“There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of the truth.”
I’m not going to post and run, because a lot of these are books which I really want to recommend – but this isn’t going to be a lengthy post (hoorah, I hear you cry!) because I am desperate to write properly. As in, write made up stuff, which to me is always more real than the real stuff.
Last weekend I had a dream. The dream was really disturbing – a load of us at a haunted house – but there was one element in particular which stayed with me and when I woke up I wrote it down. I decided it needed to be in a story. I went about my day – gym, cleaning, etc., and while I was doing all these things the need to write was itching at the back of my head, like I’d got a tic. I kept telling myself that I’d sit down and write when I’d made that soup, mopped the floor, done the ironing, etc., and I found myself feeling quite sick; so I thought sod it and shoved all my chores to one side to concentrate on writing. I sat at my bureau and wrote the start of the story. It felt good. At this point I didn’t know what was going to happen in the story, just that that dream-snippet was too persistent to be denied, and too unnerving to be forgotten. I figured I’d just sit down and see what happened.
I wrote for an hour and it was not bad, but not amazing either. The fire burned out and I put it away to forget about it: a flash in a rather old, greasy pan. A few days later, some unusual events in my local village got me unexpectedly excited and now I have a whole bloody book in my head, rising like dough. I don’t want to do anything else but put it down. I want to wake up early to start writing (which for anyone who knows me says a lot!). In all honesty I’m a bit scared because I have not been this exhilarated and breathless for many years and I fear I might let myself down so I’m not saying more than that. I just want to see where this goes.
So. If you are looking to read stuff, then this is what I’ve been ploughing through:
Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie – wonderful, occasionally humorous, overwhelmingly eerie ghost stories.
A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir, about two Kates 50 years apart: one in the reign of Richard III and one in the reign of Elizabeth I. Fascinating stuff, like all Weir’s work.
A Story Lately Told by Anjelica Houston. An intriguing if odd autobiography. Huston writes like she is seeing her memories through thick glass, detached. But it’s interesting all the same.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. I loved this so much I want to say more.I love Emma Donoghue because she is unpredictable. You would not guess that the author of Room was also the author of Slammerkin; she has different narrative styles and turns of phrase depending what she’s writing about, and while it’s technically frowned upon for a writer to do this I think it’s a real gift. In Frog Music she returns to her historical first-person narrative to tell the story of dancer Blanche and frog-catcher Jenny Bonnet in 19th century San Francisco. A collision between Blanche and Jenny’s bicycle leads to an unusual friendship which will eventually be the downfall of one woman and the saviour of the other. Frog Music is by turns amusing, erotic, heartbreaking, sickening, touching and above all vivid. The writing is so evocative you can taste the sickness in the air as a heatwave coincides with an outbreak of smallpox. Another triumph for Donoghue, one to be devoured in one sitting.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann. This is another hot sticky story told from the perspective of 5 of its characters, not another “that was the summer that changed everything…” story so much as the build-up of several years simmering before they boil over in a series of life-changing incidents. I read this curled up in my parents’ armchair and got cross every time someone tried to talk to me.
I don’t really recommend
Gingerbread by Robert Dinsdale (interesting plot based on folk and fairy tales, but ultimately too self-conscious and overly descriptive)
The Troop by Nick Cutter (nasty, gratuitous book about a man being eaten alive from the inside.) A sort of 21st century Lord of the Flies, and probably an interesting study of group dynamics and suchlike but I’m no good with animal torture, and I’m getting worse when it comes to human suffering as well.
7 days after this dream wot started me writing again, I turned on the radio and heard an author talking about writing and I felt so jealous I had to switch it off. Then I thought, what was I jealous of her for? It wasn’t because she was published and a multimillionaire (seriously). It was because she was doing something she loved. Which made me realise how ridiculous I was being jealous when I could do just that if I’d just stop cleaning/ hoovering/polishing my shoes/making food for the freezer/catching up on Skyplus/getting screened out of online surveys. So I’m cracking on. I’ll still be reading, obviously – and telling you about it, so there will no change in service, and I’m sure I’ll be sharing more unsalubrious details of my not-terribly-unsalubrious life – but I just want to make things up for a while. I’ve been living in real life for too long.