Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Refresh, Refresh

I'm reading this collection of short stories by Benjamin Percy, with the aim of reviewing the collection for The Short Review. I won't spoiler that review, but here's some interesting stuff from the author about his approach to writing fiction. He says, "I try to write at the same time in the same place every day. You must condition your imagination, in a Pavlovian way, to salivate. My mind is comfortably empty and humming in the morning, so I hunker down with my cup of coffee, and the bell rings, and I’m off. There are no tricks to what I do, really. Planting my ass in a chair everyday is about it. And not checking my email, not answering my phone, not getting up for a break when the writing gets difficult. Talent matters, but discipline matters more, I’ve discovered. I always begin with the image. If you think about writing as a subject, most of us are trained, from grammar school through college, to write thoughts. That, after all, is the essence of the essay: here is what I’m thinking.

"Cerebral writing has a cerebral effect. And I don’t want my audience to sit and ponder their navels. I want them to feel. I want to drag them down the rabbit hole. I want them to be alive twice: once in their world, once in the world of the page. How do I try to accomplish this? Through imagism. Every moment in my stories I can imagine happening as if a film reel is turning slowly in my skull. My job is to replicate that with ink and paper. Which ain’t easy."

It's not easy. I know because it's precisely what I'm attempting right now for the closing scene of the novel. Reading these stories was like taking a masterclass in technique, and receiving an endorsement for the power of this sort of writing. Just what I needed at this moment in time.

Some of the compliments I cherish most about my writing are those that describe it as "cinematic" but there's always the niggling doubt about the balance between language and the visual. Benjamin Percy talks about harvesting a middle ground between genre and literary fiction, bringing beautiful language to strong plot and vice versa. It's all in the balance, and the mix. Ah the thrill of hearing another writer articulate what you feel most strongly. You can't beat it.


Sara said...

Wow, good thoughts there. I love the idea of the reader alive twice, once in reality, once on the page. And I am sooooooo rubbish about not checking email/facebook/worhouse etc. Must be more disciplined. Thanks for posting this.

Sarah Hilary said...

I'm glad it found a chord in you, Sara. The rest of the interview is here, if you're interested: