Monday 9th November - Day 5
Woke at 5.00am. Assessed yesterday’s contribution and decided I didn’t like much, if any, of it. Realised that my criticism was down to fourth day dip. Nothing unusual, in fact it is quite normal and natural. Day four is always about the time when you start to wonder if what you’re writing is worthy and whether you should be doing it at all. Still, the basis of day four’s work is there and can be jigged and sorted later. Wrote mental notes on the ceiling and hoped I could remember them by the time I got to my desk. It is a minor tipping point, day four; a little like writing a letter and managing to resist crunching up the paper and throwing it in the bin. So, turning from negative to positive, I lay and ordered today’s contribution. Slipped out of bed just prior to 7.00am, watched ten minutes of news – good news; it seems we may soon be rid of the chump, though I’m sure the eye of Sauron, as I refer to the cabal of political journalists running the news department at the BBC, will soon enough fix on some other victim. Made tea. Fired up the laptop. A good day, today. Located and read some ghastly yet fascinating facts and statistics regarding knife crime and policing. Had a dozen pages of reference open on Google and switched backwards and forwards while working out both where the gruesome figures would place in the rhythm of the narrative and whether they justified their inclusion. And all that, whilst trying to avoid sounding like a polemic or recording words some pressure group might take unkindly to.
Invoking polemic is an easy and lazy trap to fall into; for there are stretches of narrative that readily come across as though one is attempting to put individual’s views across, as opposed to refining their character. If a little argument fits in, then no problem; some people are prone to argument or just plain argumentative, and if that’s a characteristic particular to a character, fine. However, argument, or making a case, is usually best left to dialogue and has to be relevant in the grand scheme of the premise. There’s a touch of ‘deus ex machina’ about an argumentative character. In the truest sense of the expression, its origins lie in Greek tragedy: ‘deus ex machina’ was a mechanical device that transported the Gods onto the stage at the end of a play to allow them to solve the so far unsolvable plot and explain the conclusion. Nietzsche reckoned it to provide a false sense of consolation. Aristotle, conversely, reckoned it fundamental to surprise. I, as most writers do, employ it from early on, whereby we sow the seeds of the dramatic finale all the way through the narrative. Thus, the reveal is a surprise, even though we have expected it, or hoped for it, all along. Argument can point the way and direct the audience down a path.
Some months after the publication of Ontreto, I asked a friend what he thought of it. Of course, one shouldn’t. Yet rather than looking for affirmation, I very much wanted to hear logical criticism. One of my aims in writing the novel was to produce a homage to a hero of longstanding, Andrea Camilleri, the writer of Montelbano. Much in the same way as Greek tragedy has as much going on off stage as it does on, Camilleri’s style was to bring together disparate events and people which and who combine to make everything plain in the gripping finale. My critic, and I paraphrase, accused me of parachuting my uber villain in to the end of the novel with the sole intention of solving a plot I could not write my way out of. “Page 26,” I replied. “The bad guy first appears on page 26.” Sure, if you blink, you’ll miss it, but that’s what makes Camilleri’s works so entertaining: he asks the reader to donate his concentration in return for his effort. That and the inescapable and obvious fact that this is part of the beauty of Sicily: feast your eyes, concentrate; blink and you’ll miss the glorious detail.
Ciao. Until tomorrow.