Wednesday, 26 November 2014

In which I accept the mystery.

A very interesting work day today. I should know every damn thing there is to know about writing a novel by now. I’ve read all the manuals and even sat at the feet of a master and listened in awe and wonder. I’ve read most of the great novels and watched for how the mechanics work. But it’s a long time since I wrote a fiction, and I’m rusty. It’s coming back, bit by bit, and I watch the returning memory with interest.

Today, I thought: a crucial change does not have to be a big thing.

There are themes which need developing and deepening and characters who need more nuance and complexity. It’s all a bit bland and straightforward at the moment. I need to put my twisty little firestarter hat on. I had been rather daunted by some of the changes that were required, until I reminded myself of the power of smallness. You really can transform a chapter by adding a couple of lines. A profound shift does not require five new ten-page scenes. A line here, a word there, and the thing suddenly shimmers off the page. If a scene falls flatly, plodding along without that mysterious galvanic element, you can merely cut a paragraph or two, add three lines of dialogue, throw in a dash of weather, give it a smell (smell is really important and often overlooked in novels) and – le voilà – GORDON’S ALIVE.

Obviously you have to read that last part in a Brian Blessed voice for it to make any sense.

Anyway, once I realised this, I dashed off with the smoothing iron and did all my work in about ten minutes so I now can sneakily treat myself to the 2.45 at Fontwell, which is very cheering.

There are days when I plug away, putting in hours and hours and achieving nothing. And then there are bright, light, dancing days, when I suddenly get the point, and do what needs to be done in double-quick time and sit back with a sense of flushed triumph. How did that happen? I ask myself.

Nobody knows. Writing, like the thoroughbred, contains an insoluble mystery. One can learn it and practice it and codify it and get better at it, but there is a part of it which bears no explanation. Why do the words suddenly fall into the head, as if they have been sent? Where do they come from? Why are there days when everything is rotten and gone to hell, and days when everything works like a magic trick?

Nobody knows.

I do not know why my red mare will trot around me in perfect circles, as collected as a dressage horse, attached to no rope, responding sweetly to the merest body language. I’ve studied herd behaviour and learnt profound methods from the Australian horseman whose wisdom I follow, but I still don’t really know why she will do that. It still feels like a mystery and miracle.

This morning, after a display on the ground good enough to win gold medals, she stood quietly as I got on, did her lateral flexion as sweetly as if she had been secretly taking a course in the night, and walked out into the Scottish fields, as contained and poised as an ambassadress. She did perfect transitions from voice only. Usually, I cheat a bit, giving her a little cue from seat or legs. Trust her, I thought. She knows. So I really did just do one click for trot, and said walk for walk, and did not move my body or my hands at all, and there was the pin-sharp response, as light as air, as accurate as geometry, as beautiful as dreams.

I don’t know when anything has made me so happy. It was a deep, spreading delight, a flinging disbelief, a wild joy. How do you thank a horse, I wondered, for such gifts? She got strokes and love and scratches on her withers and extra breakfast, but I’ll never really be able to thank her in a way she can understand.

Accept the mystery, I thought.

I thought: I really am turning into an old hippy at heart.

I am a rationalist, and I like reasons for things. I like digging out the bones and working things out and having some good logic on which to rest my feet. But in the two things I love the most, in writing and in horsing, there is an essential mystery and I must let that be. Perhaps it is in that mystery that the joy lies.


Today’s pictures:

Just time for one, no prizes for guessing what it is. I’ve been hopeless about pictures lately, but I’m busy and pressed and in the crowded days something always has to give, and at the moment it is the camera. Very sorry about that.

26 Nov 1


  1. And maybe that is the magic key to everything: accept the mystery.

  2. I do love when you share anything to do with your writing. It's the gift that keeps on giving!
    A perfect picture of a perfectly beautiful girl - no mystery there. :)

    And, I did leave a comment yesterday that the internet must have eaten. It was a bit long so maybe that was why…

  3. I am glad I read this post today, because it touched on two things I've been pondering lately. I've finished a novel, and am suddenly shy about going back and polishing it. I know things need to be tweaked, but am terrified of messing up the story and not being able to fix it again. Your advice has calmed me down a bit.

    The second thing is Brian Blessed. This is the time of year I always re-read "Hamlet" and watch Kenneth Branagh's amazing movie. Brian Blessed's ghost of Hamlet's father always brings tears to my eyes. No one else could have done that part like he did. What a beautiful man, what a powerful actor.


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