Why do I write?

Book Covers Final

What is the underlying purpose of my writing? Do I write to entertain, to inform, to unravel mysteries, to promote ideas, to provide answers or to pose questions – to set cats among pigeons – or to settle scores? Do I write for the betterment of mankind or for my own aggrandisement in a vain attempt to construct a monument to my own ego? Is my motivation a cry for attention, or simply a crass tilt at fame and fortune; or do I write to satisfy a need in me to leave behind some enduring evidence of my existence – to secure a place for myself in history – to achieve immortality, even? Is it simply an exercise in self-justification, an attempt to reassure myself that my life has not been pointless, not squandered and lived in vain – that I am more than just a blip in the space-time continuum, seen by few, remembered by none? Or am I condemned to a lifelong search for the ephemeral truth that floats mysteriously through the miasma of perception, where the plausible deniability of fiction enables me to disclose, without self-incrimination, who I really am – the one constant in a world of ever-changing uncertainty? And if that is the case, is the truth, the real truth of me, hidden somewhere in my fiction?

from The Frailest Leaves




Why do we like to hear stories? Because they’re simple and straightforward and they make sense in retrospect; and what I mean by that is that when you arrive at the moment of climax and look back at what has transpired to bring you to that point, you invariably say to yourself: “I didn’t see that coming. But with the benefit of hindsight, it was bound to happen. ” And it was bound to happen because the author contrived that it should. But each story only represents part of the history we all share and creating it is akin to removing a single thread from a bolt of woven fabric with a complex and sometimes incomprehensible pattern. In its isolation, you can appreciate the elegant simplicity of the thread’s inherent structure, the pureness of its colour, the integrity of its purpose, its strength and its fragility. But life isn’t like that. Life is random. Life is chaotic. And despite our efforts and intentions, life is still pretty much a cocktail of chance and circumstance. But above all, life is unfair. Life is not a story, nor a series of stories, nor is it a complex interweaving of story lines that intersect and separate and perhaps even intersect again. Life is. Life happens. Shit happens; and it stinks, and you have to clean it off your shoe and for days afterwards you keep finding more bits of it that you swear weren’t there yesterday, but you have no choice but to hold your nose and grit your teeth and wipe it off because, when shit happens, it happens to you. So the purpose of the story is to facilitate our escape from that. No matter how violent, no matter how sordid, no matter how discomfiting it is for the protagonists travailing in its midst, you, the reader, can enjoy it because it is simple, it happens at its own pace following its own inherent logic, and best of all, it isn’t happening to you. You are merely an observer; an innocent by-stander. And then along came the post-modernists; and now there is shit everywhere. They bring us stories in their uber-reality with inconsequential details littering the pages: distractions, diversions – reality in all its mundane absurdity. Those pouting intellectuals with their smug self-awareness and lexical pyrotechnics, their intertextuality and unreliable narrators, their historiographic metafictions and poioumena and fabulation, have muddied the waters by taking an art form and turning it into a mirror. In their stories, we are not looking at some ideal we aspire to become, nor some archetype of evil from whom we want to and can easily distinguish ourselves, but the flawed, uncertain, anxious individuals we recognise as ourselves, the ones who are confounded by a life which appears to serve no other purpose than to perpetuate the species, give more power to the already powerful and add wealth to the already rich. For this reason, we need stories more than ever. Stories are windows to the future we all dream will become a reality; whereas mirrors only pander to vanity or despair.

Another tick on the bucket list

The young woman who fell from the sky

When you get to my age and find yourself with time on your hands, with fewer commitments and fewer responsibilities, it is not unusual to ponder what you have achieved in your life; and in particular, reflect on all the things you’ve, at one time or another, wanted to do, but never got around to. Life, then, was about setting sensible goals, about establishing a solid foundation. And thereafter, it became about children and setting their goals, establishing their foundation. Competing demands on time and resources required prioritisation; and inevitably your whimsical, impractical, totally frivolous fancies found themselves shuffled unceremoniously down your to-do list by the indefatigable obligations and responsibilities of daily life. Then, one day, you discover to your amazement that you’ve done all the right things, the proper things, the practical and sensible things; and there is still time left.  And that’s when you start compiling, either formally or deep in your subconscious, your bucket list.

It’s an unfortunate name; implying that these are the things you wish, or hope, to do before you “kick the bucket” (or die, to put it bluntly).

Sadly, the first pass at compiling your bucket list is generally absurdly optimistic; itemising all the things you were forced to forego when you were a teenager: like climbing Everest without oxygen or tightrope walking across Niagara Falls. These items are usually quickly crossed off the list with the realisation that even crossing the road during peak hour is a challenge for you these days; and you’d rather wait ten minutes for an elevator than climb one flight of stairs in your present condition.

But once that initial rush of sublime euphoria has passed, it doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a list of things that could be accomplished, even in your present state of debilitation. And the beauty of the bucket list is that the bucket is bottomless. The idea of coming to the end of your particular list and therefore having nothing left to live for is daunting before you start, but it is the nature of bucket lists that they go on, theoretically to infinity but in practice as long as you do, so there is little chance of them being exhausted. And once again, you find yourself having to prioritise; only this time, your decisions are influenced by want rather than need.

For as long as I can remember – and that is quite a long time now – I have wanted to be a writer. That, of course, begs the question: what is a writer? Is it someone who earns his or her living from writing? Is it someone who has published a piece of writing which now exists in the public domain, accessible to all who care to read it? Or is it simply anyone who writes creatively for the sheer pleasure of doing so? I don’t know. But today, at last, at long last, I have a book of my short stories – The young woman who fell from the sky – in the public domain; so by that definition, I suppose, I am a writer; and I can tick that item off my bucket list.

It took me a lot longer than I had thought to publish the volume. I’d send the manuscript off enthusiastically and wait with impatience for the proofs to arrive; only to find, often on the first page I opened, a glaring typo or spelling mistake or an error in grammar or punctuation; and then my spirits would plunge to the depths of despair as I cursed my paralytic fingers for typing incorrectly and my deceitful eyes for seeing what I expected to see instead of what was really there. But each imperfect proof provided me also with the opportunity to fine tune, and sometimes overhaul, the manuscript; creating even more opportunities to mistype or misread or otherwise fool myself into thinking I had finished. I re-wrote some stories, dropped one or two others; and wrote some completely new ones as the manuscript laboured awkwardly towards its final form (Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born). Not even the cover photo was safe from revision as I strove, if not for perfection, then for what I considered acceptable.

Then yesterday, I received through the mail what I hoped, as I had hoped on receipt of every other delivery, would be the final proof. I quickly checked the changes I had made to the previous version and found, to my relief, that they were intact; then prepared myself to re-read the whole thing from cover to cover for final approval; but I found that I couldn’t. I felt that if I did, there would be more changes. A single miss-placed comma would be all the excuse I would need to pull the manuscript apart and delay publication yet again. So in the end, I decided not to re-read it; to flick the switch and make this version the last and irrevocable version; and more importantly, to move on to the next item on my bucket list.

Some of the stories have already been road tested here in my blog and I wish to express my sincere thanks to those who provided me with encouragement and feedback. Some of those stories have been rewritten in response to feedback received, and for that I am equally grateful. And eleven stories are being published for the first time in the collection.

I’m not allowed to advertise here; and I don’t want to risk losing my website by contravening the terms and conditions to which I have agreed; for if I did, I’d be up a very large creek without a paddle, if you get my drift.

And now, it’s on to the next challenge.