novel. However, since I've not yet myself found a way out of the thicket, I don't know what to suggest. It's tempting, if one feels one can write reasonably OK but not sustain the span of a novel to have a go at something formulaic like a detective novel.

I can't be the only teacher who thinks it's a shame NANOWRIMO is in term time.

Friko said...

stop bellyaching and get on with it. Your main problem is a lack of confidence in yourself and your talent. If you don't write and play and make music, what have you got?
So, bloody get on with it, man.

Michael said...

Something is driving you to create. What happens if you quit? If you stop trying? [insert cliche about love here] I believe everything we do is what we are supposed to do. And it's OK. That includes creating, sharing, failing, succeeding, and complaining.

If you write, great, enjoy it. And if you don't write, enjoy (or try) what you are doing.

I know it isn't as simple as it sounds, but I'm finding as I struggle with the same questions, that it gets easier. I'm starting to surrender to the way life IS.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Dominik - thanks for visiting. If nanowrimo is in term time why not set it as homework or a school project.

Friko - thanks, i think! I guess it's not just about confidence - its about what's the point of writing something and then never doing anything with it

Michael - i think that acceptance is a great trick if you can manage it. Wise words indeed, as you say it's a long journey

the watercats said...

*clears throat.... :-)

welll.... firstly.. artists are their own most fantastical critics! they will go out of their way to feck up their own heads in order to say everything they doo is shite... the fact of the matter is though... if you create a world from nothing (which is what you do both musically and writingly).. then you are fecking great! This was my problem at creative writing class... the more 'rules' you learn, the more you doubt yourself or compare yourself to 'successful' writers/musicians/whatever. The fact of things is, fuck them! create those worlds, dive into them, submerge your whole self, lose hours in them, watch them unfold and feck the rules. You are one of the most delightful writers I've come across.. you need to leave your nine to five job, live in a dustbin and write, it quite obviously oozes out of you!
stop thinking... and do...

Lisa Allender said...

Sorry I don't always post a comment.
LOVE your blog.
Keep up the great work. :)

The Clandestine Samurai said...

You're the best in the West and the Beast of the East.

I'm constantly comparing my work to my favorite authors too, like Alan Moore and Chuck Palahniuk. But your voice and writing must be your own and your own only, and the goal is to write something YOU would love to read, not what would be as good as [insert favorite novelist name here].