November 13th, 2003


Three Novels

A good part of the reason that I started this journal was to try and get myself back into a certain discipline about writing. That's as in 'a woman of a certain age' rather 'a certain victory'. Whatever my doubts about competency, I do now get up in the morning and find myself recollecting things that have struck me over the last day and night, steely/sleepy eyed with intent by the espresso machine. Certainly, the habit has been established. There are now about fifty entries and there's probably enough diversity (or indeed similarity) in the material for a ghostwriter to take over and write in my place, whilst I jet off to Mustique for the winter months. They hold a Blues Festival there? Tries to restrain indignation...

When I gave up full-time employment earlier this summer, for this piecemeal life of reduced income and free time, I promised that I would make an attempt to finally write a novel, since I'd been describing myself as a writer in some form or another for the last twenty years, albeit without ever producing anything whatsoever in writing. These days I decribe myself as a historian (and certainly not 'an historian'), since I actually do achieve something in that regard. I'm rather dubious about the modern novel, I hardly ever read them, so why on earth should I choose to write one? I think I'd be very disappointed if I never did. Well, actually I'm not so sure that I would be, but I might. Let's call it moral insurance. I may not have so many more years in this particular life, so there are a few things I would like to achieve in this time. Writing a novel was an ambition from childhood, I don't think those things should be abandoned. I will have to face my younger self at some time in the future. Where's the fucking novel? He would be shouting. Okay, okay...

Over the years, I've only had three particularly developed ideas for novels and I thought I would throw them over to you, that is, this select and small audience, for advice and consideration. I can't say that I will definitely follow your advice, but your comments would be appreciated. I welcome young Master Cornelius to the fold. Here, then, such, as they are, is them:

I started writing this when confined to bed with a severe throat infection that prevented me from talking. This was, what, about ten years ago? I sent the first chapter to someone I have since lost contact with. I'd love to see it again. I did keep a copy, but that got given to F___ or F__________ as she is now known. In terms of style, this is definitely my homage to the Russian novel, in particular Gogol, although there are elements of Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov, Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Goncharov, etc...

The story concerns a pioneering linguist, let's call him T_____, in the town of K______, in a country which is under the yoke of Russian occupation. The said linguist has fallen under the spell of a strange Mesmer-like figure who believes that T_____'s consumption and intellectual malaise can be cured through the internal consumption of mnemonic codes and a stay at a prominent spa town. T_____'s interest in language stems from the fact that his father was Poland's most celebrated producer of ham and pork-related products. His father disappeared in mysterious circumstances whilst visiting Petersburg upon the order of the Tsar (or was it....?). Well, I understand that wouldn't create an interest in language, but T____ was raised by the said pigs as aunt and uncle rejected him in typical cruel fairytale fashion. So, T____ heads off to a spa town in the Crimea, stopping off at various points along the way and falls hopelessly in love with a young Jewish heiress who is prominent in society circles. This leads him into a stand off with the Graf von B_____, who challenges him to a duel. This culminates in his unforeseen seduction by the Graf and T_____ from this point onwards dresses as a woman and the two head off to track down T_____'s father, of whom news has been received. The novel closes with all three of them fleeing from Eastern Siberia into China. I thought about stretching it to 19th century Japan, but realised it was preoposterous enough already. It should be evident enough that nothing and nobody is quite what they seem in this novel and the whole tone is somewhat phantasmagorical.

Hmm, didn't pitch that one that particularly tightly. Never mind.

This does have the working title of Ravens of Tokyo. That is an awful title, but I understand what it means, and it does sound a lot better in Japanese, I assure you. Maybe ornithologists would order it acidentally. I'd always wanted it to be a novel that was in Japanese, rather than English. This started out as a fairly straight portrayal of two years spent in Japan in a very destructive drug-centred lifestyle. When I escaped from Japan, and escaped seems the correct word, I was convinced this was going to be a great book. The further the distance I am from this time, the less interest I have in writing it. Okay, so no Westerner has yet written a novel about Japan that intertwines the worlds of organised crime, prostitution, crystal meth and so on. I'm fairly bored with my sex-and-drug hell books. I think they're very indulgent, even if there's always a market for readers. To be honest, I only include this novel as I did think about it for a long time. I have thought about recasting it in a different light: either through placing it in an alternative Japanese historical timeline where the Meiji Renovation didn't happen, or by making it a more detective orientated work. I find it hard to get excited about the subject. It's too personal and there's enough distance now. I keep on intending to write about aspects of this time in the journal, but always put it off. One day. I think that writers should have imaginations and not just regurgitate thinly veiled accounts of their lives. Fancifully embroidered, perhaps.

I spotted the most recent Elizabeth Wurtzel book, Now, More, Again, at a bottom line remaindered price the other day. There's not much longer that train of thought can carry on [That's a rather sticky link I now discover, but it might load up eventually]. I'm quite glad I never did write this one. I could be persuaded, but my every instinct tells me there's enough of this indulgent twaddle in print already.

This has the working title of Babylon Regained. I was living in South London, just by Peckham Rye, when I started to get to grips with this. I took a walk one day from my house over to Tower Bridge. There used to be a lido on the common and a few parts of it remained mysteriously poking through the undergrowth. A particualr feature looked curiously similar to the Tower of Babel as painted by Brueghel, or however you spell his name. One of Peckham Rye's few claims to fame is that William Blake had one of his first visions while visiting. I got to wondering where these angelic forces had disappeared to and imagined that they still existed but were being siphoned away from the area by persons unknown. The novel is a hunt to establish who or what was doing this. I suppose there are two aspects to this book: one is a my own individual take on the London psychogeographical novel (obviously Iain Sinclair, who I strongly recommend. He's not easy, but he's worth it) where you look at your environment in quite a different way. I did a lot of research at Southwark library on the history of the area. At the same time, I always described the book to myself as being about the architecture of loneliness. A fairly lofty statement, not sure I could actually pull that off. The hero, for he is, is aided and abetted in his search by a series of imaginary friends. These are all real characters from life. As it stands at the moment, these are Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg and Romane Bohringer. Of course, two of these are still alive and there are some legal questions as to whether you can use real people in a novel without their consent. It's not as if they do anything out of order in the novel. They barely talk. They're just projections really and they're portrayed in a very flattering light. The conspiracy concerning the angelic forces turns out to be the work of a dark organisation in London that is attempting to resurrect the ancient Mithraic cult that the Romans established in London. This is only defeated through the help of Kurdish Yezidis seeking asylum in Britain. The Sarmoung Brotherhood even make an appearance, albeit a small one. The novel ends with the destruction of large parts of the City in a somewhat CGI-heavy final conflict.

It's not exactly satirical, although it does contain many ruminations on the state of early 21st century London. It's quite mad, but the writing is controlled, at least in the parts I've written. It might end up seeming more like Douglas Adams than Andrei Bely (who wrote one of the first great modern novels with Petersburg - that's a pdf, by the way), but I'd rather it didn't!

Well, there are three ideas. I welcome comments and suggestions. And now to watch Grey Gardens, I was amazed to see that the local video shop had this in stock. I'd better have some toast and Marmite to hand as well.
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