I’ve still been spending far too much time on Facebook, reading all sorts of articles about the current situation – or situations; there seem to be so many things going on. And chipping in my own two penn’orth whenever I’ve felt moved to say something. Things are dire, there’s no doubt about it, and I’ve been singularly unimpressed by the Labour MPs who’ve been gunning for their leader ever since he was elected and even heckled him in Parliament. If they think it makes them look more electable, the magic doesn’t work for me. The Chilcot enquiry has only told us officially what we already knew: that going to war with Iraq was neither justifiable nor effective and Blair had no right to lead us into it. I was impressed by Corbyn’s apology on behalf of his party, but it can’t have gone down well with all of them. As for the Tory leadership candidates, Brexit seems to have given them a free hand to push the agenda frighteningly farther to the right –when they’re not too busy making themselves even less credible and appealing than they were before.
I’m not going to apologise for the blatant political bias: I’m not required to be impartial here. Perhaps the fact that I’m being this blatant shows how high feelings are running generally. I’d like to be able to stand back and take a wider perspective, but when push comes to shove (I do dislike it when people say that) there are certain things I strongly believe and others I strongly don’t. However, I can do my best not to be so attached to my point of view that I can’t hear anyone else’s, and I can even try – hard though it is – to have metta (lovingkindness) for all of those involved, not just the victims and the dispossessed but even those who got us into this mess. Lovingkindness doesn’t mean agreeing with or condoning what they’ve done; it just means not losing sight of the fact that they are human beings too, whatever I may think of them. Sometimes I can do that to some extent and sometimes I can’t. I have to say I didn’t rush to sympathise with Gove when a friend of mine described him as a ‘mutant haddock’.
Enough of that… In the parts of my life that haven’t been taken over by Brexit, I’ve been trying – yet again – to revamp the novel I wrote on the MA course. After some difficult feedback I thought it had bitten the dust completely, but when someone whose opinion I value said some encouraging things about it and asked if I’d tried to get it published, I thought perhaps it might be worth resurrecting. Last year when I worked on it I changed the narration from first person to third – no small task – and now I’m painstakingly changing it back again, as first person feels more real and immediate. As I’m doing so I’m beginning to see the parts of it that are clumsy and in need of rewriting, or else probably redundant, and I’m also finally starting to get what people have meant when they said it needed more plot. However good individual scenes or chapters may be, what a novel needs is a taut structure and a movement that impels it forward. I don’t think my novel is totally without these – it certainly has a story and the main character goes from A to B – but for any novel to work, it has to be more than ‘this happened and then that happened and then that happened’. E M Forster, in his classic Aspects of the Novel, is very clear about that: “Yes – oh dear yes – the novel tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist. That is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish it was not so, that is could be different – melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form.”
Now I love stories and don’t regard them as a ‘low atavistic form’, but when it comes to writing a novel I wouldn’t say the plot was my priority. Nevertheless I would like this novel to work as well as it can. I would like there to be a clear sense of development and movement, and I would like the story to take the characters forward as well as the other way round. And I would like the characters to be interesting and engaging, the situations believable and compelling and the ending a satisfying conclusion. Of course I would – those things would make it a good novel. And I may or may not be able to do them. My main reason for doing this isn’t to get the novel published – though that would be very nice – it’s to learn how to go about writing a novel and how to craft it as exactingly as if it were a poem, where every word has to count and form and content have to work organically together. And that means looking at it on many levels, from tightening the language in places where it feels flaccid to taking out unnecessary scenes and chapters (or putting in scenes or chapters where the plot requires them) and thinking more carefully about the whole arc of the story.
Several of my friends are successful and much-praised novelists and a lot of this has become second nature to them – though often it isn’t achieved until a book has been through quite a few drafts. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I enjoy learning and don’t like to feel something has beaten me. And I have to give myself permission to fail. It may be that this novel will never be ‘the one’ – the one that I like and am satisfied with, the one that gets published. But I’m fond of the characters and have put a lot into it – and/or it has drawn a lot out of me – and I prefer not to waste anything that can still be used. So we’ll see…
What will happen with this novel is unknown but not likely to be catastrophic. What happens next in this country is also unknown. How catastrophic it is we have still to find out.