- Bird by Bird
The great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks into it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things.
- Bird by Bird
I can finally share the beautiful cover art for The Immortals, which has been bringing me much secret delight as my phone background since February. We've been on a little bit of a journey with this - if you've seen a proof copy, you'll notice that a few elements got tweaked and then basically returned to how they were originally. I was in love with the original design, so things pretty much panned out as I wanted.
The brilliant artist is James Nunn, who also did Hideous Creatures - you can see more of his work here.
I notice new things every time I look at this cover. It's beautiful and weird and kind of melancholy. To me it brings to mind art deco posters - like the Mucha ones below which I hung above my desk when I first started writing this book, becoming something of a reference point for certain sections of the story.
So now begins the two-month countdown to release day, i.e, the day when I hide my head under a blanket and switch of my phone and slightly wish I'd never written anything.
Time doesn't click on and on at the stroke. It comes and goes in waves and folds like water; it flutters and sifts like dust, rises, billows, falls back on itself. When a wave breaks, the water is not moving. The swell has travelled great distances but only the energy is moving, not the water. Perhaps time moves through us and not us through it.
"In Poland, Mr Ryder, when I was a conductor, even then, I never thought the wound would heal. When I conducted my orchestra, I always touched my wound, caressed it. Some days I picked at its edges, even pressed it hard between the fingers. You realise soon enough when a wound's not going to heal. The music, when I was a conductor, I knew that's all it was, just a consolation. It helped for a while. I liked the feeling of pressing the wound, it fascinated me. A good wound, it can do that, it fascinates. It looks a little different every day. Has it changed? you wonder. You look at it in the mirror, it looks different. But then you touch it and you know it's the same, your old friend. You do this year after year and then you know it's not going to heal and in the end you get tired of it. You get so tired."
- The Unconsoled
This week I've been finishing the final edit of The Immortals, and I feel as though I've just been spun around in a cement mixer. I'm dizzy and a bit bruised.
This has nothing to do with my editor, whose suggestions were very wise and far from extreme or intrusive. It's because I'm much too precious about my work - this book in particular - and haven't yet mastered the art of letting other voices in on the process. I've barely learned to let readers in, and I think a lot of my nervous tension during this edit has been the knowledge that in six months' time this book will be public property.
Now this is over I can go back to working on the next thing, which already has a few chapters of life. A new journey, and a new home - for a while.
Last week I visited my alma mater, Warwick University, and spoke to some creative writing students and teachers there about my work. Questions were challenging (in a good way) and it was exciting to see some advance paperback copies of Hideous Creatures on the university bookshop shelves. Big love to my friend Jenny, who organised the event and then took me on a nostalgia tour of the campus where we bungled our way through together as undergrads. She and the current crop of creative writing masters students are putting together an anthology which you can preview here.
The following day I went into Bluecoat School in nearby Coventry, and spent some time with their creative writing club and a few English classes. I loved hearing about what the students are reading - lots of dystopian Young Adult fiction, from the sound of it - and seeing their enthusiasm for stories. Questions ranged from the curious and incisive to the brilliantly surreal; year 9 asked my opinion on everything from seagulls to Spider-Man.
I was a keen painter, mediocre musician and a secretive, passionate scribbler throughout my school years and I'm alarmed by the creeping marginalisation of the arts in secondary schools. Kudos to the dedicated teachers I met at Bluecoat who continue to bring the subject alive for their students, despite all the pressures they face.
I am horrifyingly awkward in front of a camera.
Thankfully I have a very talented and patient photographer friend who has helped me out whenever I've needed headshots that aren't appalling.
And a book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time. A novel is written (rather pathetically) not to be judged, but experienced. You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die.
- Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure