Thursday, 6 October 2011

Unintended consequences; or, what's it all about, Alfie?

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Eleven days to go.

I should be calmly polishing, looking for stray redundancies (is the use of stray in that phrase a redundancy in itself?), thinking of clean language. It should be the moment to summon up the ghost of George Orwell and his brilliant 1946 essay, Politics and The English Language.

The two things Orwell thought most destructive to clarity and beauty in writing were: staleness of imagery, and lack of precision. Or, as he put it two sentence later: vagueness and sheer incompetence.

So, it is Orwell who should be in my mind now. I should be sitting, composed and calm, sifting through sentences for detritus.

Instead, I find myself doing a What the Hell Do I Mean edit.

You might think that after sixteen months I would know what I mean. You might wonder how it can take sixteen whole months to write 98, 112 words (as of this morning’s count). The best reason I can give is that writing a book is a series of feints and experiments. Often, I shall not know exactly what I think about something until I start writing it. I need to write to discover.

So then there are tangents and false starts and conflicting conclusions. I have to go back and cut entire sections because a chapter will start off with one premise and end up with quite another. This is interesting, but time-consuming.

So what is happening now is that I shall look at a passage, and go into the kitchen to make another pot of coffee, and say, out loud into the room, as if the dog might know the answer: what am I really trying to say?

Sometimes, the answer comes quite readily. Oh yes, I think; that was it all along. Sometimes it is recalcitrant, and must be coaxed. Sometimes I realise I have just written a load of absolute arse, and out out out it must go.

Sometimes, illumination and elaboration are called for. So, with eleven days to go, when I should be refining and shining, I find myself writing 1484 words on beauty and cruelty. (Sounds very Marquise de Merteuil, doesn’t it?)

All of which is really quite absurd. But then, I don’t suppose I went into book writing because it made lovely, rational sense. It doesn’t matter how much of a hoary old pro I like to think myself, I still find an element of mystery to the whole process. Which in some ways is delightful, but just at the moment, as I stretch and strain in the final furlong, leaves me shattered at the end of each day. First thing tomorrow morning, I am stocking up on iron tonic. I need all the help I can get.


Pictures of the day:

It was sunny this morning, and everything looked glorious:

6 Oct 2

6 Oct 3

6 Oct 4.ORF

6 Oct 5

6 Oct 6

6 Oct 7

The Pigeon, gazing serenely to the south:

6 Oct 10.ORF

With her doubtful face on. This is because the Sister's poodle is visiting, and the Pidge is not at all convinced by the poodle:

6 Oct 11

More gentle contemplation:

6 Oct 12.ORF

Today's hill:

6 Oct 14

Forgive me for rattling on a bit about this writing nonsense. I'm afraid it really is all I can think of, just at the moment. Very, very soon, it shall all be over.


  1. I think that the side-views of the Pigeon are my favorites. There is something so alert and sensitive about that finely-moulded muzzle.

  2. Probably not very helpful, but I'm reminded of Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity... One moment you might be guilty of metaphysical conceit; then you could be accused of over simplicity. The important thing is to be reflective, I think.
    See, I said it wouldn't help much!
    I bet Pigeon doesnt agonise about words and their meaning...

  3. Ellie - you are so kind. It is a bit of a fine muzzle.

    Dominic - love idea of Seven Types of Ambiguity. Did not know Empson, so now I have a new thing to discover.


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