Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Public and the Private

I wrote earlier in the year about how we need writers on a "hot streak" - it was a little tongue in cheek, though there's some truth that writers, and other artists, have a period or periods when they can seem to do no wrong. There's another school of thought that a writer reaches their level, whether commercially or artistically, and stays there pretty much. This is what the marketing men hope. Hilary Mantel will one day write a non-Henry VIII novel, as much as J.K. Rowling's now writing non-Harry Potter novels.

In a world where no-one knows nothing, to re-use William Goldman's words about the movie industry, I wonder to what extent agents and publishers are looking for those writers who are hitting their hot streak, or have improved their art to a point where they'll stand out from the crowd. Its notable that two Penned in the Margins writers, Claire TrĂ©vien and Melissa Lee-Houghton, have respectively been mentioned for the Guardian First book award and a Poetry Book Society recommendation. In the busy, but small world of poetry, I know both of them a little and had you asked, I'd have probably given you them as names to watch. What of course I haven't been privy to, is the behind the scenes work that was leading to their new books. Certainly the new poems Claire read with me on the Salt Modern Voices tour in late 2011 sounded good, and Melissa's work that I've seen has seemed equally impressive  but at this remove I wouldn't have known more than that. With Claire being published, like myself, in the Salt pamphlet series, PitM have done a good job in plucking her from Salt - before, it has to be noted, their cessation of single poet collections - and Melissa is publishing her second book with them.

Having taking some time off this last fortnight, I'd realised I was still not fully recovered from my eye operation 8 weeks ago, so its been a period of life being put on hold in some ways. At such moments you can sometimes think the worst of everything. Yet, after a bit of endeavour, I've had time to think through my recent creative work - and it hangs together. The music I've been making is as accomplished as any I've ever done, and by using some old tunes that I'd never got to record, has taken some pressure off the need to write new material (the results will be available soon), I've also embarked on a couple of creative projects, one fiction, one something else, which are also looking pretty strong. The two short stories I've written this year are both good ones, the first of which "The Cat" is being published shortly in Unthank Books "Unthology 4", (published shortly), the first time one of my stories has been in a book; and the other just needs a bit of rewriting before I look for a good home for it. Poetry hasn't been my first concern, but I seem to be writing the occasional "signature" poem that's working well, or longer sequences, that just require a little more time. An essay I've recently written on how we are outsourcing our memory to machines, will be out shortly in a Manchester zine as well.

The public and the private endeavour are always some way distant from each other it seems, at least when you're working without a publisher or agent. This year has been a bit of a right-off in many ways, yet my art doesn't seem to have suffered too much for it, remarkably. Whether I'm hitting my stride, or simply consolidating some of my better ideas after years of practice, its hard to know. The proof of the pudding is not just in the publication - though that helps - but in the work itself. In a world of social media where books are desperate for the oxygen of publicity that a prize confers upon them its sometimes easy to forget that what you are seeing is like chipping away at a stone and discovering a well-preserved fossil in the rock; the "discovery" is the easiest bit, albeit open to chance, the hard work has been in the forming of whatever lies beneath the surface: and that, as ever, happens in solitude, in silence. The quiet satisfaction of knowing that what you're working on is looking good, is one of the great pleasures of writing. Wondering when or where it will get published is a luxury I try to avoid indulging too much.

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