My reading has reached crisis proportions. Middlemarch, which I started months ago, has been cruelly and endlessly sidelined, though each time I pick it up, I am right back in there, the characters are old friends and I am in happy awe of Eliot’s every, exact word. Grabbing a volume slim enough for handbags and waiting rooms, I also started Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the story source of an opera. For iPad reading on trains, I have Carol Balawyder’s Mourning has Broken, a very moving and fascinating set of essays. Also downloaded months ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which I foolishly started… just to see what it was like. Sandwiched between these, but finished, have been a list of nine books both light and heavyweight and ahead are another five books to read ‘immediately’.
So, I made a resolution, NO NEW BOOKS until all the above are finished, and I MUST carve out some real writing time.
I have just started a ten-afternoon writing course at the wonderful Sainsbury Centre, at the University of East Anglia (UEA). I signed up for this at a low moment when re-reading the final, supposedly fully edited, manuscript of Border Line, and having concluded that I still had everything to learn about writing.
The writing course is attached to the current exhibition of modern and contemporary British painting, Reality. This is a stunning exhibition (no photography allowed), but we have a free run of the exhibition for the ten days of the course. Many paintings have intrigued me, but one by John Keane (website screen grab), has set a story going in my head.
His other work is fascinating too and on his website he says:
I am interested in the process of painting, and I am interested in why human beings want to kill one another for political ends. These two apparently diverse preoccupations I attempt to reconcile by smearing pigment around on canvas in an effort to achieve a result whose success can be measured by how well it disguises the sheer absurdity of the attempt.
And what is the writing course homework? Trawling for great opening lines and writing our own story first lines. I spent a happy and feverish week reading old favourites: Kipling stories (The Maltese Cat, Without Benefit of Clergy, Little Tobrah, The Head of the District etc), and Salinger (For Esmé With Love and Squalor etc), Saint Exupéry (The Little Prince) etc, etc, etc I also opened all my most-loved books, only to find that the majority had nothing dramatic about the opening lines. They were often quite conversational. Though one of my favourites is Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine which opens:
When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.
Is it just me, or are others caught in the same reading maelstrom? How does one extract oneself, brain intact, from such a reading pile-up? (sorry about mixed metaphors.)
I shall go and sweep some leaves and pretend that my list of tricky phone calls to promote Border Line can just as well be tackled next week… I read this and then made myself ring a local newspaper.