Well, the bibiliography is up. It’s in the wrong order, and there are still one or two stories that I do recall I had published in various places that I have completely lost track of, and I have not listed and will not list the Deadly Death-Dealing Story of Death, the un-named story that I have sent to three (three!) publishers, all of whom have accepted it and all of whom ceased business less than a month later. It is clearly the literarty equivalent of a suicide pill or a fomite, and I cannot in all consciousness allow anyone in the spec fic community to read it.
Because I’m submitting it to the Australian tomorrow. Hated that rag for years.
Anyhow, the bibliography is up, and I am happy.
So – the writing life. I was standing naked in the kitchen this morning, staring down at my external genitalia in the cool light of dawn, and thinking about writing, research and life.
Why is this so, the few of you still reading may ask. See – there was a reason for this. I’m writing a story. One of the characters in the story is a woman who comes to life as an adult. She can see her partner, she knows what he looks like, but she doesn’t know what she looks like. She goes down to the river, scoops up a handful of water but all she can see is her hands. She looks down and -
And what? I thought. What does a woman see when she looks down? Obviously, it depends on her build, her position – even the light, I suppose. Men seeing and describing women’s bodies tend to describe them differently to women seeing and describing their bodies – at the extreme you get that porno-style checklist where everything is taut and full and spends its time either straining perkinly, stiffening and pointing or poking out inquisitively – more like a pair of three month old bulldogs than any part of a human being.
I looked at the line I’d written, frowned and stood up. Katy was asleep, she has a number of health conditions. None of them would protect me if I rushed into the bedroom at six AM and woke her to ask what she saw when she got out the shower. I took my coffee-cup, wandered into the kitchen, turned the kettle on, and took off all my clothes and looked down.
Well, she definitely didn’t see that.
This was the moment when the entire process, the entire idea of researching your writing began to seem very very funny. I grinned. I thought of Jehovah’s Witness’s knocking on the door, or a passing pervert. peering in, and I giggled and I cackled and I snorted for quite some time.
Then I put on my clothes and made the coffee and went and decided to wait until Katy woke up.
The whole experience did get me thinking about the “write what you know” idea. Write what you know, like all ideas, only works in certain environments. Wells, for example, did not know about tripods and fantastically intelligent Martians,
… he imagined.
“Write what you care about”, “write what you fear”, both of those work just as well but differently to “write what you know”.
But there are times knowing what you write about is the single most important thing. I remember reading as a child about some intrepid sailors (actually, one of them was trepid, but he was the traitor, none of the others were trepid at all) in a submarine beneath the North Pole. There was an earthquake or something similar, everyone was tossed about and great chunks of ice broke from the ice-caps and crashed down upon the submarine.
“But ice at zero degrees has a density of point nine two grams per cubic centimetre”, I thought, being a friendless nerd. “Ice floats. This is crap.”
And that was the end of that. I have, sadly, an entire mental portfolio of stupid literary mistakes like that (made by other people, thank God). People who stand on a nail and die of tetanus two days later (it takes longer). People who need someone who knows about medicine and send for the mendicants. People where their Bronze Age characters chat to each other like Cosmo girl.
So – you don’t want to make mistakes like that. That was why I was naked in the kitchen.
Note – not actually me, I have less hair on my head.
What does this mean for my writing generally? One of the pieces of writing I particularly admired at Clarion was a scene where someone went gliding in a hang-glider. The description worked on pretty much everyone in the room – you got the kinetic, the olfactory, the taste of the air, the feeling of terror. That’s the kind of writing that comes out of knowledge, either first hand or good second hand. It makes the writing live. The closer we bring the reader to what’s going on, the more we can grab them by the hair at the back of the head and smersh their face into what we are describing, the better our writing can get.
So – for me, there is a hang-gliding club twenty kilometres away. I am going to go there and I am going to fly. There are various mediaeval re-enactment people around, I am going to put on chainmail and carry a shield and spear and see what if feels like when I try tro run. There is a boxing gym near work, I’m going to go and have a look and maybe put on the gloves and get the pixels beaten off me. I am going to know.
And then, everyone else gets some.
And lastly – Jeff Vandermeer and the Conjoined Twins – sounds a bit like one of those boys adventure series adventure, doesn’t it? Jeff Vandermeer, boy detective… anyhow, the twins. Failure and remarkable success are like wrestling conjoined twins, you can’t seize one without running the risk of seizing the other. Unremarkable success, competency, your basic, bland, plodding prose – that’s less of a risk.
It’s sort of like those gymnastic competitions on the mat. The gymnast wants to get from one place to another. She can walk, anyone can walk. It’s doable, and it’s safe, she’ll never fail, she’ll never even break a sweat. But it won’t be that exciting, it won’t be memorable, it won’t be the best she can do.
But good writing – that’s the double back somersault with half twist and a handspring. It’s spectacular, it’s mesmerising, you can’t take your eyes away. It’s The Shipping News, it’s Through a Scanner Darkly, it’s Bruce Dawe and Ted Hughes and it’s practically every word of The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble. It’s what it’s about.
Well, it won’t be me today unless I finish the plastering and plant the mango tree
and the black and red chillie bushes Katy bought and get on with it.
Will speak soon and reply to comments sooner.
Thanks for listening,