shiftylaserpistol

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Tag: Reality

So, what am I writing?


I must apologise for my lengthy absence to my subscribers (if indeed I have any left!) The truth is my writing has taken me in an unexpected direction and one I’m still coming to terms with. In short, I’m having fun again. That’s not to say my previous stories weren’t enjoyable, in parts, but usually I’d sit at the computer with a sense of great gravity and seriousness. I was going to provoke emotion, encourage the reader to think and reflect! I thought the best writing wouldn’t be enjoyable to get down; it had to be excised like shrapnel from an old wound. I was the suffering artist and that felt about right.

Then something great happened. I was encouraged to resurrect an old comedy character of mine, a fellow I created in college after being force-fed a large portion of Charles Dickens. An entitled, semi-deranged and jovial member of the Victorian upper-class; one Norton Pumblesmythe. He’d surfaced now and again over the years, usually as a short one-off to try and amuse a friend, but as a serious endeavour? Surely not. These stories were too light, too immediate, that isn’t the kind of writer I am!

Anyway, it was just a bit of fun. So I wrote another. It wasn’t much easier than a serious story; I ended up doing a fair amount of research on events, manners, language etc of the mid-1800s. It was absurdity couched in genuine history, with much of the decorum of the time so endearingly stiff you couldn’t easily tell it from a modern stereotype. Might make one or two people chuckle, I hoped, but what was it really? It needed a glossary to explain phrases and insults. Was I trying to educate or amuse?

Both, as it turned out. I didn’t study history in school so this era was utterly fresh to me. Major events of the time were both fascinating and ripe for parody. An online slang dictionary I discovered was a constant sense of wonder; insults which were over a hundred and fifty years old but original to today’s ears. People always approached my older stories with a sense of dour obligation, even if they ended up speaking kindly of them. With Pumblesmythe, though, the response was immediate and enthusiastic, a real surprise to me.

So what now? I’m a comedy writer? Well, the genre doesn’t really matter to me anymore. It took me a long time to trust my own voice as a writer, and an equally long time to discover what that voice should be talking about. Do I still feel it should be delivering soaring orations rather than a punch line? I suspect I always will, but that’s just ego; the rejection of something simple and true because it feels smaller, closer than you ever expected.

Writing and reality

 

Ray Bradbury once said: “You may stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you”. Which was perhaps a more zen approach than Hemmingway’s staying drunk on alcohol, but I digress. People assume that because writers examine life closely then we also examine reality. For me that’s not the case. I see reality as a weight in fiction, it helps makes the fantastical believable. Reality by itself is too often bills, disappointment, drudgery. You can’t underestimate the feeling a writer has when everything is working on the page; you’re creating cities, people, entire worlds, then you go back to reality and realise how little you’re actually in control of.

It seems comical to quote Nietzsche’s “when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you” when you’re discussing filling out tax returns or budgeting for the month, but there’s truth there too. Writers can find it difficult to know when to feel and when to guard ourselves; we do the first automatically because we want to sample and experience everything, but if you don’t learn to do the latter as well then life is a blunt, repetitive hammer that will smash you to pieces. Not all of us, in fact most of us don’t, work at day jobs that we love. If you step into a cold, logical, workplace environment with all your senses open then it’s the equivalent of asking a child to sit for eight hours in a featureless room. You can permanently damage your creativity if you don’t craft armour to wear during the everyday slog.

As to fashioning that armour? Let me know if you figure it out. I think mine was beaten out of a rusty plough.