|Fireworks at Beverley Westwood Display, November 5th 2010|
I've wanted to write something about this for a while, but not really known how to shape it. I worry sometimes that this blog strays too whimsically into the dusty realms of my mind, but then I guess that's what a blog is for. This is a writing blog and writing, as we well know, is not just about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard...). Writing is about perception, about the way you see the world, and observing the little things that make depictions of characters more believable and give them depth. It's about thinking. It's about daydreaming, and capturing the little fluttering imaginings that wander through the mind, either about real life and real people, or about imagined worlds and characters.
For a long time, when I first thought I might try my hand at a novel, I had this idea that the point of writing was to present idealism. Reading is escapism, as is watching a film. We don't sit down with a book so we can read about people screwing up their lives and getting bored at school, college, work or whatever. We sit down to read about characters that 'carry us away'. This is possibly because of my poetry-rooted start in writing life - my first attempts at prose writing were overly descriptive and long-winded with little dialogue, only characters' inner monologues.
Over the years, however, my opinions have changed, as has my writing style. I think it may have been Film Studies that showed me the importance of dialogue, and now I'm a nerd for it. But, more importantly, I no longer shun realism. I think there's no "Versus" about it. Idealism isn't necessarily unreachable abstract concepts that we daydream about, idealism is the truth, depth and beauty we see in the world around us. It's about seeing something pure and thinking, I want more of that.
Of course, often this goes wrong when people reach for things that aren't pure at all, but shroud themselves in false beauty or false happiness.
Realism is about recognising the truth of how the world really is, observing the things that we experience. Idealism is taking that and saying, "What is pure about this?"
One of the things I've been editing recently is the scene where Ryan first meets Toby. I think I ought to put up an at-a-glance Character Reference box or something, because I talk about them so much and it's tedious having to explain who's who all the time. Ryan and Lauren are best friends. Toby is Lauren's eldest, 26 year-old brother. I've been writing some dialogue between the two of them where they are both trying to get to know each other. Toby, to some extent, is checking out this lad that spends so much time with his little sister, and Ryan is trying to impress him. Well, no. Knowing Ryan, that's too strong. He's trying not to screw up and make Toby think he's an idiot.
It's an intense scene, and what I'm trying to get across is that gritty awkwardness of first meeting someone when it's important to you not to screw up. Maybe my experiences show me up as a socially awkward freak, but I think I'm not alone.
I think back to September 2008, so two years ago, when I met Ryan Hunter*. Inevitably, we idealise meeting the people we admire, and I honestly didn't know what to expect. He approached, and I became ridiculously British. Here I am in front of a 22 year-old Rock star from New York, and I offer my hand to shake. Do you know what, I don't care, because I can say that I have shaken the hand of a genius. I remember that as I shook his hand, his sleeve had fallen down over it. Strange the little things you notice. Anyway, I blurted some generic rubbish about how it was a great show, and that I loved his music, and he seemed genuinely grateful. I was with my sister, and she is a far better conversationalist than I, perhaps because she has had a far more interesting life than I have. The two of them were talking about New York and Vermont, and it was about then that I convinced myself that he was going to be my brother in law because they were going to get married. I still maintain that he was taken with her. Heather is a very pretty lady.
His eyes were darting all about the place (when they weren't on Heather), and it looked like his mind was going a million miles a minute. Ryan Hunter is someone I love to listen to when he speaks, whether it was then, in the flesh, on interviews, videos he posts or on his blog, he seems to have a lot of profound insights, and this is where his intense, subtle and emotive writing comes from - his observation and reflection on the world.
My point, I think, somewhere in all of that, was that real experiences made me realise the subtleties of observation. Presenting realism isn't about writing about ordinary events in an ordinary way. Realism is about reflecting on the small things we observe about human nature and social customs and drawing meaning about the way we relate to each other.
* Disclaimer: Ok, so I'm gonna get this in here before anyone can throw accusations. Yes, my main character is called Ryan and has dreadlocks. Yes, one of my favourite songwriters is called Ryan and has dreadlocks. That, my friends, is where the similarities end. This is the absolute truth. This character had been with me for at least three years before I even knew who Ryan Hunter was. When I first saw him onstage and he said that his name was Ryan I full on freaked out. In actuality, the name was taken from someone on a forum I was friends with absolutely years ago.