‘Wha-, what’re you doin’ in my room?’ It is the readership of How to Tell a Great Story to which I refer, whole and entire! Because, though I already have to hand sufficient pieces to take this WISP column of mine through to year end and beyond, I have been quite unable to sleep since the aforementioned self-publishing aficionados awakened me during the wee small hours (well, it was either they or my personal consideration of their welfare that did), insisting that it is needful that I provide additional input to the Hemingway piece.
‘What’re you doin’ in my room?’
Well, yeah. I’ve already said that, haven’t I? Aping Bob Geldof, I’d suggest, fronting the Boomtown Rats on stage at Manchester Apollo during the V Deep tour way back in the late-1970s or early-1980s, addressing his 2,000 strong audience, myself and six guests amongst them, funded by a part-time taxi job or the Kershaw’s shell fish round by means of both of which I contrived to keep my head above water once upon a time. Certainly, I was in funds at the time, with six guests in tow – my wife, three kids, young brother-in-law and his girlfriend – and at no time in twenty-four years at the chalk face did my teaching job ever stretch to funds of that order.
‘What’re you doin’ in my room?’ I said.
What a cracking concert that was, though: Manchester Apollo on the V Deep tour: 29 May, 1982. I just looked it up – so it was Red 6 that paid for us, on the taxis, as was!. The audience was up on its feet throughout, I’m afraid. But the ambience was quite unthreateningly friendly and warm. (The mark of the star performer, it occurs to me in passing.) In fact, at one stage it seemed as if half the audience had been invited on stage, too, something I nevertheless prevented my own kids from doing, all three being barely secondary school age at the time.
Thing is, Bob Geldof was famous in my household long before he was famous for what he is now world famous for. Interviewed on radio, he would consistently display a commitment to the underdog which, to my mind, is unusual in a pop star – particularly since, locally at any rate, he was known to have matched his brave words with action. That is to say, in the aftermath of a Boomtown Rats’ performance at Middleton Civic Hall, Bob Geldof and his band (Pete Briquette et al.) came across a fan who had been subjected to an horrendous attack with a hammer, whereupon they personally escorted the guy to A & E at North Manchester General Hospital.
‘Action is character’, as F Scott Fitzgeral once put it, though Fitzgerald was talking about writing as, indeed, is my own intention with this piece. Because what has caused me some concern is something I wrote in last month’s Hemingway piece that advised readers as follows:
“As and when you, as a writer, come to a point where your novel doesn’t seem to want to move onwards and has effectively ground to a halt –
YOU MUST IMPOSE YOUR WILL UPON IT
and make it move forward by any and every means at your disposal.”
This is perfectly true in my opinion. But what causes me concern is that, in retrospect, I do not believe this statement can stand alone, being in need of clarification. Because the fact of the matter is that there are many different ways (different styles if you like) of “imposing one’s will”, and they range from the totally domineering (armed forces) way (which adherents may be perfectly content to follow due to love of homeland and/or corps) to the irksome (possibly, counter-productive) instructions of “the sort of boss who simply wants to prove he’s the boss”. (I know the fool, damn his eyes!)
Then, by way of better example, there is the far gentler (and, generally more successful) manner by means of which a good parent will patiently direct an immature or recalcitrant child out of love. What I mean to say, by way of further clarification, is that when it comes to writing (fiction writing in particular), the author must always be “the good parent” (as opposed to the bombastic and domineering); never more and never less. Not to put too fine a point upon it, the author must try to let the narrative itself do the writing, permitting it to go whither it chooses to go (within reason) by directing it just marginally. And especially so when (as mentioned last month) the narrative appears to have come to a full stop.
Given such restraint and gentle redirection on the author’s part, what WANTS to be written WILL GET WRITTEN!
By way of example (and so as not to appear overly mystical about something that is, to my mind, mystical), permit me if you will to run the risk of incurring the ridicule and wrath of Booker/Whitbread-types (whom I hate with a vengeance, the self-serving lot) by putting my own (creative?) head on the block, as it were, by directing you to certain instances within my debut novel, Every Street in Manchester* – instances where I personally felt constrained to IMPOSE MY WILL upon my own work.
Hopefully, I did so in “the good parent” manner I recommend to you. What I may NOT claim, nor is it for me to make such a claim (though, certainly, this is what I would hope) is that the manner in which I sought to act as “a good parent” to my narrative actually worked. [*References are in each instance to the 2nd Edition of Every Street in Manchester, 2006.]
a) ESIM, Chapter 7, pp.97-99. This deals with an altercation between adolescents at a youth club, being emotionally and linguistically banal as such. Something extra or different seemed indicated if the reader’s and my own interest was to be maintained. So, I switched to the narrative to “dramatic” format.
b) ESIM, Chapter 5, pp.71-77. Again, the main protagonist (now in his 6os) is looking to confess to what is, in effect, an immature emotion which has shameful consequences. In view of this, the narrative on the pages indicated is about “anything and everything but”, as the guy puts it, leaving his confession to come limping in as an afterthought – and “whispered” at that.
c) ESIM, Chapter 3, entire. Chapters 1 & 2 had set the scene for the narrative and set the narrative on its way, too. But which way would the narrative go at this point? I knew I had a couple of flashback pieces in the pipeline (so to speak). But I also knew that I would be unable (either convincingly or legitimately) to go the “flashback” route throughout the book. So where (exactly) would the narrative go now? And where, up to a point, would it head subsequent to the scheduled “flashback” pieces?
I solved this problem (at least to my own satisfaction, as I mention in Write It Self-Publish It Sell It) by means of “a dreamy weekend in Paris with no notebook or reading matter to hand, but simply the determination to think things through and get it all down on paper when I got back home”.
Incidentally, readers would do well to note that in Examples a) and b) above the fact that:
a) there is a switch to “dramatic format” . . .
b) the guy talks about “anything and everything but . . .
. . . does NOT mean that:
# the narrative fails to progress and merely marks time at this point
# nothing further is learned about any character or characters within this scene.
Quite the opposite is the case, in fact.
Please note, too, that this present contribution to the WISP column, ADDENDUM TO LAST MONTH’S HEMINGWAY PIECE, is itself written in a “diversionary” style similar to Example b) above. Hopefully, something fresh may be gleaned therefrom about the author, about narrative technique and about Bob Geldof, too.
N.B. In order fully to comprehend this piece readers will need access to Every Street in Manchester ISBN 9781859880654 which is available from Amazon, direct from www.novelnovella.com and from book shops worldwide.
Any book possessed of an ISBN number (see above) is available from trade sources to book shops worldwide. So, if a book shop says:
a) it does not stock the book and/or
b) it cannot get hold of the book . . .
What that book shop is in effect saying is that:
a) it does not have the book on its present inventory, as it happens, and
b) it cannot be bothered getting hold of the book and doesn’t want your custom.
N.B. too. Never at any time have I instructed anybody to buy my book: your local library can more easily obtain book titles for readers who are interested, albeit impecunious.
Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.