Novel under the bed
I wrote my first novel when I was twelve – 200 pages of heart-wrenching, pre-pubescent angst, if there is such angst to be had at that age. Then I read somewhere that Edgar Allen Poe would burn his writing if he got too entangled by it so, in the purest moment of my writing life, I took my scrawls out to the backyard and threw it on the barbecue, to dad’s delight. Do I have regrets about this? Sometimes, but geez it was shit writing.
The novel I’ve been writing for three years is called ‘Floating Upstream’. It is about a girl in a small village in
who grows up around violence, incest, rape, food, oranges, almond picking, love and gypsies. It’s about making your way through life the best you can. It is about the lies that people tell, even when they’re not compelled to lie by circumstance. Mostly, it’s about the way in which we lie to ourselves and believe our own fabrications after a while because it’s so much easier to believe the delusions. However, there is a deaf-mute and he knows more about what’s happening in the town that anybody else because people don’t lie in front of him because they know there’s nothing he can do. He’s the town’s conscience who carries a picture of Saint Anthony of Sicily . Along the way there’s love, fishing in the river, swimming for crosses on the first day of Spring, a rape, a pregnancy, some fortune-telling, lots of music and three deaths. Padua
There is no happy ending, just a death and a realisation that life doesn’t get tied up into a neat package when all is said and done – sometimes when a life is traumatic and filled with hate, sadness and fear, you just get up the next day and catch the train for work because you can’t do much else. I want to explore the idea that people don’t always move on after trauma or that they do move without ever talking about their fears. You don’t always heal but you don’t always lose your mind because sometimes life continues as if it never happened. You just dust yourself off.
My vision of writing has changed since I first started this novel. At first I just wanted to write – no plans, just words. But more recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the art itself. The sentence lengths, simplicity versus complexity – marrying the simplicity of Hemingway with the art of García Márquez. I like to re-read these two writers, particularly Hemingway’s short stories (‘Hills like white elephants’ is a favourite). But really, my novel is not that complex. It’s simply about people. I’m trying to develop characters that you’d love and plenty that you’d hate.
After three years I’m almost certain that I know what the story is about. I guess you could assume that, at nearly 60,000 words into it, I should have a clear picture but after years of workshopping, I’m not sure that it works that way. I don’t know that the first-time novelist is that disciplined. I was reading an interview with García Márquez that he gave to The Paris Review just before his Nobel Prize win. He talks about the art of writing. When you begin to write, you just write and you have no idea where you’re headed. When I first began in journalism, I felt much the same. I thought because I was writing about music, it was more of an emotional response. You just let the mood take you somewhere and you surprise yourself at every turn. That’s how this novel has eventuated. I write at 5.30 every morning, for one hour before I get ready for work. I might write 200 words, I might write 800 words. You might ask how I could manage any lucid thoughts at that time of day. But that’s just it. The thoughts aren’t necessarily lucid, they’re almost random, like I’m sleep walking or even channeling ideas that I can’t control. I marry that with weekend structural work where I sort out any questions I may have about plot. And I surprise myself with the clarity I can realise at times. And then sometimes, I just don’t write at all for weeks. Those are the times I dread. It’s not that I have writer’s block, I haven’t had that yet, it’s the fear that I feel. The fear that I’m writing for nothing. That it’s self-indulgent. That I’m wasting my time. But mostly, I just get on with it. Right now, I’m writing consistently and that’s an excellent place to be. But back to Márquez, he believes that eventually, the technical discipline has to come because the passion may die, the whimsy may flee, and where does that leave you? You have to make plans. But I’m leaving that for the next novel.