Saturday, 27 August 2011

What art means to me

York Minster

I came across something in my daily trawl through the net this week while looking for more stuff that feeds this almost frightening obsession of mine. (The journey to getting published is an arduous one, and I crave information of all kinds.) This week I discovered Claire King, who, after a few months of waiting for a response from her query letters, found an agent (Annette Green) who liked her book, and will have her debut novel, The Night Rainbow, published by Bloomsbury in the spring of 2013. Her blog, here, is true inspiration: one person's goal put splat on the internet in the form of a blog, and you can see along the way from beginning to write her novel, to editing and starting to send out query letters, to The Call. The blog post I stumbled upon first was this one.

Yesterday I found on there something about art itself that revived my sense of the word art. In my creative writing classes at Ball State University and my literature classes at the University of Leeds, I found that for me to actually write is as difficult as passing a kidney stone. For my classmates, though, it was easier - my peers seemed to have no problems etching a picture in words on paper. I felt like maybe I had this need to create but I was slower with it, not as sharp on the first draft. Not as adept as my friends and fellow scribblers. What I found was so good, I thought it was worth repeating.  So to borrow a snippet from Claire King's blog:

"In my Metazen Interview this summer (King says in her blog) I described writing a novel as like building a house: 'It has depth and height and layers and elements you can’t see but that have to be there to make water come out of the tap and the fridge stay cold enough to chill the wine…Drafts and foundations, plans and frameworks and structure and aesthetics and furniture and layers and layers of everything. It’s exhausting. But when it’s done people will just say – Nice house, Claire.'

But on reflection, a house is not the metaphor I’m aiming for. I want to create something that will make people catch their breath. Evoke an emotional response. Something like a cathedral. And with writing as with architecture, having that vision is not enough. You have to decide to build it, with all the application and sacrifice that entails.

I do think that writing should be hard. That you should push yourself to make it the best you can, or else why bother? Not just writing in fact. Life. I am reminded of a quote from Matt Taylor, an architect, designer, inventor, teacher, facilitator, sailor and entrepreneur who inspires me.

You cannot have uncommon results by common means. Nature does not allow it. Only the too socialized believe they can have excellence and their comfort. Only the dull confuse the tools of building with the act of building. The insecure wants his rules. Only a coward wants control. Life must be lived, not managed.
Blinded by fear and ambition and stale used up rules, we battle our way through embittered days. We take all the joy out of our work. We succumb to accountancy. And, we destroy our lives and our planet. Heartless, joyless we become killers. We kill the Human Spirit, and in doing so, kill everything else.
… To build is to reveal your soul. To build is to engage, to act, to touch, to love. If you want a Cathedral you have to be a Cathedral builder. You have to stand in bright light and be counted. You cannot hide in mists of mediocrity and safety – of normalcy. You cannot accept limits, yours or anybody’s, as mandated, given, immutable…
A Cathedral is not ordinary and it cannot be had by ordinary means. I have one question to ask of you: Why? Why would you ever build anything less than a Cathedral?

Someone recently said to me '…yes you don’t have any heating in your house yet, but you live in France and you have a lovely husband and lovely children and work that you enjoy and now you’ve written a book and just imagine soon you could be a published author. You’re so lucky.'

I felt, at that moment, that they had walked into my half-built cathedral and were admiring its beauty, while I’m still aching a little from the effort of hoiking lumps of stone about and thinking it would be good to get a roof on sometime soon."

York ruins - magnificence still there for people to see.

Good words, Claire. Sometimes we lose sight of what we are doing. We go through the motions but we forget why. This is to remind you: creating is so hard, but when it's there, man, it's worth it.


  1. I've stumbled across your blog, and look, there's me! Thank you for your kind words. Hope I'll catch up with you in Doncaster or thereabouts next February when The Night Rainbow launches. I'm from your neck of the woods myself...

    1. Wow, Claire, how wonderful for you to grace my blog with your comment! You have no idea how much your literary journey has inspired me. (I had no idea until today that you are from Mexborough, and to think I go past there every day on my way to work. It's a small world, after all.) I can't wait to hopefully meet you for your book launch and get a signed copy! From the overwhelmingly positive response you received, The Night Rainbow must be a powerful read - I can't wait to get my hands on it. The book cover is beautiful. -V