Saturday, April 28, 2007

Out Of Her Head

I am not getting out of my head enough. I don’t mean drink and drugs – my “condition” rules out more than the occasional glass or two of wine or half pint of Guinness, and I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole the skunk that seems to have taken the place of mellow Lebanese gold and homegrown Mary Jane. I am talking about fictional characters that take you over so that you are walking around living in their heads as much as ( sometimes more than) your own, and when you are not with them you miss it. Any writer who has written fiction of any length knows about this. When it happens you can be sure you have hit a seam and if you know what’s good for you and the thing you are working on, you stay with it. My last serious attempt at a novel ended when I decided to take a break roughly two thirds of the way in, thinking I could pick it up again when my real life became less demanding. This is a very risky thing to do. The characters, who depend on your continued focus to give them substance, begin to fade or they walk out on you.

The central character of something I am sporadically working on lives in a village on the edge of a forest and has a mysterious illness. She has a husband, two children and a cat. She is not me, but is a kind of doppelganger who seems to have done a lot of things I have done and lived in the same places. She has a relationship (professional) with an earth acupuncturist who comes and puts metal rods in the unmade road outside her house to neutralise the possible negative effects of underwater streams. If I’m not mistaken it’s the same one who stood under my apple tree a few years back and had what he called a “sacramental smoke”. She is copying me. She probably has a blog and is at this very moment blogging about a woman like her who is blogging about – . I’m disappearing up my own arse.

What I enjoy about writing stories is getting inside a character who is, in the details at least, nothing like me. I remember being invited to a bookshop in London to read one of two stories which had just been published in an anthology. When I had finished reading, the woman organising the event (who had read my stories) said she had expected someone completely different and that I was not like either of the two character/narrators of my stories. It was a strange thing to say to a writer of fiction, but then I remembered what 'd been told by someone who knew about these things: that people will always think you are writing about yourself, so best get used to it; and that of course you are writing about yourself, but not in the way people think.

I’m also working on a poem that speaks so directly from personal experience it’s like tapping into a vein. I am not sure how long it wants to be and can only work on it in short bursts, not because I’m overwhelmed by feeling (in which case I’d be unlikely to write it) but because it seems to require this way of working: brief, intense periods with spaces in between for the substance of the next part to fill me.

So whichever way you look at it I’m not getting much of a break from myself at the moment. I might have to do something drastic with the doppelganger before she gets too settled (little does she know I’m selling my house but she is staying put). At the moment, though, there isn’t any other character knocking at the door to be written.

10 comments:

nmj said...

I love the concept of your character copying you - but maybe it is you that are copying her!

Reading the Signs said...

It has occurred to me, nmj, that I may simply be a figment of her imagination.

The Moon Topples said...

Breaks can go both ways. My current novel is one I abandoned fourteen or fifteen years ago. It kept popping into my head from time to time until I was ready to work on it.

The resulting story is much richer. Of course, the intervening years were my 20s, and there's a lot to be said for the passage of time.

Also popping by to remind you and your readers about the GBA(s)FC #2, which kicks off May 1st over on my blog. Hope to see you there.

Sorry to post off-topic.

Reading the Signs said...

I think if it's still living in you then you can pick it up again. Good luck with it.

I'll be there, Mr. Moon!

That's so pants said...

I'm a bit worried now. What will happen to me when I discover that I am not actually a fairly fit and fanciable 34 year old man called Ben. In my mind I strongly resemble Daniel Craig.

Reading the Signs said...

Now I've just had to search to remind myself of what he looks like - fear not, Ms Pants, you're better looking and I bet you're fairly fit too. You're not a man, it's true, but, as Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot said, "nobody's perfect."

goodthomas said...

I love the layers here, the wonderful sense of humor. I love that this character, this woman "who seems to have done a lot of things I have done and lived in the same places."

Maybe I am looking on the bright side of things here, but I am glad that she does not bore the pants off you or that you find is not worthy of writing about, that she is just "too two-dimensional." I am glad that you seem to like her (you dolike her, don't you? I would like to read more about this person.

Reading the Signs said...

goodthomas, thanks as always for the lovely comments. I do rather like her. Do I? But I can't quite get a handle on her. She seems to have a bee in her bonnet about something. We seem to be spying on each other.

cusp said...

Thanks for coming over to the blog and commenting. Me thinks there are links between your msuings on not being out of your head sufficiently and what I am saying. For me the jottings and bits and pieces are a tease, which sometimes satisfies and sometimes infuriates

Reading the Signs said...

cusp, see latest post!

And yes, definitely. I am out of condition - getting there, though.