Still not dead. Which is nice.
I’m trying to wrangle a long follow up on How To See Ghosts, but it’s going to take a bit more research and that’s a bit more than I have any desire to do right now. On top of that – and yes, I know I say this all the time – but Paris Green is an evil, malicious, monstrous bastard hellspawn of a book and I don’t think it will rest until it has consumed my soul, spat out the pips and settled down to pick its teeth with a gore-caked rusty iron stake borrowed from one of the Vlad the Impaler’s wilder fondue parties.
So, yeah. There’s that.
To take the edge off I’ve been indulging in one of my less ridiculous forms of cat-vacuuming – writer’s guides. I love Dorothea Brande because she says anyone can learn to write given hard work and practise, and I love Brenda Ueland because she says precisely the opposite and leads me to angrily deface my copy of If You Want To Write with rude notes in the margin.
I hate that book. I hate it with a hot, sweet dancing hate you could toast marshmallows on. I know it’s supposed to be one of the greatest inspirational guides ever written but ugh. Just look at it.
[Van Gogh] had a terribly hard life – loneliness, poverty, and starvation that led to insanity. And yet it was one of the greatest lives that was ever lived – the happiest, the most burningly incandescent.
Yep. Besides the parts where he painted boots and chairs because they were the only things that he felt understood him, the DIY earectomy and the final bullet to the noggin, poor old Vince was a regular barrel of monkeys. And ‘burningly incandescent’? Really? Couldn’t you just vomit? God, I love it.
It is our nasty Twentieth Century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc., unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e., the enlargement of the soul.
I’m not sure how you get from Socrates to the Renaissance without the help of George Carlin and a pimped out phone booth, but isn’t she just precious? Nobody ever wrote for money or fame before 1900. They were all in thrall to some kind of magic art pixie who whiffled pinkly and at great length about the enlargement of the soul. It’s not like two of the novels considered seminal to the development of the English novel as an art form were written in a unsuccessful attempt to keep the author out of debtor’s prison. (Daniel Defoe was really bad with money.)
Menial work at the expense of all true, ardent, creative work is a sin against the Holy Ghost.
Presumably some menial, uncreative schlub can come over and do my dishes and wash my floors. I can’t do it. I’m special.
And that is why I always say to the worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could not find a minute for it:
“If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say: ‘Mother is working on her five act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.
Or they’d grow up to write misery memoirs for Harper Collins. Bonus points if one of the toddlers tries to French kiss a mains socket.
Oddly enough, I’ve got a lot more mileage out of this book, advice-wise, than I have from writing books I agree with. I’ve definitely got more chores done as a result of it. When someone tries to tells me I shouldn’t have to do menial work because I am simply the most beautiful and fragile snowflake in the entire fucking blizzard then my first instinct is to piss off upstairs and finish the ironing for fear that I could ever become such a terrible fluffy monster.
Besides, I get some good ideas while ironing.
Lately though, I do want to recommend Nail Your Novel, by Roz Morris. I get bogged down in rewrites and second and third drafts. That’s usually the point when I look back at what I’ve done and feel completely overwhelmed by the scale of the structural overhaul I’m going to have to perform. This book is great for tips and tools that help make sense of the unholy mess you’ve made in earlier drafts – beat sheets, plot diagrams – real nitty gritty stuff.
This is where I’ve been sunk lately. At around 60k Paris Green is lean, but very, very mean indeed. The shorter the novel, I find, the more exacting. There’s no room for fluff, padding and the dreaded Darlings. Everything – dialogue, character, plot, motif, theme – it all has to be pulling some kind of narrative weight.
On the other hand there’s Fifty Shades of Neigh, which is about 50k of dick jokes, vomiting and inappropriate jokes about My Little Pony, but I think when you’re sending up something as plotless and soggy as Fifty Shades of Grey then there’s not much else you can do. Even Fifty Shades Darker, which has a vague whisper of a plot, follows the same ‘And then…’ plodalong style as the first one.
…and then he took me out to dinner and we had some wine and then he showed me his sex dungeon and I was like oh but I thought you wanted to play X-Box and then he bought me dresses and diamond earrings and then we went to a party and then we danced and then there were fireworks and then we went home and then we found out that his ex had poured battery acid all over my car and then…
It’s pretty much like that all the way through, which makes writing Hanna ridiculously easy. I’m like a fly on the inner wall of her empty little skull, as she mimbles aimlessly from one self-induced crisis to another. I’ve already got 11k of the sequel down without even trying, which surprised me since I had a feeling I might have stymied myself by starting the book with one of the star-crossed morons in prison. Turned out to be the opposite, since Crispian Neigh has less personality than a door handle. He’s a lump, a deadweight, a theoretical boyfriend, which makes him perfect for a superficial twit like Hanna. Now that he’s behind bars and unable to drag her to loud, annoying Brony parties he’s once again that glorious blank slate on which she can doodle her inane misinterpretations of 19th Century novels.
I’m also having far too much fun with a line from Fifty Shades of Grey, when Ana meets her new boss Jack Hyde (aka Timothy Grope) for the first time. She sniffily remarks that Jack “…appears to only favour American literature written after 1950. Nothing else. No classics…”
This was hilarious in itself coming from the nitwit who seems to think Tess of the D’Urbervilles is some kind of proto-Bridget Jones starring Alec D’Urberville as Daniel Cleaver and Angel Clare as Mark Darcy, but ‘no classics?’
This woman is dumber than a box of mentally challenged rocks, placed in a larger box full of human hair and then wrapped in a large bag of hammers. She has the intellectual capacity of sand.
The mere idea that there were no classic American novels written after 1950 was so fantastically, egregiously, hilariously stupid that I had Hanna parrot it and then had Timothy Grope text her with titles of classic novels written after 1950. It’s interesting how many famous book titles could conceivably come across as threatening when read in total isolation by a prissy little moron who thinks good books stopped being written round about 1910.
She thinks CATCH-22 means she won’t ‘catch’ her next birthday, her twenty second, thinks THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING means he thinks her being is unbearable and that she’d be better off not being, and nearly has to be scraped off the ceiling when she gets a text reading simply IN COLD BLOOD.
It’s great fun. Also there are a lot of really, really good books written after 1950.