I've been tackling the commentary on A Secret Alchemy, which is thirty percent of the PhD, and it's all gone rather postmodern. It starts routinely enough, if a form - the PhD thesis - which was originally designed for physicists, and only with difficult fitted to the humanities, can be called routine as it deforms itself to fit artists and artistic practice. The interesting thing is, does it in turn deform us?
I'm supposed to be writing 30,000 words on the use of narrative technique in A Secret Alchemy, and also 'its relation to other literary works, and an exposition of the aims and concerns that lay behind its composition... [it] shall make it clear that the candidate is well-acquainted with the history and contemporary developments of the genre in which he or she is working... and the critical field associated with it, and is able independently to analyse, interpret and evaluate debates and theoretical positions associated with it.'
Still with me? No, me neither, much of the time. Maybe it would be easier if I'd kept a diary while I was writing the novel, but I'm not a diary keeper. Maybe it would be easier if I thought about my novels in terms of 'I want to write Ackroyd crossed with Heyer', or if I had Ricoeuring fantasies, or enjoyed having my mind Foucaulted (all right, I'll stop now). Quite often I don't even take notes when I'm researching, let alone anything I could turn into a proper reference (MLA bibliographic style, since you ask). So in fact what I'm doing is not stating the facts about writing a novel and then analysing them, I'm trying to make a coherent product, with beginning, middle and end (plus footnotes) from a process - writing a novel - whose beginning is misty, whose middle is usually muddle, and whose end hasn't happened yet. I'm telling a story.
And, yes, A Secret Alchemy is about storytelling. Since two of the three narrators really existed, I was always going to have to decide for myself how to un-tether the world I wanted to write about - how to make a novel - from the history that made me want to write it. And then I realised that not only did Thomas Malory have a walk-on part, but that... No, it'll take too long to explain, you'll have to read the book. While I was writing it I started to read things for the commentary about how storytelling works, and of course they did end up in the novel, not because I set out to put them there, but because whatever's going on in my head tends to end up in the novel of the moment: after a few years under the bed they read like the diaries I don't write.
So though I hope that no one reading A Secret Alchemy will notice, because they'll be too busy wondering what really happened to Ned and Dickon, it pleases my more postmodern self that my commentary is really a story about how storytelling works in a novel which is all about storytelling. After all, another true way to tell the story would be, 'Once upon a time, I went to see a Shakespeare play about Henry VI...'