I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘Eh? Eh!? Dan only writes once a month these days, and even then it’s usually half-arsed’. Yes, friend, you are right. But I feel a smidgeon bit inspired today, and lo: words.
Lockdown is all but over. Callooh! Callay! Freedom will be lovely, I’m sure, and I can’t wait to reunite with my oldest friends and get so drunk I forget who they are. But still, it’s a wistful farewell to solitude. Solitude has been, largely, very good to me. Over the last four months I have enormously cut down on my drinking, and I’ve started exercising six days a week, alternating lifting weights and running 5Ks. I have, with several lapses, learned French for roughly one hour a day, with 90-minute lessons over Zoom once a week, on Monday evenings. And, something I am very proud of indeed, I have written another book.
The book is my first non-fiction novel, about my four months on the blueberry farm in Australia. Those four months – which included forest fires, brawls, car crashes, strikes, plagues of insects, rodeos, life-threatening injuries, catastrophic hailstorms, droughts, borderline-alcoholism, religious fervour, love, friendship and so, so many laughs – changed me and everybody who stayed at Toku Iwi backpackers hostel forever. And so I thought I’d best drag my mind’s lake for those treasured memories and immortalise them in ink before they sink away forever, as memories are want to do unless you replay them often and with focus.
I’ve been reading a lot, and it’s really helping me to write. At the beginning of lockdown there was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, and So You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Then I tackled the 920-page behemoth that is Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, which took me a long while. After that I read Our Man in Havana by Graeme Greene, and One HuHHundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I started Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris a couple of days ago, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve enjoyed all of them, each in their own way, and each book I gobble up improves me as a writer. I’m lucky to have chosen a vocation for which such a relaxing, lovely pastime can also double up as research.
Often it’s as though the authors of the books I read are arguing with one another. I can feel the ideas clashing as I read and ponder, clattering full-tilt into one another like ancient Celtic clans on a heathery battlefield. From David Sedaris, for example, I am learning that to be an excellent writer doesn’t necessarily mean your sentence structure must be complex, and your prose verbose – honesty is the only requirement. This is a teaching from Brenda Ueland also, yet Gregory David Roberts crams every scene full of noise and life and sensory overload – and it works. However, he lacks insight and honesty, and his attempts at empathy come off as clunky and hollow. And then there’s Marquez, who pulped gaily my bewildered brain and sipped it up through a straw. Oh, to one day write so beautifully. Gah.
With so many authors vying for space in my head, it’s no wonder my Toku Iwi book is a bit of a splatter at the moment. I started it without any real idea what genre it would be, let alone a narrative. I initially decided it would be a true story until the last third, where I would go all Hunter S on the readers’ asses and blend reality with fantasy, building to a gruesome, sombre finale. Then I decided not to fictionalise the end but to ham up the creepiness factor. Finally, I’ve reached the point where I’m happy: I’m writing it like I write these blog posts. It’s my normal voice, and the one I’m happiest in. It doesn’t need to be a horror or whatever else. It can just be true, and honest, and hopefully that’ll be enough.
…assuming the writing isn’t shite, of course.
The first draft should be finished by August. Watch this fuckin’ space!