An interesting game has popped up on Facebook, it involves revealing seven things about yourself that others don’t know and then inviting two of your friends to do the same. I often feel uncomfortable being ‘nominated’ to take part in something and even more seat shifting goes on if I’m asked to nominate others. This is different. It doesn’t involve buckets of iced water or any kind of favourite (a concept I still haven’t mastered but that’s for another time). It’s for fun, or so I believe, and it’s fascinating. Over the last week I’ve discovered a range of intriguing, funny or just plain bonkers facts about friends, most of which I assume to be true but even if not, who cares? And there’s the nub.
And so to my Longer Piece of Writing (LPoW) for which progress has been slow (read non-existent) of late. I’m stuck on a technicality. Is what I’m writing fiction or non? I’m drawing heavily on my recent experience on the transplant list (non) but embellishing and exaggerating, with some imagining and inventing, to give the story pace and fill in some gaps (fiction). Yet it still doesn’t seem honest to call it fiction. Yes, I know the ‘write what you know’ adage but when does some something drawn so heavily on personal experience stop being memoir and become fiction? And just how much of myself am I comfortable giving – the facts but what of the feelings? More importantly, does anyone care? Like the seven facts, does it really matter what’s true and what isn’t as long as it’s a good story? Does my LPoW need to be defined along such lines? Apparently, yes. And no.
Several articles and the literary agent who spoke to my class during the MLitt, suggest that in order to get published you need to know which genre (pigeon-hole) your work fits into – it matters whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. This not only makes it simpler for your agent (or you) to pitch to publishers but also helps you to know your audience, who you’re writing for. This makes sense, I acknowledge, from a marketing point-of-view but not necessarily from an artistic (excuse the pretention) perspective. If everyone wrote to fit-in how would literature advance (and no I’m not suggesting my writing is either ground-breaking or boundary-pushing – to be honest, I don’t know what it is yet)? And if I did set out knowing with an idea of who I was writing for, wouldn’t this have the danger of influencing how my story might unravel? How is it even possible to know my audience when I don’t know what kind of audience I am? Sure, I have preferences (William Trevor and other short story writers are right up there), as, I’m sure, does everyone but I’m also open to all sorts of writing.
These are the questions that have been fighting for airspace in my head. I grant you they’re neither sophisticated nor fully formed but they’re troubling.
I was reassured by a recent conversation recounted to me by Mr D: he’d been speaking to the director of a Scottish publisher who had just signed an author not on genre or because her work fit neatly into a marketing category – her novel was ‘part fiction, part memoir, part novel, part short story collection’ – but because it was beautifully written, well-crafted and professionally presented.
I don’t know if other writers consider how their work will be marketed and to whom. Maybe some do. All I know is that I feel most myself when I write; it frees me, calms me, makes me care less about things that matter least. As for whether it will be published, it would be great if it were but it isn’t my main motivation – perhaps that’s why I’m still an amateur. I bumped into a well-known writer yesterday in Glasgow (well actually Mr D knows her so it wasn’t as random as the start of the sentence suggests); she asked if I wrote and I said I did but as an amateur. A brief exchange as to whether all writers are amateurs followed, after all, the word derives from the Latin amator meaning lover, something I had forgotten. I liked that idea. All amateurs. It’s enough to inspire me back to my desk.
At the end of the day, the thing that really matters, and which I’ve been avoiding so far, is that the LPoW needs to be written, not just in my head (where, believe me, it’s a masterpiece) but on paper or my laptop or a bus shelter (ok maybe not the latter) but somewhere and soon. Otherwise it’s just talk or worse bluster.
Long, short, fiction or not? Perhaps I’ll just write it and see.
PS: As for my seven facts, I didn’t reveal that my big ambition is to be invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs – perhaps if I get my book written?!