I don’t practise mindfulness either, but there’s something so very in-the-moment about plates stacked so high in the sink that you can’t get the kettle under the tap.
Today, now, this minute, I think that there are two kinds of people in the world.
There are people who stack the plates so high in the sink (bringing them in and dumping them down with a sense of a task triumphantly achieved) that there’s no way to start washing up without taking some of them out again (sometimes – pointedly – all the way back to the dining table), and there are people who clear what’s there already before bringing in another lot.
There are people who don’t rinse the suds off before putting a plate to dry, and there are people so twitchy about their own kitchens that they notice these distinctions.
I find that my washing-up practice is best conducted very early on the morning after, to the sound of meditation music – rushing streams, women wailing (tunefully), occasional single notes plucked from guitars.
A very slight not-quite-hangover helps, in that it imparts an urge to get everything precisely just-so.
No, Spellcheck, we need that hyphen.
If the rain is hitting the skylight hard, and everybody else is asleep, and the embers in the fire are still showing a few sparks, and there are leftovers for a quiet pre-breakfast self-indulgence, so much the better.
No, CCleaner, I still don’t want that update. You showed me that pop-up five minutes ago.
If there’s a still-wrapped present under the tree, that everybody missed yesterday, and it turns out to have your name on it–
What am I talking about? It’s the middle of August.
That’s the trouble with unreliable narrators. You just can’t rely on them.
[Important detail I left out: today, I’m planning to write about unreliable narrators.]
We did hold something of a celebration yesterday, and the day was so drenchingly wet that we did light the fire. That was a good idea. But no. There isn’t a tree, and I’m imagining the still-wrapped present.
And yes. Everything else about this moment triggers associations with a December morning after. There’s discarded wrapping paper. The fire isn’t quite out. It was necessary, you understand, to do something with the couple of left-over roast potatoes.
No, Spellcheck. ‘Roast’ is correct.
In that sense, the intended post-festive atmosphere – perhaps you felt it? – has a kind of truth to it, while not being true. Kind of. Discuss.
Much of what makes a story is atmosphere. Which is built up of [I don’t know what] incidental detail, style, voice, crashingly intrusive statements of the obvious. There is an atmosphere of post-festive, slightly tetchy, would-eat-comfort-food-will-settle-for-cold-potatoes-ness hanging over this blog post.
Thank you, CCleaner. No.
Snow is drifting against the dry-stone walls marking out the fields, and down in the valley, I can see a gritting lorry moving slowly along the main road to Alverton. The light is grey with the promise of more snow. [Alverton? What? I'm in Falmouth.]
That is not true, but it should be. The snow only started yesterday evening, but already this morning, when I went out with the dog, I had to push against the front door to get it open. [That’s absolute nonsense. We’re in the middle of August.]
There are children tobogganing down the access road towards our house. Later, we’ll serve them cocoa, and their parents will walk down to join us for coffee. I can see their cars parked along the top road – they won’t risk driving down.
I wonder if Johanna will come.
All that – the tobogganing, the cocoa, the parents joining us – it’s all a Winter tradition [and totally made up]. I’ll leave fitting the snow plough to the tractor for tomorrow, or perhaps the next day. I moved the Land Rover up to the top road last night. Chains? Yep.
I feel a tightness in my chest. Marko will be with her, and the twins. We must avoid eye contact.
Behind me, the log fire is blazing and the house is warm. We hung those tapestries back in ’79, the Professor and I. He brought them back from – well, yes. You know about that. You read his book, of course. It was all true.
The rug in front of the fire. I should remove it, in case she does come.
The bookshelves? Oh, they’ve been there forever. Oak, I think. Help yourself, if you’re looking for something to read. No, not – not that book.
But know what? I don’t feel like writing about unreliable narrators today. Maybe we’ll leave them for another week.
I’ve got that high-definition caffeinated feeling that you get on mornings after, you know?
And anyway, unreliable narrators aren’t people who babble on about snowdrifts and children tobogganing – and they certainly don’t do that on damp grey August mornings that are just possibly warm enough for a swim later.
They’re narrators who are part of the story. At some level. You realise, as you read, that they don’t know themselves, or that they’re emotionally involved, or that they have some kind of agenda. Even when they’re telling, they’re showing themselves.
I don’t think the narrative voice – the voice of the narrator, the voice telling the story – necessarily has to be an “I”, and I don't think that "I" has to be the "I" who sits behind the laptop. Typewriter. Who holds the pen.
I do think that one of the pitfalls of storytelling is that you reveal yourself. That’s not necessarily a pitfall, but it’s a shame if it’s unintended. [You caught that tendency towards irritability, didn't you? I know you did. I'm not really like that. Really. But every time I clear my mind of thoughts, somebody adds a pile of dirty dishes.]
