Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Own Rhythms

There have been a number of deadlines - either for specific magazines or competitions with specific themes - or more "open" but still requiring X number of poems, or Y number of lines. One by one I've missed them. I realise I should be more organised about this. Perhaps, like some kind of literary cost accountant, you could have Writings on the left of the margin, with Opportunities on the right. Ideally your writings should all be in for a competition or sent to some magazine, matching up at the end of the summer or year to a zero sum. An audit of your literary season comes up satisfactory then: 8 things written, 6 things published, 2 in contention.

Yet, it may not surprise you to know, these aren't the rhythms of the writer. I've been grazing the recent Granta Sex issue, and enjoying its irreverancies, though there's no way that - say - Marie Darrieusecq's story "Rousseau and the Pussycat" is her finest work, though it has some fine lines, and a neat little idea. You wonder? Was it already mildewing on the shelf when Granta came calling with a "we're doing a sex issue, you have to be in, Marie?" or was it written specially for it. Whether the extract from Tom McCarthy's "C" is about sex at all, or simply had to be in as an exclusive on the book is another matter. The perils of a theme of course. It can bring out the best of anthologist and writers; but also runs the risk of work that's not as good as it might be. (Though, at least with sex, there's going to be some fun trying.)

Yet, I'm not wanting to criticise the new-style fatter, livelier Granta - which is becoming, perhaps for the first time in years, a go to place for the most interesting fiction - rather to use it to illustrate that literature, despite its many practitioners goes on at its own pace. I've just read Isherwood's "Mr. Norris Changes Trains" - published in 1935, with all that we know since of the Nazi atrocities, it remains a remarkable book. We see Nazi Germany's demonic moth developing from the spent chrysalis of Weimar Germany, yet much of its power is perhaps from one we know happens after. I'm not sure there were many novels published in the mid-thirties which were so aware of what was going on. Yet, relevance doesn't mean greatness of course.

Publishing schedules seem to be going back, in some ways, to the rhythms of the 1920s, where books came out almost as soon as they were finished, marketing - in those days - being indistinguishable from publishing. A writer will now deliver a novel or a poem and see it in print six months, a year, or even longer in the future. Give it a fair wind - a prize, a good review, whatever - and it's after life lasts longer. The "next book" may never come, may be affected by the reception to the first, or may take two or three years, as that's the publicity cycle's requirements. Ironically, that bestselling genre writers can churn their books out (and perhaps have to) to a pre-determined schedule.

Back to writing: and I've been writing. I've also been thinking about writing, squeezing in the actual "stuff", though with a week off I'm hoping to do more than just squeezing. It's the thinking that has stopped me entering this competition or that, for on the left side of my margin I've got some more work to do - something a little more ambitious than a standalone short story - and the right hand side, well, I never was much of an accountant.

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