The Guts

I haven’t posted here in a while. I’ve never been a big blogger. I love reading other people’s blogs, but for some reason never value my own thoughts in the same way. Probably the same for every person, I bet!

The whirlwind of activity following To Become a Whale’s publication is still going, and it’s so much fun. It is truly special to be invited to a book club and have people connect with something you’ve created in a meaningful way. I love hearing readers’ reactions, truly, even when they’re not that charitable. It’s still astounding to me that people are reading it at all! And hearing people describe how they’ve been moved, or they’ve recommended it to their spouse/friend/co-worker, or they understand their own fathers in a new light – I mean, come on. Can’t really put that stuff into words.

I’m finding again and again people asking questions about how I put the book together – why did I feature the dog, why were his grandparents antagonistic toward his father, why Tangalooma, why is the father missing fingers – and again and again I’m finding my answer is – I don’t really know.

In hindsight, I do know. In hindsight I’ve applied craft and purpose to these things, and I understand now their function within the narrative. But when I start writing, I really don’t foresee much of this. I didn’t put Albert (the dog) in because he would highlight the differences between the two disciplinary ideologies of the father and son – I put him in because the father said, in the story, “Guess we better get you a dog, then.” – it was as much of a surprise to me as it is (hopefully) to an audience. The father’s missing fingers weren’t created to better capture his broken masculinity – he just didn’t have fingers.

I am not a believer in “the character told me to do it” – that’s weird, hocus pocus, in my book. But I do believe in the power of the subconscious. I think, subconsciously, I’m much smarter than I am consciously. If I’m in a scene – really feeling it – then I’m all the characters. Then I’m reacting honestly. If I’m writing fast enough – without stopping to consider – then I’m reacting, not choosing, which I think is closer to how real life operates. And if you’re engaged thematically, somehow, it seems, all these things tie back together at the end.

A new novel I’m working on is about objective moral values – what is right, and what is wrong, and how, in a nihilistic society, in a morally relativistic society, can we honestly live with purpose – and as I was writing all of a sudden, there on a verandah, swung a dead pig. I didn’t know where it came from, but I thought it was interesting, and was maybe hinting at a type of sensibility present in the character who shot it. I didn’t know that later, that same pig would feature in a crucial moment between a father and his wayward son. I was setting something up, without meaning to. It was just there.

I like to call this “writing from the guts” – after the old Hemingway adage (which I’m not sure he actually said) – “There’s nothing to writing; you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – this is how this feels. It feels honest. If I think too much I end up over-intellectualising everything, and then everything, to me, doesn’t feel vital anymore.

Anyway, I think I’m rambling, so best finish up. If you ask me about why I did a thing in To Become a Whale the answer will most likely return; just because I thought it should happen. I used to feel bad about writing this way – like there was something wrong with not thinking too hard about things – but it seems to work for me. I like what I write. And I guess that’s what counts.

Hopefully I’ll see you at an event soon!


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