Friday, January 01, 2010

Oblique Strategies for Writing

The Christmas sales had a number of books half price. I passed on Nick Cave, "The Original of Laura" and Barbara Kingsolver, and picked up Cory Doctorow's "Makers" and John Carey's biography of William Golding instead. The latter's quite a chatty affair, a bit too much, I looked in vain to find out when Golding was born - it was easier to find out from Wikipedia! Note for any biographers reading this: your books are at least one part reference guide, yet few tend to have a chronology these days. I skipped to the chapter entitle "Unpublished Writer", as Golding is famously one of those writers who could so easily have fallen through the net. But it only took one man at Faber, Charles Monteith, to see the potential of "Lord of the Flies" (it wasn't called that in manuscript) to make all the difference. It's striking really, that the two collosuses of British post-war fiction, who came head-to-head in the 1980 Booker, Burgess and Golding, only published their first novel relatively late in life. I've only skimmed a couple of chapters so far, but looking forward to reading the whole book, and, to go back to a couple of the Golding novels I've picked up over the years. He's a little out of fashion, Flies aside, perhaps something to do with the bleak worldview or the enclosed communities he so often writes about; yet surely these are the same qualities we see and like in Cormac McCarthy? (Back to writers' birthdays, having never seen a picture of him, I was astonished to find out that McCarthy was born in 1933 - just 22 years after Golding, for that matter.) 

I've a wall-full of literary biographies, yet I'm not one to ever confuse the writing with the life, I just realise they are so interlinked. I'm perhaps more interested in the writing life, than the life written about. Carey unearths the novels before "Lord of the Flies", a reminder that you don't get into your forties as a writer without a hefty back catalogue. "The Inheritors" and "Pincher Martin" follow in quick succession, the busy schoolmaster, family man and sailor somehow managing to dash off three masterpieces in as many years.

It's a somewhat oblique strategy (to misuse Eno's term) for my own writing, to read biographies of writers I'm not particularly influenced by, but its good to remember the differences between the actual writing, and the literary life that may come with it. For a couple of years now I've been without any to have conversations about writing with, and biographies, letters and the like provide a useful "conversation with the dead" - though necessarily one-way. (This blog is a little too one-way as well, but is another strategy of sorts.)

So, over Christmas I'm writing again, something with a bit more scope than the short pieces I've written the last year or two. The wealth of Manchester-based material I've accumulated over the year might finally see the light of day, though I'm approaching it, as I approached the city, as a newcomer - the novel starting outside of Manchester as I did, but through its music, its buzz, it drawing me in. A New Year's resolution of sorts then; to write my Manchester novel at last.


Brook Stableford said...

This is truly inspiring. Barbara Kingsolver will be presenting writers' workshops at the San Miguel Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico February 19-23 2010. I just signed up. It looks like a rare opportunity to meet her. Are you going?

Adrian Slatcher said...

In the wrong country (UK.) Do like her work alot, haven't heard much about the new book though.