The plan was that short-story writer and novelist, mentor, friend and all-round good egg, Vanessa Gebbie would visit on April the First and talk about making a fool of herself. Only it was me who ended up with egg on my face when a sudden engagement with a hospital bed threw a big, fat spanner in the works
So life makes fools of us all. So without further ado, let's turn back the clock to April Fool's Day. Over to you, Vanessa. The floor is yours.
Happy April 1st, April Fool’s Day, Poisson d’Avril - and that’s where I run out of languages, unless - Ffwl Ebrill! Had to have it in Welsh, didn’t we?
Apparently, the first mention of April 1st being Fool’s Day is in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales - and I liked finding that out - as this is the blog tour to celebrate the paperback publication of The Coward’s Tale, about which Sally has been so amazingly generous already on this blog. (The elephant blushes a fetching shade of pink.) As you know, the novel is in part made up of a series of Tales, as per Chaucer. I am in excellent company.
But I do not want to just blather on about that book, here, today—this tour has many stops where I do that, so I thought I’d do something different.
I’d like to talk direct to newer writers who might be reading this, if I may. What I want to say is this: to write, to write well, to write interesting, original stuff—we have to allow ourselves to feel foolish, and not stop and try to return to a safer place. We have to experiment, try out all sorts of stuff we’d not write if our other halves were watching, or in my case, the ghosts of my parents...love them though I did, and still do even though they are gone.
There’s an imp that protects us when we write. You read about him in all sorts of how-to-write books: he’s the one who tries to stop you being foolish, making a twit of yourself, suggests you go back to safer and less dangerous ground if you stray. You know the feeling—your neck prickles, suddenly the direction of the story feels awkward, you are conscious of perhaps showing yourself up—and it’s easier to go and make a cuppa and a slice of toast, and forget it. How often have I felt that?!
When does this happen with this writer? Oh, any scenes with sex somewhere nearby, definitely. I am the least likely writer of erotica/erotic scenes on the planet, I assure you. But in The Coward’s Tale there are a few of those—scenes where characters are really longing for someone they want, or scenes where a couple are exploring each other, or a character is watching someone undressing ... (The first might be in ‘The Window-Cleaner’s Tale’. The second and third, in ‘The Piano Tuner’s Tale’.) And yes, there is what is called unkindly, a penetrative sex scene. Oh dear, and me an old bat too.
Writing those scenes did not come easily to this writer. I know how very difficult it is to write good sex - for heavens sake, there are enough laughs surrounding the Bad Sex Awards each year. (Won last year by DavidGuterson. Hereis an excerpt)
And when I was writing all that lot for The Coward, believe me, I had this imp sitting on my shoulder saying ‘for goodness sake, V, just concentrate on describing the furniture, the curtains, or gloss over what’s happening.’
NO! I did that when I wrote my first novel. Ahem.
‘Your first novel?’
Aye Sally. I wrote ‘Joe’ at fourteen years of age. It was a very steamy novel, and was all of a school exercise book in length (small writing). Every single chapter ended with the eponymous hero having sex with someone. Yes. (Are you cringing yet? Yes, I can feel it from here.) Trouble was, I was such an innocent, I had absolutely no idea what actually did happen. Mechanics and things. The ins and outs. (Sorry). Thus, in my first novel, each chapter ended with the immortal words, ‘And they did what God bade them.’ There was a helluva lot of ‘badeing’ going on, that’s all I can say. And nope, it will never see the light of day...with good reason.
So, how to approach desire, for example, in The Coward’s Tale, in which a steamy ‘this goes here and that goes there with a bit of help’ sex scene would have been completely out of place?
In another blog tour stop, I was asked how you create realistic emotion, in a way that the reader feels it too. The only answer I have is that you have to be absolutely honest when you write. Readers are highly perceptive; they will catch you out if they know you are faking, just as much as your partner will. (See, too much information, I know...) But, I am a human personage. We all know what it feels like to really want someone. And so, when I needed to transfer those feelings to the piano tuner, or the window-cleaner, I had a large glass of red wine, ignored the helpful imp, and let my imagination loose.
The window-cleaner’s scenes were easier, funnily enough. He wants a bloke, so that was not hard for me to imagine. The piano tuner wants a woman—so that took a leap in the dark—but, actually, not that far sideways. My only objective was that the scenes had to be beautiful. Not cringeworthy...
Did I succeed? I hope so - but cringing is in the eye of the beholder, or summat.
From ‘The Coward’s Tale’ - the section entitled The Piano-Tuner’s Tale.
Background: Piano-tuner Nathan Bartholomew, a bachelor lodger at The Cat Public House, has been for a walk after closing time. The publican’s wife went up to bed before he left. On his way out Nathan passed Matty Harris, Deputy Manager of the Savings Bank, kneeling on the pavement opposite the pub, doing up a shoelace.
After a while he turns to go back to The Cat. But when he gets to the end of the street he stops, for there on the pavement, kneeling still, but not for a shoelace, is Matty Harris the Deputy Manager of the Savings Bank, gazing at The Cat as though it held the answer to every question in the world.
Up in a window with only a net drawn across, a woman is moving against the light like a shadow caught in a box. Her skin is smooth, her hair dark, catching the light then losing it. Dancing to no music they can hear in the street, naked as a baby. Graceful, twisting her fingers in her hair, lifting it and letting it fall back to her shoulders. She sways and turns, her skin heavy and glowing in the streetlights, then she pauses, shadows playing on her dark places.
Two men watching from the street, one kneeling, the other not. The one seeing her every move and wondering what it would be like to put his hand just there, for his wife has never danced like that in all the years...and the other hearing sounds in his head. The cry of a violin when she raises her arms, and the moan of an oboe when she sways and turns her face away. And when she lifts her breasts, both men hear different drumbeats tapping against the night.
Thank you for letting me perch, Sally.
And one final thing - it is
Year of the Short Story. I don’t have a collection of shorts out with them, but
my contribution is to read and record what I think is one of the most powerful
short stories ever written. ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargeant Hall, first
published I believe in 1960. Thanks to the wonderful Steve Wasserman of ‘Read
me Somothing You Love’, here it is - interspersed with a bit of natter - in two
sections, fuelled by Steve’s kind gift of biccies!. It is long...http://readmesomethingyoulove.com/?cat=110