So it goes…

my first blog post.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of Mother Night, one of my listed influences later in this blog post, used the phrase ‘So it goes’ 106 times in another of his novels, Slaughterhouse-Five.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to do this.  However, I did think it was a good idea to start a writing blog looking at some of the writers who influence me.
As this blog develops I’ll be exploring what I read and write with the main aim of getting over my fear of other people reading my work. And also to improve, learn, develop and be able to think of myself as a writer.
I suppose the phrase and Vonnegut’s use of it; life, death, dying and mortality, providing comic relief, moving on and both accepting and dismissing everything, is perhaps what I’m trying to do with my writing.  
There probably won’t be many opportunities to read my fiction on here. That’s not just because I’m not brave enough. Copyright rules seem to suggest in most cases that publishers and agents don’t accept work that has appeared on blogs or websites as it’s seen as previously published.  This is the same for many competitions.  So it goes as a better idea to go with things that come into my head, views on writing, books I’m reading, techniques, views from my window, World War Two (I’ve got to stop following tweets from 1940 – it’s scaring the life out of me as if I don’t know the ending), etc.
So it goes that this is my attempt at gaining some writing confidence.  And I’m not hiding behind Kurt Vonnegut here. It just makes sense for what I want to say.  I think it’s important to take the best influences from great writers and use it to improve.
I revise and edit work consistently. It’s never good enough.  I know that writing is rewriting but sometimes I don’t think I know where to stop. But I won’t be rewriting my blog posts. This will be words on the page as they are, a practice run in believing in my own words more.  
And what better time to start than now? After all in some other words of Kurt Vonnegut, ‘when you’re dead, you’re dead.’
So it goes that I want to talk about my top ten writing influences. I have to add that I complied this list last year and all that has changed is I would put the fantastic Kate Long alongside Marion Keyes.  Kate’s work is an example of amazing character technique and voice.  I’ve reviewed her latest book on Amazon and would recommend her to all writers and readers.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/pdp/profile/A3J46OQ7U7G29N/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdp

I’ve also recently discovered Deborah Morgan and Sharon Owens, and with each new brilliant writing find like these; I’m inspired to continue trying.
So it goes that I hope writing a blog gets easier and that one day I make it into someone’s top ten.
Booked-up – my top ten influences
I chose this list at random from a number of titles I’d scribbled across a notebook. Breakdowns, mental illness, grief, family issues, alternative realities, Nazis, blasphemy, and some dark chick lit, hmmm…
1.  My Oedipus Complex – Frank O’Connor. A brilliant short story that captures a child’s voice blended subtly with an adult perspective and although it has a good viewpoint from families in war – the issues of these family relationships are quite timeless.  It’s also very funny: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2010/dec/07/helen-dunmore-frank-oconnor
2. The Raw Shark Texts – debut novel by Steven Hall, – literally (or literary) Jaws but with words, and a great idea of an alternative reality. At the same time it is a very sad story when you step back and see what it’s really about. Can you surround yourself with words as a form of protection in life (not just from sharks)?
3. The Life of Pi – Yann Martel – I’d love to have thought of this! A hyena, a monkey, a whingeing zebra and a tiger called Richard or…choose which version you believe when you hear it again within the same novel.
4. Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut – perhaps the best and most honest foreword to a novel. It really raised the question ‘what would you do?’ when caught in certain periods of history. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera. “We all need someone to look at us.”  He divided people into four types based on this: those who need a public of unknown eyes, those who need familiar eyes, those who want to be in the eyes of the person they love, and the dreamers who live to be seen by an imagined being.  A friend and I (reading this at 18) decided we were the last type but couldn’t find many people who also chose this option (it makes more sense if you read the full explanation in the novel).  Apart from that I think the book annoyed me overall.
6.  God is Dead – Ron Currie. This raises questions through nightmarish satire (I seem to like this theme). What would we do if it was confirmed that there was no God or that a God no longer existed? The world doesn’t end but after the expected chaos people begin worshipping their children (think financial advice from a child leading to investment in hungry hippos), and in what seems to be an obsession of mine in fiction, animals have a central role, see the chapter: “Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God’s Corpse.”
7. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger – ‘Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic’- true in a way if you’ve had a strict Catholic upbringing – maybe because the rituals are so strange even from modern Catholic schools and have a lasting effect (I don’t mean this in a dark way at all).  It can feel like emerging from a cult and outsiders might say ‘what do you mean you were made to go to mass every week until you were 16?’ and we had a mass for everything in school too and most of us could probably recite mass or at least sing a few hymns all the way through. I also like the idea that Jesus picked the Disciples at random so it wasn’t really his fault how they turned out (I laughed out loud on a plane to that bit). And of course the baseball mitt which I think reveals the whole reason behind the main character’s behaviour.
8. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath –  I found the fig tree analogy brilliant in describing how it feels wanting to do too much in life and therefore missing out on being good at anything through indecisiveness.  I always think when I read this: ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ but then bring it down further to not even being at ‘jack’ level through being so unfocused.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
9. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey. I’ve never seen the film, but apparently it is very different? Horrors for the past treatment of mental illness and lobotomy aside, and all the characters may be flawed but you still don’t want the ending to happen the way it does.
10. Marion Keyes – should never be underestimated as people so often try to do with ‘chick-lit’.  She’s truly brilliant and her work is both funny and moving, light and dark. Rachel’s Holiday (drug addiction), This Charming Man (violence towards women). Best described from her website: “The books deal variously with modern ailments, including addiction, depression, domestic violence, the glass ceiling and serious illness, but always written with compassion, humour and hope.”
I also have it on good authority from my Aunty that she is a nice person – apparently they held up a book signing queue in Adelaide, Australia discussing Dublin bus routes. This was probably not Marion’s fault, having emigrated to Australia over 30 years ago, my Aunty will even discuss the 75 to St Patrick’s Cathedral with anyone who’ll listen.
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7 thoughts on “So it goes…

