Wednesday, July 18, 2007


More than a year since I posted to this blog. The dark is closing in. The crows dodge closer each time they drop by. Each eye glinting towards me asks the same tactless question. Days ago I saw a figure on the road between the rocks, but it came no nearer.
The last wheat grains are gone. Larvae loop and slide in the dregs of the water barrel.
No, not really. I've been working on a book, Torc [October 2007].
You only publish a book yourself for one overarching reason - because nobody else is going to do it for you.
Once that is out of the way, there are other good reasons. You have total responsibility and, up to the time it goes to the printer, control. You learn a bit about typesetting and Photoshop and html. You can design the cover. You can give your existential angst a workout over fonts, kerning and the black hole of rasterisation.
Everything takes a long time. I spent most of yesterday just making a web page of review quotes from my last novel (that one published by a mainstream publisher).
Another thing publishing your own book does is raise the question, what's the point? What's the point particularly if, like me, you are not a writer of great significance. We won't necessarily agree who these writers of great significance are, but we know they exist. Last night I finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half a Yellow Sun. Some books add to the cultural core of what it is to be human. This may well be one of them.
But, and it's an important but, there aren't so many. Off the top of my head, there's Orhan Pamuk's Snow , that kind of thing - and David Mitchell's Number Nine Dream and Cloud Atlas, Art Spiegalman's Maus and Yasher Kemal's Salman the Solitary; Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook. But how many of those are there from this and the last century? Not so very many.
Which leaves all the other books - including a lot written by "our greatest living fiction writers". And here suddenly we are in a different game, the game of what goes on in writing when one is not writing a work of enduring and universal significance. Which, nine hundred and ninety nine times out of nine hundred and ninety nine, one isn't.
But even with the not-at-the-core-of-universal-human culture books, there are two kinds of fiction, just as there are two kinds of reader. There are readers whose reading is like their conversation, a continuous rehearsal of what they already know; and those for whom reading is a leading part of the part of them that is always on the move, constantly exploring and engaging and changing.
So, I mean to say, where are you as a reader and where am I? Well, obviously!
That's why I write and who I write for; myself, in the second category; and you, likewise.
Take the shortest story in Torc.
When J read it, she said, "Why does it have to be a Jew?"
"Because," I said, "it's a traditional story. In the original story of Harun el Rashid and the seer, the seer was a Jew. Jews at that time in that place were not conceived of in the complex way they are now, after another thousand and more years of brutal history have gone by. Jews were respected and admired as wise and philosophical. That's part of the point of the story."
"But," J said, "you're not telling the story more than a thousand years ago. You're telling it now. Surely you've got to take the modern context into account."
"No, I don't think I do," I said - because once I've written something and I think it's good I get quite cross when anybody suggests I change a word. I often give way in the end, but with sorry grace, even when I know that I'm wrong and they're right.
So the seer remains a Jew, as he was in Harun's day. A Jew who makes an interesting but fatal mistake.
That raised questions twelve hundred years ago. And it raises the same, and other, questions today.


Bliss said...

First of all let me tell you I am very happy to read you again after a whole year of silence!!! And I am also happy to know that the reason that took you away from blogging was your own book. Can't wait to read it. How will it be available? Are you going to sell it through Internet?

Welcome back :-)

Pedro Terán said...

Great to have you back and in good shape.

I'm really wishing to have that book in my hands.