Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Open Up and Bleed

I've been meaning to post for a while but immersed in the whole fiction writing thing (I know, I know, but you can only procrastinate so much). Thing is, I finished the pirate story (and had a fuckload of fun writing it), but then I spotted the ARC of China Mieville's UN LUN DUN, which I brought back from WFC, and,well, the To-Read pile is so fucking huge at the moment, and it being a YA book and all... I thought, well, I can give meself a wee break or so and read a few chapters before getting stuck back in to SCORCHED EARTH. So, needless to say, I got totally drawn in by what's basically a whole heap of fun, full of the sort of full-on flights of fanciful cleverness I love, and with a monster irreverance for the easy, reactionary formulae of adventure fiction -- all that darling-of-destiny bullshit. It's a joy from beginning to end, and if you loved Michael de Larrabieti's Borribles Trilogy you'll have a whale of a time with this, young or old, as they say. The influences are clear -- not in any imitative sense of conceit or plot, but in the earthiness, the witty subversive spirit and, most of all, the sheer relish of London's quirks and mysteries. I've got me loyalties to Glasgow (Or Glasgone, I guess it would be in Mieville's reimagining of "abcities" -- flipsides to the cities we know, filled with animated rubbish, men with ink-pots for heads, and other such weird shit), but I have to confess when I first read THE BORRIBLES as a kid it left me with a little bit of jealousy that I wasn't from somewhere with the grubby-oik-urchin Romanticism of the streets and sewers where de Larrabeiti set his story. That sense of London as a character is one of the things that makes Peter Ackroyd's work appeal so strongly to me -- or Moorcock's MOTHER LONDON, say, another prime example -- so the way it permeates this book is a huge plus point. If he returns to the setting for sequels, I'll look forward to reading them. OK, so there's no decapitation-by-shovel scene in UN LUN DUN, which means it doesn't quite measure up to the glory that is The Borribles Trilogy, but it's not fucking far off -- which is probably the highest praise I can give for a book like this.

Not that I didn't get distracted in the middle of it. In fact, I got halfway through it and was so in the spirit of it, enjoying the playfulness so much, I suddenly had an idea for a story I just had to write. Like now. I'm not quite sure where it came from, cause it bears no fucking relation to the book, but I guess I was thinking of PETER PAN, PETER PAN IN SCARLET, "Magic For Beginners", "The Annals of Eelin-Ook" -- you know, proper fantasy, with faeries in magic realms and shit -- and the conceit popped into me head, and the story just unrolled. I thought I'd better take some notes, fired up the laptop and at 8:30 in the morning was still writing.

Now I had intended to write a faery story for adults, one that would maybe have a little bit of melancholy, and, sure, a whole shitload of spice, plenty of the bawdy, punk-ass sensibility that refuses to let me write anything the Collision Of Mothers Fighting Against Masturbation, say, would consider safe (And yeah... COMFAM... I shit you not; these whackos just tried to friend me on MySpace; I'm so tempted to accept just so I can post a comment with a link to myHomosexual Agenda rant) -- but I was thinking of this story as basically pretty whimsical and playful. That was the intention, honestly.

When I got to the rain of corpses, it was pretty clear the story was going in a whole 'nother direction.

So, about 48 hours and 11,300 words later I have me one of Those Stories. You know Those Stories? The ones that you tried writing when you were younger but it was just embarrassingly awful, because the subject matter was too close, too personal? The ones that you avoided writing as you got a bit more skill, because you realised Oprah Winfrey self-help bullshit and writing a good fucking story are not compatible? The ones that you kinda sorta almost write when you mature a little and -- with a bit more competence, a bit more nous and a bit more distance -- realise that you can address certain themes in other ways, write something which is pretty damn personal without it being self-indulgent autobiographical shite, and so you start writing about the Big Things -- Sex and Death -- in a way deeply informed, maybe even driven, by your personal history, but not transparently and directly referencing or representing it? The ones that maybe you never write, because to do so could be a bit like Iggy Pop on stage, carving up his naked chest with a broken drumstick and singing "Open Up and Bleed"? Yeah, one of Those Stories.

I mean Iggy is my main man, and "Open Up and Bleed" is only barely pipped by "TV Eye" as my all-time favourite song. Fuck, I believe in it as a fucking mantra for a singer or a writer, for an artist of any kind. If you're going to make art you should put some fucking heart into it, and if you have to go in through the sternum with a scalpel and a crowbar to rip that heart out, man, that's what the game is all about. But the aim of the game is not therapy or self-mutilation as a spectacle, just brutal honesty and committed passion, so if it's just going to look like attention-seeking bollocks, well, fuck that shit. And not all songs are "Open Up and Bleed". Not all stories turn around and challenge you to give them the whole heart, all of it, if you're not too much of a chickenshit pussy. I just got monster-trucked by one Those Stories that does though.

It's an extremely weird feeling. It's not that I found it a gruelling ordeal or a cathartic release or any of that shit. It's not like the personal history I found myself dealing with wasn't long since, well, dealt with. My inner demons have been on my side for years, smoking cigarettes, playing poker and telling tall tales about kicking angel arse. If the scars were reopened for the duration of the writing, they were healed again at the end of it, no less and no more so than they were before, just smooth and pink as ever. So while the story was pretty affecting at points to write, the weird feeling isn't from any sense of release or closure; rather it's just the weirdness of having a story that's that personal. Like, holy fuck, did I just write that? Where the fuck did that come from? Well, OK, I know where it came from, but what the fuck made me go there? Well, OK, I know the story itself was just obviously going there, but... I mean... did I just write that?

So, yeah, one of Those Stories. Now I just have to mail it off tomorrow and see if F&SF are looking for a faery story with a fuckload more Sex and Death than I was really rather intending.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good gravy, hal! myspace?! you have a myspace account? and here i thought you were reasonably intelligent and all! ;)

2:08 pm  
Blogger SJB said...

Damn it, Hal, I envy you! You can sit there and let one of "those stories" pour out. Me, well, I got one of those stories still rattling in my head, and sadly the real world won't let me stop working and finish it. One of these days, I keep promising myself. lol...

Oh, best wishes of the season to you and those you love.

And congrats on the further sale of Vellum..


6:52 pm  
Blogger Damien said...

The sex and death angle is always a good mode of catharsis, even if you think you don't need it. Keep it fresh enough to know, but not fresh enough the bleed too long, or hurt too much.

Also, sorry about not getting back in touch, but this thesis thing has taken rather a different turn than I intended, and it's been damn near killing me.

How are you?

2:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great. Did you have to tell this probably months before I'll get the chance to actually read the story? Now I'll toss and turn all night thinking what it might be about!

I really hate looking forward to things ...

12:10 am  

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