Which is another reason – No, CCleaner! – to be just ever so slightly aware of the narrator. Maybe it’s just you, telling your story. But maybe there’s scope for “you” to be just subtly a character as well as everybody else in the story. [I'm really a nice person.]
Did you see them ride out, that morning, on their quest? That rose-red sunrise, do you remember? I was up on the plateau, waiting to light the signal fire.
Tell me how it was, for you, watching them leave. No, don’t tell me at length; just a couple of lines in passing. You said your goodbyes, didn't you, last night?
As you tell a story, or read one, maybe pause every now and then to ask your narrator a couple of questions. This doesn’t happen every time, but in some stories, you can find – detect, even – a story behind the story.
Read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926).
What? Questions? No, certainly not. There’s no Q&A today. Oh, no, that's not what I meant at all.
Ladies and gentlemen, William Essex has left the website.
The morning is uniformly grey, there’s a lot of silence around, and the trees are waving at me. Stillness. Except for the trees. It’s about 6.15 in the morning, which is – ah! Sudden flurry of wind, sudden scuffle among the trees. They shouldn’t be fighting, this early in the morning.
It’s 6.15 in the morning, I said that already, which is … some other time in Seattle, Washington. I was speaking to somebody there, video chat, and she had a big mug of coffee while I was winding down at the end of the day.
Now I’ve got the big mug of coffee and – anyway, it’s not morning in America at the moment.
I was going to write about something. Yes. I came across a rant the other day. On the obvious social-media platform. A rant posted to a group dedicated to creative writing.
A woman – young, I think, although I’m not sure – had written a story – a fantasy novel, I think – and failed to convince an agent to take it. I could add another “I think” here, but that would be repetitive: implied in the rant was that she’d tried several agents and they’d all turned her down. She was facing a brick wall.
Except that she wasn’t.
The woman who ranted began by declaring her intention to rant. Then she ranted. She was good at ranting, and while I can’t say anything about her novel, I can say that she is a forceful writer. Ranter. But writer as well, obviously.
Most of the comments on her rant (there were lots of them) suggested that she should persevere. Archetypes were evoked: struggling artist; years of rejection slips; final vindication. But a few of them asked the question that occurred to me. Why did this matter?
Back in the day – no, that day – the publishing industry consisted of small-ish firms (that were about to be taken over by conglomerates) in which editors spoke disparagingly of slush piles and would-be novel-writers without access to social media grumbled into their sock drawers about the impossibility of ever getting published.
These days … we have social media. The phrase “getting published” is still a kind of mantra, as though it’s an end-point rather than a beginning, but the act of getting published is comparatively easy.
Dangerously so, if you’re old enough to believe that manuscripts should be left in a drawer for a while and then run through the typewriter again – not that I’m deliberately showing my age or anything.
But “getting published” isn’t a portal in the way that it used to be, and it isn’t guarded by “gatekeepers” (remember how we used that word?) in the way that it used to be.
Yes, there’s still a “trad” publishing industry – been there, done that – and yes, they’re still as dedicated as ever to not publishing would-be novelists. Now, there’s also an “indie” publishing industry, but no, they can’t lavish their attention on everybody, so yes, they’re becoming much the same (although there was a phase where they bought the rights to out-of-print authors to give an impression of scale).
It’s a human instinct to close ranks around the chosen few.
Now, there’s the free-for-all that is the internet. Where there was once pulp fiction – cheap paperbacks, pamphlets, A5-sized sci-fi/fantasy “magazines” packed with short fiction in tiny print (I have a couple) – now there are e-books and POD paperbacks. [Print On Demand.]
If you remember even further back, to the early printing presses churning out tracts that were nailed to the dooors of churches, famously or not, you might agree with me that today's over-accessible publishing "industry" has a longer tradition than the tightly clenched publishing industry of the late twentieth century. Not that it matters any more, but.
One way to give an impression of high-mindedness is to decry the quality of some of the fiction available on e-readers these days. Fine. But you don’t have to read it. And who are you to deny those people their chance to reach an audience?
This is not going to turn into a rant. This is NOT!
But I’ve been entertaining myself with Kindle Unlimited recently (alternatives are available, etc.). This is not a plug, and I’m not taking money.
I’ve just been enjoying downloading and reading ebooks for free. I’ve discovered authors I would never have tried (and sent some of them back after the first paragraph). I’ve strayed into genres, ditto (and ditto).
In the process, I’ve tolerated writing that hasn’t been as accomplished as it could be, and I’ve been entertained by stories that haven’t necessarily followed a conventional narrative logic. Or any logic at all, sometimes.
To put this as tactfully as I can, I’ve adjusted some of my tolerance levels, and been rewarded for doing so. [There are life-lessons everywhere, right?]
I’m left happy with the idea that anybody interested in “getting published” can do it. Even if what they first decide to publish is a rant about not getting published.
If you’re reading this – I have, after all, published it, so that’s possible – I just want to say: good luck, best wishes, and I’m looking forward to reading your book.