Monday, 24 March 2014

Asking Questions, Maintaining Perspective

I've been chugging along at this creative adventure for quite a while now, chugging along through various experiences, including a couple of films (here) and a number of creative writing programmes.

In 2006, some two and a bit years after graduating with a BA in Independent Studies,  I just about scraped a Pass on my MA in Creative Writing: the pass mark was 50, I received a 53.

My confidence took a huge hit, I felt incredibly humiliated.  For a time, the desire to keep writing was eclipsed by anxiety that I was merely deluding myself.  Embarrassment about my 'failure' prevented me from really believing I could succeed.  In short, I was focused on the wrong catalysts.  Embarrassment, however human, showed immaturity: my focus was me, when it needed to become more deeply concerned with serving the reader.  And in more truly patient with the time that takes.  

My wife (who is a very talented fine artist) once said, in essence, all art is valuable because it reveals where the artist has come to at any given point; in other words, the question of "how good it is" is in many ways an irrelevance and an unhelpful distraction.  Which is not the same as saying all art is equal (i.e. ready for publicly sharing) but an invitation to be patient with myself in producing the work, patient with the process of making it ready for others.  

How long to write a book?  How long before I get published?  Will my work secure positive reviews?  Will the novel sell?  How well will it sell?

For me, these are big questions.  And questions I have asked.  But whenever they become urgent, they are clues that I am walking onto the ice, thin ice.    

The distracted question of how long it takes to become published (a question I have asked if different ways many times) is potentially a revelation of troubled subtexts.  The unspoken doubts are 'how long should it take, may it take, will it take'?

What I am really asking is: 'do I have what it takes to see a project through to the "end"?'  Whatever "end" means.  Maybe what it means is another subtext of self doubt: 'how will I know when I am done?'  Which is to say 'how will I know when I have done enough for someone else to like it?'  Ah... Will my work be popular, or will I get overlooked?  Will all my effort come to nothing? Will I be more liked, or less liked? 

There is the ice: these most dangerous of questions, dangerous because they take my eye off the proverbial ball. 

Stanislavski might have asked me: 'Do you love the art in yourself, or yourself in the art?'

As E.M. Forster said: 'Only connect.'


Saturday, 8 March 2014

The First Review!

Hope has now gone to press! And the journey to publication has entered the review stage.  I received the following this evening (8 March) and wanted to share... 
The story of the earliest Mormon missionaries in Great Britain, arriving as they did just at the tipping point when a nation of independent craftsmen and weavers and creators of hand-made lace was already becoming the first modern industrialized state, inventing in the process both smog and mass production and the middle class,  is an oft-told tale of spiritual power and sacrifice and miracles and of an immigration to their promised Zion of the faithful on such a grand scale that it literally saved the new Church from its enemies in the United States and in the process changed the history of nations on both sides of the Atlantic.  A tale oft told but probably still not as familiar as it deserves to be among Latter-day Saints today.  But Seth Wilkins's novel Hope, with that history as its background, is quite a different tale, the story of those who stayed behind, who did not join the Church and the exodus to America in those earliest years because they were unaware of what was being welcomed by others around them, or perhaps because of their fear of sacrifice or of persecution, or sometimes because they became victims to that persecution before final choices were even possible.  What became of them, and their descendants?  How was the foundation laid for the United Kingdom to become the first nation in the modern Church to be organized entirely into stakes?
But to dwell on the background history here is to miss too much, for Hope is a very human story of faith and love; of betrayal and fury; of kidnapping and murder, fraud and vengeance and, sometimes, forgiveness; families divided and ruined, or united and made eternal; families built by individual struggle and decisions of lasting consequences.  Wilkins's novel is set in the Lancastrian moorland, stark, and chilling, and beautiful to those with eyes to behold, where great darkness can seem sometimes to cover the land by day as well as by night.  It is also a setting in which "a fragile shaft of sunlight" can reach down "through the cloud and spread over the village" and indeed over all the landscape beyond the villages, woods and tarns and rocky outcrops, and into the hearts of some of the characters, those alert to receive light.  For human hearts, we see here, are as variable and as variously receptive as this landscape.  It is a story, in some ways an extended parable, in every way beautifully crafted and powerfully told, set firmly in its historical present but also reaching back into "another time when there was only order and peace" and also forward with its "sense of future things and a gradually rising sense of elation."  And if its cast of characters includes, as all our lives do, "a sea of beings--the presence of angels," it is nevertheless at every moment a very human story of human relationships and human choices, corrupt or enlightened, stumbling or everlasting, as bad as can be or as good as human capacity is able to extend itself.
It is a novel no one should miss!
Gordon K. Thomas, Emeritus Professor of English Literature, Brigham Young University

Order it here...