Thursday is TLS day, and I'm always pleased to see it coming through the door. Not for the fiction reviews - I don't read fiction reviews, for reasons I explored in Making the Skeleton Dance - but for everything else. It is, if you like, my liberal education in all the areas of all the subjects which my actual education didn't have space to expand into. In a review of the British Museum's exhibition of Rennaissance Drawings, which I must see, James Hall quotes a famous essay, which I must read, Wimsatt and Beardsley's The Intentional Fallacy. The Renaissance was when the painter's private preparatory practice of drawing was evolving to create art objects valued in their own right. In their essay the authors, Hall says, "remind us that there is no necessary connection between a draft and the end product:
There is a sense in which an author, by revision, may better achieve his original intention. But in a very abstract sense. He intended to write a better work, or a better work of a certain kind, and now has done it. But it follows that a former concrete intention was not his intention. 'He's the man we were in search of, that's true,' says Hardy's rustic constable, 'and yet he's not the man we were in search of, for the man we were in search of was not the man we wanted'.
Despite the similarites in action and pose of Ghirlandaio's painted and drawn maidservants, the former is not the same as the latter, and each has been shaped according to a distinct 'concrete intention'... The term 'preparatory drawing' simply doesn't do justice to the novelty and autonomy of each phase of the picture-making process."
My experience of having a story recorded for radio clarified how there's no one 'right' version of any story. Hall points to that idea, but also in other directions. The one most of us know is when characters won't do what they're told: instincts about how humans tick show you that your original intention must change, in plot or character or both. But there are other things it suggests. Since I'm now (I hope) coming to an end with the new novel, I'm having twinges of panic about ideas, concepts, bits of research, which turn out not to have got in. Will it be lacking if I don't go back and darn them all in? Or should I trust the instinct that kept making me forget them? I've learnt to listen to things which happen - such as a story in present tense which keeps trying to write itself in past - and try to work out what they're telling me. On the other hand instinct can be wrong: if you only have one phone conversation with your sibling in Australia, and they sounded depressed, does that mean they're depressed all year? Similarly, novels are so darned long, any decision or change I come up with based on the work I've just been doing for a week on one chapter, may in fact be quite wrong for the reader who reads the whole novel in a day or two.
I like my story 'Nunc Dimittis', which I wrote as an exercise for what wasn't yet A Secret Alchemy, but which has taken on a life of its own. But what about the story I took for a walk in the park, and realised half-way round the duck-pond that its engine is novel-sized? There's a whole unwritten novel already between me and when I could write that novel, so meanwhile I'm going to slake my desires by writing the short story version. But what is the relationship between the two pieces? Will I want to get the story published just so that it's heard, or will I not want readers to be reading across between the two, just as I don't want them reading across between my fiction and the non-fiction I've drawn on? And will the novel-sized engine, used in the story, be putting a Harrier jump-jet engine into a Mini? Or will the story never have enough latent in it that I can develop a full novel from it. Will I be able to start fresh with the novel or want to cling to what was good about the story? Maybe I should re-name all the characters, but I know the names and they're the right ones. And will everyone, forever, read the short story as a preparatory drawing? I've just booked a ticket for the British Museum exhibition, so perhaps Leonardo, and Raphael and Michaelangelo and all the others, will be able to show me: show, rather than tell, of course.