From the Writing Den…

15 Aug

I’ve been away from the Internet for the last two and a half weeks, spending some time at my rural writing den. In truth, as my two young children were in tow, it was more of a holiday cottage on this occasion. Suffice to say, I didn’t get much writing done. Instead, there were lots of trips to the coast, stick throwing competitions, visits to crêperies and the like. I did, though, get plenty of reading done.

A couple of years ago, I gave my mother a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. I’d been intending to read it myself for ages but had never got around to it. Sitting in my garden chair beneath the shade of the silver birches, I did so at last. And frankly, I was in awe. You’d have to have been living on the moon for the last decade not to know that it concerns clones who’ve been created purely for the purpose of providing donations for other human beings, so the comments which follow won’t give much away. I found it a brilliantly understated, gut-wrenching read. It prompts the reader to ask him/herself a multitude of moral questions. I’ll cite two examples of Ishiguro’s skill. Firstly, he’s a master of narrative, writing convincingly in different voices from book to book. This time, he’s a thirty-something woman, and you never for a moment have that feeling that you get with other writers – ‘hold on, this is a man impersonating a woman’. Secondly, after all that has gone before, hinted at but never stated, it contains a short passage toward the end that leaves you feeling breathless as though from a sharp body blow. It’s a brilliant trick, similar to the moment in Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole – also a must read book – in which the protagonist, lost in a foreign land where he understands nothing, briefly catches sight of a man riding the other way on the metro escalator, reading a newspaper from his home country. Ishiguro’s narrator and her long-time friend have been talking about what follows if a donor survives his/her fourth donation and she comments, “there’s nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off. It’s horror movie stuff…”. I challenge the stoniest of heart not to be moved.

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The woodshed gets a new coat of paint and looks more like… the boat-shed or beach-hut. Much reading took place on the garden chair.

I love Norway’s landscape and culture. I’ve visited several times and it was the homeland of my late, great friend, Dyre Vaa Saetre. So I’m always interested to read the work of good Norwegian writers. From what I can tell, there’s always been a strong realist strain in Norwegian literature, exploring the hard times its people have lived through to reach their prosperous present. It so happens that Dyre’s great-grandfather, Johan Bojer, was such a writer (his most famous work was Den siste viking or The Last Viking). Perhaps best known to UK readers of the current crop of neo-realist writers is Per Petterson, author of Out Stealing Horses. Writing in a similar vein is Roy Jacobsen. I read his Child Wonder while I was over at the writing den. It’s a powerful coming-of-age novel and is also highly recommended. Like the works of Karinthy, I’m now waiting for more of Jacobsen’s writing to be translated into English.

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A grainy, old photo of my friend on a boat trip that we took along Sognefjorden

As for my own writing, work-in-progress No. 1 has arrived at the 54,000 word mark. I’ve discussed before how, from time to time, a writer may lose confidence in what he/she is writing. That’s the point I’ve reached at present. After all, the fact that you’ve spent months on a manuscript and written tens of thousands of words doesn’t mean that it’s destined to be any good. As often as not, though, this is down to the writer’s mood or a recognition that much revision of the text is necessary. In any case, here‘s a short excerpt from it.

I also worked on the organisation of a possible sampler of my writing to date (working title, Jamboree Bag). It would contain excerpts from my longer works of fiction, some short stories, non-fiction, poems (yes, I do very occasionally write them), song lyrics and a few examples of my journalism. The idea would be to self-publish it as an e-book, available for a nominal price to anyone interested in reading it and free to publishers and agents as an advertisement for my work. I might need some advice from my virtual friends on how to do this! Is this a good idea? If you have a view, then do please let me know.

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The peerless Breton coast
(also thankfully, pleasure pier-less)

All text and images © PSR 2013

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4 Responses to “From the Writing Den…”

  1. Mari Biella August 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Hello Paul, and welcome back to the internet! I’m glad to hear that you had a good time and got plenty of reading done. I haven’t read ‘Never Let Me Go’, but I loved ‘Remains of the Day’, so that’s another one to add to my ‘to-read’ list.

    I can sympathise with your writing woes, as I’m currently in a similar situation myself. I’m working on ironing out some kinks in my novella before sending it off to beta readers (yourself included, God help you! 😉 ), and I’m having something of a crisis in confidence. It doesn’t seem nearly as strong as it did before. In fact, I’m considering whether to just put it aside as a curiosity. Perhaps I’ll just make it available free as a PDF to anyone who’s really interested, and leave it at that. Any opinions you have on this will be gratefully received…

    As for the sampler, I say go for it! Self-publishing a collection of your work shouldn’t have any impact on your chances of getting a traditional deal for your novel, and is if nothing else a good way of getting your writing ‘out there’ for anyone who’s interested. There are, indeed, more and more writers who are going for a hybrid approach to publication, and self-publishing on an occasional basis, so you’ll be in good company. Contact me if you need any specific advice, though I should say that my technical skills leave much to be desired. (And I’ve never been able to get over my horror of the business of marketing and publicity, which are dirty words to me.) However, as someone who’s been there and done it I might be able to help out in some way. Good luck!

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves August 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Hi there, Mari, and thanks for your comments.

    You’re in for a treat with ‘Never Let Me Go’. It’s completely different to ‘Remains of the Day’ and yet similar at the same time. There’s that same sense of something sinister lurking beneath the surface, the believability of the narrator, all within the context of a fully realised world.

    I’m looking forward to reading your novella. I suspect it may just be that roller-coaster that most us ride from bravado to zero and back again. Having said that, as you know, I’m all for letting things go if they’ve run their course or if they’re not working. In due course, that’s the approach I shall be taking with WIP No.1. If it doesn’t work, I’ll put it down to experience.

    You’ve encapsulated my thinking there with regards to the sampler. I don’t think it would do any harm to put it ‘out there’. The idea came about when I realised just how much writing I’d done over a long period of time. I shall definitely take you up on your kind offer of help with the e-book side of things.

  3. Victoria Grefer August 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Welcome back!!! Sounds like you had a great vacation with your family 🙂

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves August 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Hi Victoria and thank you! We did indeed have a high old time on our hols.

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