Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yo Beach

Today I thought I might finish the fourth draft of a novel I am writing, but I didn’t. I’ll finish it tomorrow. I have been so masticated by it for the last four or five months that I have not written anything about writing on the blog lately, I’ve just been writing instead. Not that I know anything about writing. But, as you know, ignorance has never stopped me expounding in the past. At least I’ve tried this – rather tragically a few times before. This is my third attempt at a publishable novel. I’ve finished two others. I was quite happy with the results but mine was a minority view. I’ve learned you can’t really argue with someone’s gut reaction that what you have written is bollocks.

I dashed off the mandatory precocious autoblag at around thirty. It is influenced by Kerouac (of course - he was always my hero), JP Donleavy, Simone de Beauvoir (you couldn’t keep me away from Paris – the stench of the Metro was intoxicating in the early 80s – I may have gone on rather too much about that), Talking Heads, X-Ray Specs, The Raincoats, The Clash etc, Elizabeth Jolley, Plato, Doris Lessing, Beckett, Irving, Dalí, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley (I always big up Brett because I am the very fortunate owner of a piece of his work), RD Laing and lots (probably too many) others as well. It is unquestionably very dated now and, with a little luck, will survive as a curio – if only in my memory.

Novel number two, I consider to be my magnum opus. I worked on it for five years (two of them virtually full time). It contains everything I will ever want to say (such a relief to get that out of the way), concealed in the plot of a musical. Musicals are my great love (I’ve written two of those as well), but I’m a poor musician and a terrible lyricist. I think I write halfway decent melodies but that’s neither here nor there because I’m never going to be a great composer, just someone who tinkers with tunes. My longed for art form is one where I could combine all my mediocre talents into one great multi-media format. Although I’m constantly looking at Opus No. 2 to find a way to make it something that others would want to read, ultimately it represents the mosaic of my mind and it’s a take it or leave it thing. I have a couple of champions who think it’s brilliant – unfortunately, they aren’t publishers.

This current book is a thriller set on the Costa del Sol, Spain in the mid 1990s when I, coincidentally, lived there. Having played out my flirtation with language and mined my own authenticity to bedrock in Opus No. 2, all I wanted to do in this book was create a plot and write to it. Easier fucking said than done. I can see now why writers and artists who manage to turn their life/body into product, stick with it forever – nice little earner or what? I love Tracey Emin’s art and certainly wish I owned even a needlework sampler of hers. If I could have commercialised my ‘being’ then I probably would have but I am not Tracey Emin or dear old Jackie Duluoz.

There are gangsters and drugs of course - there always are in novels about the Costa del Sol - but the book is not about gangsters and drugs. I wanted to write a love story since I’ve never done one before. I am crap at love in real life. I’ve always managed to mess it up. But I didn’t want to write that. There are plenty of novels about messed up love already (hello Helen Fielding, Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi and wonderful Magnus Mills). Unfortunately if a woman falls in love with a man in your novel, it is by definition a romance, and I didn’t want to write a romance. Your woman needs to fall in love with another woman if you want your novel to be considered a work of literature. Alternatively, you could have a man falling in love. This is much more flexible as the man can fall in love with a woman, another man or even his model train set and not attract the attention of Mills & Boon. My guy falls in love with a women and it all goes swimmingly until he gets shot in the head. Never mind.

The fourth draft was all about getting the story right and not forgetting what everyone looked like and how they spoke. I managed this with the aid of an index box and lots of cards which I purchased from irritable Argun the Stationer without incurring so much as a withering stare, even though I insisted on the green one which was on the very bottom of a stack of index boxes parked precariously on a high shelf. Now that the plot more or less works, the next draft will be all about getting the language right. At the moment all the men sound a bit like Danny Dyer.

Working in a show home is no fun because I keep forgetting where I put things and have to spend half an hour looking for the washing up bowl every evening. I’m becoming more consistent with practice and usually I put my ugly everyday items in the washing machine or under the bed. I have had about a dozen people through my London flat but none of them have wanted to buy it. I don’t get it. Today a pretty canal boat even chugged by while a potential buyer was gazing out the window and he remained resolutely unmoved.

