Monday, February 17, 2014

My Writing

I'm not a doctrinaire kind of writer though I like the ideas of manifestos, and am more than happy to start a work from something "high concept" rather than the story or the characters. My writing covers fiction and poetry and I guess they have certain things in common: a tendency towards the contemporary, including referencing of pop culture; a political awareness - however slight, however non-party political; a general preference for the surreal, even if in a worldy context - i.e. at the edge of believability; an interest in language and form to tell a story; and, probably informing all of this, an unwillingness to manipulate the reader. I don't know if this makes me a particular type of writer - I do feel affinities with writers like David Rose, Lee Rourke, Nicola Barker, Magnus Mills, David Mitchell, Jon McGregor whose work inhabits imagined realities. I've referred to this kind of writing as "neurotic realism" in the past - in that it uses psychological and literary tropes over a, generally, realistic contemporary, to differing degrees. It interests me that there are a generation of writers who slip seamlessly between contemporary fiction and a sort of slipstream/fantasy work. It seems that the material might be mundane or everyday, but the approach is fantastical.

In this, I do think that I take bearings not from the American writers I admire, so much as that twilight British modernism: B.S. Johnson, Doris Lessing, Anthony Burgess, Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and John Fowles that was primarily writing in the sixties and seventies. It is these writers, I think, that my generation - writers born in the sixties and early seventies primarily - take some kind of bearings from; rather than Murdoch, Lodge, Golding, Kingsley Amis, John Wain, Graham Greene, etc. Heirs of Huxley more than Orwell perhaps. Those influences I perhaps had growing up - Martin Amis and Ian McEwan - I've mostly shaken off; I think due in part at least to be the different times in which we've lived. Their best books have a cold war sensibility, in Amis's case a mordantly funny existentialism living under fear of the bomb; in McEwan's a sense of never-ending middle-class dread that shows his debt to Golding at least. We've lived in more straitened times, and I think our writing is less concerned with the winds of change, than in how we can carve out our own oasis. Remove the memories of the Second World War, and the existential threats of nuclear bomb and Russia, and our fiction plays out in a more demarcated space.

I'm not sure whether or not that equally informs my poetry, but perhaps it does. I'm rarely confressional; though might write about real things, and do think the tendency to the autobiographical is part of that "reality hunger" that David Shields refers to. Without an audience, its hard to know what kind of "audience" one is looking for, but coming from a pretty average background, I've always been democratic in my aims, even if I'm sometimes auto-didactic in my methods. I want to write a work that dumbs up, not dumbs down. Poetry, of course, obsesses about style and schools, and the idea of shifting on an axis that coincides with both formal and experimental schools at different times seems to be at odds with this binary. I think one is constrained here by the poetry I grew up with, even into my twenties, where Eliot and Pound aside, modernism was hardly mentioned, let alone anything since. Its perhaps not surprising that I have at various stages found much to admire in Lowell, MacNeice, Browning and Gunn, poets who have made leaps or slithers across the same glass; or simply through their own originality, can be co-opted by one side for their strangeness, and rejected from the other side for the same.  Lyric poetry, like the short story, is a writing that denies itself a place in manifestos - partly because it is too small to align, but also because they are both malleable enough forms to do both things. My longer fiction never made it into publication, but has an equally uneasy relationship between the everyday and the surreal.

So as one continues to write, its surprising how little one has boxed oneself into a scene or an attitude. I'm somewhat pleased, if a bit perplexed by this. Perhaps I'm always going to be a project writer finding interesting things to do or say in different places, and finding the right apparatus to do so. This approach sees me more as one of those divergent artists who experiments with a range of styles. Yet I'm far from being a polymath, these adventures feel minimalist, un-showy. I'm not sure there is much of history of minimalism in literature outside the haiku and the poetry of Ian Hamilton, yet it surely has always existed. It perhaps has to mean different things in narrative writing than in the showing of fire bricks of four minutes or so of silence; yet I think it can be there.

Looking at the work I've done over the last couple of years it seems perplexingly diverse, unconnected to itself, yet over my whole writing life I return to themes, I stay somewhat within the parameters of my somewhat limited experience, and yet I automatically jump into different spaces when the work requires it. Every story and poem is different, and the idea of being able to write a book of poems or stories that are connected either in style or subject, would seem an impossibility, yet I would baulk at being called a dilettante; for the underlying themes of my work are often quite consistent; there's a constant moral and aesthetic centre, which only makes sense to describe in relation to the work itself, which of course, I would hope does the describing for me.

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