  1. Hi Clare – great first entry, and I always enjoy a list of top tens. I noticed that they were all written post 1945 – nothing wrong with that: a list like that is you making your own canon. But I am sort of haunted by a recent Guardian piece on how amnesiac contempoary writing is thought to be – as shown in word frequency study. In essence, the point made is that 'while authors in the 18th and 19th centuries were still influenced by previous centuries, authors writing in the late 20th century are instead "strongly influenced" by writers from their own decade.' Considering the bare bones of much of the fiction you like comes down through Austen and other 'Mothers of the Novel' may be this might give you further food for thought. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/may/14/writers-no-longer-influenced-by-classics

  2. Thanks Jim. I recently finished Anna Karenina (it was great but took a while) so I think that would certainly have been a top ten. I'll take a look at the Guardian article. I really enjoy Austen and the Brontes but think they always miss the top ten as they were GCSEd and A-leveled out of me. 😉

  3. Mother Night is one of my favourite books and, I think you may have finally persuaded me to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, it sounds much more interesting than I'd thought. I've not read One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, it's been sat on my shelf for years – there's really no excuse. The film is very good though, it's got some great scenes. Good list, I think it's helped to give me a little bit of an idea of the 'writing' world you inhabit. 🙂

  4. Thanks – I'll try and find The Unbearable Lightness of Being for you. I'm sure I must have it somewhere but Mother Night itself has disappeared!Enjoyed your post 'a world of non-committal answers' and the dangers of Doublespeak – really good 🙂

  5. That analogy from 'The Bell Jar' is exactly how I feel when I'm trying to decide what to write! I can never decide so I usually just end up underneath the fig tree while all the ideas get further and further away from me… Hopefully I'm not the only writer that sometimes feels like this? Anyway, your blog has made me want to read The Bell Jar! Have you read any of Sylvia Plath's poetry? 'The Colossus' is now one of my favourite collections by any poet, although the first time I read it I didn't like it at all… Strange!

  6. I was doing the same last night – should I work on the novel, fix some short stories, decide the next blog post? I end up feeling like nothing gets the full attention and there's always that initial panic when I sit down to write. It's ok once I'm focussed on one thing but that takes time. The Bell Jar is really good – again if I haven't lent it to someone then I'll bring it in for you. Then you have something to hold against me for the time it's taking me to read The Savage Detectives! I'll also look up some of Slyvia Plath's poetry.

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