Sunday, July 28, 2013

Seeing is perceiving

Nice to know they care about their work.
After our last, excellent post, about what can happen once a book is out there in the wild, my thoughts turned to one of my novels that's still on the starting blocks. It's completed (pending further edits, anyway!), but the feedback has been...well...interesting.

I describe Scars & Stripes as a transatlantic comedy drama. It's set in the late 1980s and follows 20 year-old Alex's efforts to create a new life for himself after his relationship ends. It used to be more 'gaggy', but the good folks in the Penzance Writers' group and the Famous Five writers' group (it's a long story) felt that the dramatic elements were being overshadowed.

And then one evening, after I'd read out an excerpt, Sue Louineau, author of Chapel in the Woods, remarked that for a comedic novel there were some surprisingly heavy themes and experiences in there.

Love, betrayal, sex, friendship, delusion, firearms, a car accident, death, loss, acceptance, mental illness and sexual politics - all are key elements in Alex's journey from Pierrot to hero. And although, when recalling the actual events that some of Alex's adventures were inspired by, I've tended to play up the irony and the humour, while playing down the pathos, there are rich, shadowy veins of serious drama running throughout the book. 

All of which, takes me neatly, if tangentially, to Woody Allen. I watched the excellent two-part documentary on BBC4 recently about Woody, his work and his life. A few things became clear:
- He is rarely satisfied with the end result.
- He often has a completely different intention for the film than the meaning derived by the critics and the audience.
- He is largely unmoved by praise or criticism.
- He finishes one film and then moves on to the next one.

Ah yes, I can hear you mutter, but he can afford to. Well, that's certainly true, but can other writers afford not to? I don't know whether Scars & Stripes will make the transition from submission to publication through the conventional route. However, I do know that, while doing some fine sanding here and there, I need to also move on to the next project. Maybe that's the true message of 'Art for art's sake' - from a writer's perspective? The story works its way through you and then you make yourself available to the next one.

So how does any of the above inform my understanding of my own work? Well, apart from recognising a possible study in character armour, it tells me that my pitch to an agent, editor or reader needs to acknowledge some of Sue's perceptions. In the end, it's less about how I see my work and more about how the reader sees it. After all, they'll be the ones who decide if it 'works' for them.

Now, where's that work-in-progress? There's work to be done!

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