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Writing about writing...

Writing a novel is easy – wall papering is hard

My wife’s cousins are splendid fellows. They are sensitive, intelligent and gifted with all sorts of functional skills, that make an impractical chap like me, olive green with envy. They are Yorkshire lads though too, which means they recognise tripe when they smell it, so when answering their questions recently about writing a novel (which neither of them has done  – ‘yet’…) I was conscious of not spouting any pompous twaddle regarding the process – which alas, dear reader, yes even I am occasionally given to do. It is so annoying – affected and hollow and elitist and here’s why:

To me, successful dispatch of any activity is dependent upon two things:

  1. Do I enjoy it?


  1. Am I any good at it?

Thus: I do make Spaghetti Bolognaise, used to play cricket and now write silly things, but I don’t drive a motor car, dance in public or attempt (even minor) surgical procedures.

Needless to say, it helps if you are a ‘genuine natural’, but It’s perfectly okay to do stuff that you are no good at if you enjoy it, and even do stuff that you don’t enjoy if you are good at it (if absolutely necessary). However, if you are neither enjoying, nor are any good at, what you are doing, well, for why?

Which brings me (at last) to the point…

Most writers are lovely - supportive, encouraging, friendly – however, whether one finds the process agony, a breeze, or like I do, merely irksome, it is no different to any other occupation – whether vocational or creative or not. However, post after pretentious post, meme after fatuous meme, perpetuates the idea of the ‘specialness’ of it all, designed to convince everybody else that writing is intrinsically more valuable than – let’s say plumbing – and that writers are therefore, more valuable to us than plumbers. Now folks, come off it – we all know that’s not true. What has caused more consternation and stress in your life – the lack of a readily available plumber or an inability to obtain the services of a 24-hour-call-out poet?

I’ve recently got into Simon Armitage’s poetry. It is ephemeral, and beautiful and touching and has enhanced my life - but do you think I could be at one with its wistful charms if I had 15 gallons of unspeakable sludge per minute shooting out of my U bend? Quite! I rest my case…

“I remember watching my friend Zach Macready plastering my bathroom ceiling, (including the awkward slopey bit and round the hole for the extractor fan that never worked properly), and saying – ‘Wow! I mean, just wow!’, as I handed him his tea and he handed me – rather forcefully – his Battenberg cake. It’s really hard to be a good plasterer, but Zach just winked at me and said, ‘I’m a natural, I am!’ And he really is. Lizzie is the master wallpaper hanger, so she must be a natural at that. Hertibix though – and I apologise for this, for I have agonised over other ways of phrasing it, but nothing seemed to suit – Hertibix was a natural at “driving” a cat. That said, although Hertibix was considerably better at assuming and controlling the motor functions of host creatures, Trone was as equally adept as Hertibix at locating and mending organs and integrated structures such as a central nervous system. Maltibald too, had not only restarted Father Mahoney’s heart with ease, but cleansed his lungs, sorted out his arthritis and halted the relentless forest of hair that had sprung with undue fecundity from his ears, from ever re-sprouting. In fact it had been a doddle; de-sclerotizing a liver, shrinking haemorrhoids back into non-existence, eradicating pancreatic cancer cells, de-polycysticizing ovaries – all these things are easy-peasey for Scorgians. They can do it with the skill and effortlessness that one can only applaud and admire. Oh aye; they can do all sorts. They are naturals at it, genuinely.”

                                                               (From “Love & Light & Marzipan”)

The Accidental Novelist: Robert Elland on “Love & Light & Marzipan” for 'Whispering Stories' August 2023.

“Love & Light & Marzipan” is something of a tangled web - maybe even one of those webs that spiders on acid constructed, whilst the scientists - who gave the poor little critters the drug - were looking for truth up their own rear ends.
So, how can one can write a novel by accident? Well, it turns out that a lot of things are easy to do without deliberate intent - falling over in public buildings, setting fire to one’s own bed, having babies etc.
I awoke abruptly just before 4.30am on the 2nd September 2019, and immediately set about trying to remember what I had just dreamt. It seemed important to me to get it written down before the light of my unconscious reality was snuffed out by the opposable thumbs of my conscious mind. Unable to locate the note book I (obviously don’t) always keep by my bed for such eventualities, I tapped out a few details on my phone and collapsed back to sleep.
Early in 2020 I stumbled upon those few scraps and pondered. My vision had been this: I was staring into a mirror; the face looking back at me though was not mine, but that of a much younger man in a cleric’s collar. I was aware that I was not this man but I was somehow in his head; seeing what he was seeing, hearing what he was hearing, thinking what he was thinking - sharing his experience and consciousness, though he clearly had no idea that I was in there with him. The image of the mirror remained important - the similarities of supposed opposites and their reliance upon each other for their existence - all the sub-textural stuff about identity - sprang from that. 
Initially, I thought maybe it would make a short story and wrote a couple of pages. I showed them to my friend Lizzie who was interested enough to ask me what happened next and of course, I had no idea. I wrote a little more - trying to tie things up - but every time I tried to resolve something, I realised that my dabbling had consequences, leading to unforeseen situations that needed their own resolutions, and so on. This is of course what happens to the Scorgians in the story, as they cavort with linear time. Aware that I was asking the reader to accept all manner of nonsense, it seemed to me that the least I could do was keep going until the narrative held true to its own reality. The epiphany was realising that the way to do that, was to abandon traditional chronology and structuring it the “Scorgian” way…
Written longhand in notebooks before being typed up, the first complete draft was completed early in 2021. I thought it was ready to go out into the world but I sure was wrong about that. Not believing in perfection, I’m not a perfectionist, but I was editing and tweaking right up to when I finally signed off the text in April 2023. I’m not saying that I couldn’t I have made it any better but I’m also aware I could have made it a whole lot worse, and anyway, there are always other realities to fashion and other timelines to swing from. 
I would like to write another book about the Scorgians but don’t know if I will. Then again, in some other time and space, maybe an alternative Robert Elland already has…
RE 28/07/23

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