Last night I went hear Mark Haddon talk on the Southbank as part of the London Literature Festival (my first event so far; Don DeLillo and Siri Hustvedt to come.) His deceptively understated and well-crafted stream of consciousness was like a sweet, clear draft to a sandy throat; particularly his attempts to grasp what matters most to him as a writer.
He cited Waterlog, Roger Deakin's record of swimming in the wild places of Britain, in particular Deakin's description of a kingfisher as "a searing afterburn of blue". Because for Haddon, it is the spaces before, after and around things where the magic happens. The moments where words don't work. As he put it,
I sometimes think that the job of a writer is to create gaps the reader is hungry to fill.
I'm nearing the end of the first draft of my novel. I've just booked a research trip to Orkney, to soak up the atmosphere and ferret through the archives of the Orkney Library. In a couple of months, after a brief break for some perspective, I'll be into the real, re-writing. And Haddon has reminded me that my main task will be one of opening gaps and allowing the story to breathe.
With the weight of all those words, and a few, fragile expectations, I'm finding it more important than ever to stay focused inwardly: on my own voice, instincts, ambitions and, for want of a less clumsy term, morality. And again, with perfect timing, my friend and fellow Faber Academy alumnus Matthew has reminded me of this old but burnished chestnut from Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet.
Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, "I must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.
(From the excellent Letters Of Note).
Thank you, gentlemen four. You've set the tone for my summer.