Having lived on the water for the last ten years, I have decided I cannot do without my ocean view. The only problem is that there is almost no place left in Australia where I can afford to buy a house that is right on the beach. I have found one area that I quite like the look of but it is a breeding ground for Great White Sharks so that might put the kybosh on my surfing. I prefer sharks to snakes because at least we can reach an agreement on territorial boundaries. One thing I am certain of, I want a much quieter and simpler existence. They say if you’re tired of London you’re tired of life. I say there’s only one thing wrong with London - it’s become singularly obsessed with money and power – two things that interest me not a jot.

Yesterday, my organic box came from Abel & Cole and it was full of gorgeous, tasty fruit and vegetables of odd, very unsupermarkety shapes. Among the delicacies it contained were globe artichokes, fennel and lollo rosso lettuce. This alone was enough to consider naming this wonderful organisation in my will. I settled for an email telling them how much I loved them and got one straight back saying they loved me too. Every week my farm fresh produce comes with no packaging apart from the box holding it all together, which I give back. This is how I want everything in my life to be. I don’t want my rubbish sent to China because there is no other way to dispose of it. I don’t want to hear that Tesco is forcing farmers to virtually give their milk away. I don’t want fish from diseased or depleting fish stocks and I don’t want half a dozen phone calls a day from arrogant twats demanding my personal information for no other reason than it is their job to do so.

I want a compost bin, solar electric, rainwater tanks, enough space to grow my own veges, locally caught fish and milk and eggs from happy cows and chickens. Is there such a thing as peddle-powered broadband? There ought to be. And I want sheds. I’ll probably continue to write novels, even if I can’t get them onto book shelves but I also want to start making art from all the things I can’t bear to throw out that I’ve been collecting in boxes for years. But most of all, I want a water view. Why am I the only person in London who would rather live on the water than next door to Sainsburys?

Cartoon from


Reading the Signs said...

Well I think you only get to know about writing by doing it - and you have been. I'm jealous (but in a good way, honest), not of your potential success, just of the fact of your "doing" it and getting down to it properly. I loved reading the list of your influences. Of course - it's not just the written word that feeds into us as writers, but I haven't really thought that through. Kerouac is my hero too but I feel about him like I used to feel about Janis Joplin - that I'd love to sing like that but can't so I won't try.

Anyway, homes etc. I've had at least as many viewers than you but no takers yet. Have just reduced the price and re-written the estate agent's blurb so it's a bit more truthful. I so relate to what you said about living in a showroom and love the washing machine idea as a place for stashing.

Have you thought about moving to Brighton? No, really.

nmj said...

hey pants, this is a gorgeous post, every last word of it, but I take issue with

I am crap at love in real life. I’ve always managed to mess it up.

we cannot mess love up on our own, it always takes two, and i will not allow you to burden yourself with the blame!

That's so pants said...

Hey signs. Kerouac is my literary hero because he grabbed whatever was in front of him and turned it into art with an immediacy that still resonates. No one else does it for me like he does - even though he's like my dad's generation. Everyone can write like Kerouac because he wrote like everyone. I think the beats were all about that.

Re Brighton - love it to death but couldn't afford absolute water frontage - unless I win Euromillions in which case I'd obviously be looking at Cannes.

No. It's time I went home and discovered the country of my birth before it's too late to appreciate what it has to offer.

That's so pants said...

Hi NMJ - you just don't know me well enough, obviously. It truly was my fault - every time.

Graeme said...

The Abel & Cole box delivery has seriously made my life so much better. I love Tuesday mornings when my box is delivered so I can see the goodness they bring. That said, I'm not sure what to do with the artichokes as I've never before cooked them!

That's so pants said...

Hi Graeme and welcome. I couldn't agree more. I have fantasies about what life could be like if everyone you had to make daily transactions with could be like Abel & Cole.

A super sensation awaits you. Lovely Abel & Cole provide good guidance on the more exotic veges. Look in the recipe section for instructions on how to prepare the artichokes. Sorry - I'm crap at links but you should find it easily enough.

I cut the stalks off and steamed them whole. Almost all the leaves on the batch we got this week were edible so just wash and trim the thorns a bit. After steaming I removed all the leaves, dipped them into a vinegarette and we ate them warm. You suck the fleshy bit out from the stalk end. I removed the heart - the bit at the bottom - and used it to make artichoke tagliatelle. You must discard the hairy bit. Soften onion and garlic in olive oil. Add chopped artichoke heart, fresh basil and thyme. Add a small carton double cream. Blend into cooked tagliatelle. Yum!