Words on the move
Belated Happy Christmas

A cloud condensed

So, I have ten spiral-bound notebooks from W H Smith (they have to have the right, tolerant paper, and be identical so I can keep a rough track of the word count on the stripy-sweater principle) and a new packet of my favourite kind of biro. I've even been tidying the study because, even though I'm not naturally terribly tidy, it helps a lot to have a bit of elbow room: clear desk space to fan out the plan and current notes, neat ranks of books and files of learned paper and postcards ready to hand, and all without knocking the essential cup of tea over. In other words I'm ready... Well, as ready as I'll ever be.

I don't plan to keep a running record here of the writing of this novel. It's not just because, faced with the mountain in the distance and all the invisible lanes between me and even the nursery slopes which are only the beginning of the climb, it even feels a twinge hubristic to talk of it as a novel. (I may have called it Kindred and Affinity for practical purposes, but it doesn't yet feel as if it needs a name, because a name is words, and it doesn't yet have a form in words.) It's not only that the need to tell the story is what keeps me going, so that telling bits of it to people, either over the dinner table or over the Net, satisfies that need and therefore deprives the novel. It's also because, for me, it doesn't work to feel that I have to fulfil anyone else's idea of my obligations: I put quite enough pressure on myself, thank you, and so does my bank manager. Thinking that anyone else knows or judges how the novel's going takes writing fiction perilously close to doing homework, and I've been in rebellion against that (and housework) all my life. I've said it before and I'll say it again: some of what drives a writer beyond the mere satisfactions of self-expression, through improving, sharpening tools and pricking up ears, towards courses and classes and books, through rejections and more rejections and overdrafts, and eventually to editors and reviews and still very little money, is neither particularly healthy, nor terribly sane.

But write we do, and novels go on arriving in our heads. Among other tidying up I've happened across my notes for A Secret Alchemy, and I'm interested to see how much that I brooded over and researched didn't end up in it, while, equally, all sorts of things which did end up in it never got thought out on paper at all. At the moment Kindred and Affinity is whole in my head but it's misty, un-specific, a cloud of unknowing. Writing it is a process of condensing the cloud of unknowing into words on the page. And those droplets, that water vapour (yes, I know they're different, even though O Level Physics was a long time ago), could, on another day, from another mind, condense into other words. The novel is at once wholly there, and wholly contingent on the circumstances of its writing-down. That's the last reason I won't write about it much here, I suspect: writing things down changes them. But writing-down is all we have: any human thought or feeling needs a medium before anyone else can apprehend it. When it gets complex enough it even needs a title: a single phrase for a cloud as big as a man's (or woman's) hand, condensed.

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