Friday, June 20, 2008

Off the leash

I've often wondered if I'm too polite when I write - perhaps it's the curse of my middle-class upbringing. Certainly, it's something one reviewer accused one of my characters of being for his impeccable behaviour during a scene set on the NY subway.

But it was reading The New Weird that really got me thinking that I needed to throw out at least one baby and its bathwater. The book is great on the history of the New Weird and why it came into being. One of the main motivations is dissatisfaction with Tolkienesque type fantasy and the limitations of that form.

I've said before I have problems with elves but my wish to write something different always felt like I was breaking the rules and, to be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable doing it. This is despite the fact that I'm a huge fan of China Mieville (Perdido Street Station is a breath of fresh air) and many other alumni of this field. I just didn't get why they did it and the anthology clued me in.

I'm aware that many books/stories have appeared before now that had a whiff of New Weird about them but it's the extreme nature of the form that defines it - to my mind. The heady mix of insanity, bodily awareness, cityscapes, Dickensian character-building and love of language is hard to mistake once its salient features are pointed out. It is also utterly convinced by its settings - no clever, clever post-modern awareness of the story as a story here.

Reading the anthology also chimed with comments from other writers about their development. Many speak of the moment when they found their voice and started creating the stories they were put here to write.

I certainly feel that a big change has taken place in what I write - I'm no longer ameliorating what I write to fit the conventions. Away with them. Give me liberty or give me daeth. The story I'm working on at the moment has flowed out of me so quickly that at times I feel like a witness more than a writer. It feels more honest. I have no idea about whether it is any good - though the strength of its voice will be a plus.

The changes means that some of my fears about writing have gone in that I feel so much happier about the stories I'm producing. Writing was starting to feel a little formulaic prior to this realisation. And one story very much of the old school keeps getting bumped as I work on these others. But those fears have been replaced by others which centre around whether it is any good at all. There is a lot more at stake too as they are far more personal. Time will tell whether the change means I get more published. But I'm happier than ever about doing this.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Pause for thought

It's fair to say that commas and I have never got on. Perhaps its the way they lie insolent on the line like a drunk in the gutter, perched between the respectability of the pavement and the out and out seediness of sprawling in the road. Whatever. I use them like I use pepper on pasta - the dish looks better with it and occasionally a crumb will land in the just the right place to counterpoint the taste of the sauce. Was that metaphor too tortured? I hope so.

I'm not sure why it is that commas and me are such strangers. I'm a whizz at spelling but I have no recollection from my school days of the laws of commas being drummed in to me like spelling - though the fact that I read like a crazy person might have helped my ability to spell.

This admission is perhaps something of a surprise given where I work and what I have done for a living for the past 15 years. It's perhaps a comment on the sad state of prose in the papers or simply that, even if I do not know, many of those that I have worked with do. Subs are a boon!

Lots of the comments I've got on stories I've put together recently have focussed on commas and my cavalier (ab)use of them. One story was critiqued by an English teacher and, this is going to sound a little odd,I got a real thrill to find out where they should go. It really changed the way the lines read. I'm a long way from being like Proust or Oscar Wilde who, it is said, having removed a comma from one line pored over the text for two days and then put it back in. At least then, the story goes, they knew why it was there.

That very kind reviewer pointed me to this site and it turns out there are rules for using commas. I always thought it was something much more abstruse but no. There are proper places where they should be used. Cool. That OWLS site is fab in other ways too - it has lots of great advice for novice writers. And the more I write the more I realise that's what I will always be.