Friday 14 July 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 3 - The Invisible Spider

By Rohan Quine
Images by JD Lewis  

It’s easy to find sensible, responsible advice about writing, but there’s a shortage of irresponsible advice.


The former addresses structure, characterisation, editing etc. Much of it recommends good things, which may be enough to create something well-built and polished that chimes sweetly with the expectations of its readers, in any category (including literary fiction). And that’s the goal, for many writers and readers, which is fine – mission accomplished.

There are additional games in town, however. Many of these are complementary with the above, in that they generate their electricity not through chiming with expectations, but through challenging and expanding the expectations of their author and of readers who love to buckle up and take such a ride. To be entertained by consuming or creating a brilliant thing that fulfils expectations, or to be challenged by consuming or creating a brilliant thing that plays subversively with any expectations: these are not simple alternatives at opposite ends of a spectrum, in any category of fiction. But many novels can be identified as facing more in the direction of one or other of that spectrum’s ends (both directions being of equal value in themselves). It’s in this sense, to the extent any novel faces the expectation-subverting end of the spectrum, that I refer to a shortage of irresponsible advice.

The shortage is understandable, because this concerns something central yet elusive to define, for which there’s no recipe. When present, the something is often hidden in plain view, like a large invisible spider crouching at the centre of a visible spider’s-web. And for this spider, all that sensible advice about structure etc. is secondary.

The spider represents more than just the passion that has driven the author – though passion is capable of trampling with primitive glee over responsible considerations, so as to conjure up perhaps three or four of the creature’s legs. But to conjure up all eight legs, with eight fat thighs emanating from a muscular central spider-body, the passion in question has to be the passion of a killer. By which I mean destroying as much as possible of what would have been expected in a given paragraph, while still maximising what will most seduce and reward. (It’s an intricate set of negotiations between these two imperatives, down to individual words and syllables.) Among its other missions, this passion is a ruthless destroyer of received tropes, with a view to discovering new ones. This passion’s charm, in clothing its destruction in beguiling language, would have ensured it a successful career as a criminal if it had been destined to be a person in real life instead.

In general, one has to destroy to create, as in the old-school example of a sculptor hacking away the stone that isn’t the statue, or a writer’s rejections of a myriad words on the way to the best ones. But if a writer pursues such micro-level destruction/creation with an intensity that feels like a joyous criminality – if the abstract impulses in the writing process feel ferocious enough to have resulted in an arrest if they’d been somehow embodied in meat-space instead – then my instinct is that this writer is more likely to create something whose electrification is as irresponsible as many of the classics were regarded when they were first published.

I can feel my invisible spider turning her eyes in my direction, when I identify her as embodying the desire to create something whose core reason-for-being is to be explosively and irreducibly itself to the max, with such force and beauty and rightness that it had to be what it is, and that serves up a gigantic and celebratory fuck-you to the world, expressing both the darkness and the brightness of its creator’s unique experience of being alive.

I’m told each instalment of “Creative Pulse” should suggest a specific exercise … but I just can’t quite picture this kind of beast consenting to be activated by an exercise. So maybe the closest thing would be for a writer to create or re-visit a brief manifesto for themselves only, and ensure their spider animates it. Mine comprises the following questions, but such a manifesto can take whatever form feels right.

(1) How can I illuminate the world, to the best of my finite abilities, using language in new and old ways, and thereby leave the world infinitesimally better than it was beforehand?

(2) How can I aim and attune my ears as clearly as possible to whatever the highest artistic potential may be, then bring down the richest results from that place, then give those results the truest and most beautiful form I can create?

(3) How can what I write take an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world, while at the same time being a vote for life (maybe even an absolute blast of fun along the way)?

I suspect an invisible spider can’t be magicked into being, if she isn’t already there; though she may need to be coaxed out of hiding. If she is present, however, then she deserves to be allowed to walk in grand freedom through every paragraph of every novel she helped inspire.

Rohan Quine is an author of literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror, celebrating the beauty, darkness and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time.

The Imagination Thief (novel); The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong (four novellas); and the upcoming The Beasts of Electra Drive (novel), a prequel to the others.

Reviews are here and here. Lists of retailers, latest info, video-books, films and other fun are at | @RohanQuine  

Next week: World-building with Alison Morton

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