Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Apparently, an interregnum is the period between two reigns. In English History, it can refer to the time between Charles I ‘s execution and the arrival of Charles II, whilst we had a Republic (30 January 1649 – 29 May 1660)

Metaphorically, it can mean any suspension of government from the end of one regime to the beginning of another. I rather feel  I am in one… Continue reading

One Writer, Two Masters

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

I’m editing at the moment. Major structural editing – not nice little finicky detailed stuff I can noodle away at for hours but, as Emma Greenwood so succinctly put it, wrestling the plot snake.

For me, it feels like forensics or reconstructive surgery or some seriously messed-up palaeontology. There are all sorts of unattached bits – which bone goes where, is there more than one dinosaur here – oh look, that’s mammalian from another epoch. My first draft is like the scrapings from the bottom of a tar-pit – a jumble of mismatched fragments that some over-enthusiastic amateur assembled into a monstrosity.

Oh – that would be me.

And I do have some help.There are people who can tell me what sort of shape it ought to be. They know the market, know the form. They can help me make my work meet expectations.

But therein lies the rub. What if it’s something new I’ve uncovered? Whose advice to take with a different kind of a tale – and how would I know with so little experience? Could I re-arrange the pieces into something extraordinary? But whatever I do, I don’t want to create a chimaera, a GMO of a story which suits no-one.

I was mulling over this when I came across this generous and honest reply by Joanne Harris to a young man who had not enjoyed her two Rune books. [Do read all of it – it is an object lesson in how to respond on-line]. This is the paragraph which stuck out as if highlighted by the Muse in cerise –

A writer can (and should) only try to please one person at a time. That person is the writer herself – because trying to please anyone else, or modifying what you write for the sake of a real or imagined readership leads, not only to madness, but to dishonest writing. And, whatever else we expect of them, we need writers to be true.

My blood fizzes at that with a thrill made of recognition and anxiety. There’s the peril I may never produce something that someone else wishes to publish. Mrs Sensible says I must produce something marketable. She holds out her phone with the image of someone reading and enjoying my book – it is tagged ‘success’.

And like all true temptations, it is based in truth – that is my definition of doing well.

But as I gaze at that, the Muse wanders away. She is a jealous goddess and wants my undivided attention.

What I want, then, is the wisdom to reshape my work to be the thing it is – only better. I want to listen to advice with discernment, to make changes for the deepest and best of reasons.

I can only have one Mistress.

The Tenth Muse

I am not referring like Plato to Sappho, or Ann Bradstreet – The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America as she was called in the first volume of American poetry, but Chance.

According to the Greeks, the Muses were inspirational beings:

  • Clio, history,
  • Calliope, epic poetry,
  • Euterpe, music,
  • Melpomene, tragedy,
  • Polymnia, sacred song,
  • Terpsichore, choral song and dance.
  • Thalia, bucolic poetry,
  • Urania, astronomy,
  • Erato, erotic poetry
I cribbed this list from Sheila Finnigan’s The Last Of the Muses

Wonderful names and a surprising set of disciplines you need inspiration for. I do have a soft spot for female embodiments of concepts. The thought that ideas can be beautiful and feminine seems both true and powerful.

Though why not male Muses? Perhaps they would be like the daemons in Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights – the opposite gender to the person they enthused?  I wonder what other Muses there might be nowadays.

Chance is the Tenth Muse

Sadly I don’t recall who said that. I think it is a translation – probably Spanish and possibly a Surrealist. I think it was at West Dean that I heard it.

At any rate, for me there is a great dollop of truth in there. Not just that things come together in curious, unexpected ways – but that you must listen to the inner voice telling you so. Now it’s up to to you whether that spirit, anima, genius is a concept or a reality – but whatever your view, tuning into that moment of serendipity is essential for all creators.  As Horace Walpole, originator of the word ‘serendipity’ asserted, an individual needs to be sagacious enough to link together apparently unrelated facts to make a valuable conclusion – whilst in pursuit of something else.

Our current world has so many possibilities for making strange, unexpected and wonderful links between things – and so much distracting us all from doing so.

Just occasionally,I am sufficiently ‘relaxed yet alert’ (David Almond’s phrase) to allow such connections to take place. My writing benefits enormously. But I do have to be on my way, but not anxious and blinkered.

How about you, dear reader? Does the Tenth Muse visit you? Do you discover accidental inspiration on your route to something else?

I’d love to know.