I’ve been trying to work out for years why some people fall naturally into tropes and the centre of current genre and think their work is original and others don’t and are certain their work is derivative and why so many people use a bit of this and a bit of that in their writing. I’ve also been trying to work out why, in all these years of teaching, the people who say “I’m writing for market, not from my inner core of total passion that this novel must be written” are less likely to find a publisher quickly. All these things are linked. Not unexpectedly, really, It’s just that I’ve been accepting the public statements about novels which isn’t the same at all as what writers actually do. Some reflects the reality of sitting down to write, and some reflects the same narratives we put in our fiction and for pretty much the same reasons ie we have stories about writing, the same way we have stories within writing.
And on that tantalising note, I shall leave you, for I’m not ready to research this and give proper explanations. What I’m ready for now is to finish my book on writers and history. I’m exceptionally happy, however, that history turned out to be a way in to understanding a range of other cultural issues, for what I am, au fond, is a cultural historian. I have a driving need to understand why we do the things we do and what contexts we create for ourselves.
There’s a real joy in being able to distinguish between the stages of creation and interpreting a work after publication. I’m so used, as a historian, to dealing with dead people and trying to interrogate the record after it’s in its final form. Finding its final form and working with mixed forms can be fun, and can be very tricky, but being able to study culture as it’s developing and find out what makes it tick is immensely wonderful. Also, not as much studied as I expected. (We do tend to feel safer with studying even current writers as if they are dead.) The processes of culture are rich and varied and ever-changing and have constants and none of this is quite as visible if one focusses on a book or story as a final product. And now you know why I’m doing fewer book reviews and less traditional criticism than I used to. I’m focussed on this other stuff.
This other stuff feeds directly into my teaching, and will probably get me into much trouble (most things I do tend to get me into trouble) and it will all come to a sad end if I don’t get income, but it’s so much fun to turn cultural history inside out and examine it from that direction. At the very least, it feeds my fiction. I am growing as a writer by looking at cultural constructs that envelop fiction and by seeing all narratives as part of living, breathing societies and their active culture-shaping inhabitants.
PS Did I remember to tell you to watch for the next issue of Foundation?