Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 8 July 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Three dialogues on literature

Number Three: Nigel P. Bird and Pablo D'Stair

[Part 2]

NOTE: This dialogue is presented over the next four weeks in a style of "progressive fragments." The exact order of inquiry and response as presented is not the order of inquiry and response as it happened between the two dialogue partners. Therefore, 'Statements' and 'Responses' from one week may not be directly addressed by both parties until subsequent weeks. It is the hope of both parties that the spaces between these responses allow readers the time and opportunity to more fully and experientially engage with the propositions, for themselves, rather than looking at the dialogue as a closed circuit.

PABLO D'STAIR: As I've said elsewhere, maybe even to other participants in this series, when I first started writing, every idea that came to me, it always felt I was thinking up what I termed a "thriller." Everything originated in that way, all stories and techniques revolved around it. Yet, nothing I wrote-with the exception of one thing-read the least bit like a thriller. The first...two dozen novels I wrote, built though they may have been from a crime/thriller germ, materialized as genre-less literature.

I couldn't have been happier, though.

It was a very concerted effort toward actually writing things that "told a story" as in "told a story a reader would be following, would be reading the things for." And even then, the story was the least interesting part to me, just a kind of necessity toward "getting an audience" (because for the majority of my writing life I never sought one) and I felt, and feel, torn in how I respond.

On the one hand, I dig that people are reading and it's great if they like it. But I found an enormous gulf in even readers who like my writing "liking" what is important about it to me. It's disquieting, at times, and I fear it influences in ways art shouldn't be influenced.

I supposed I bring this up having to do your remarks of your earlier writing and progression to a sort of comfort with a writing where people seemed to like it more. I wonder, not as an interrogation just a genuine wonder, if the understanding you more and more feel of what you are doing is an understanding of what you, yourself, truly desire to express, or more an understanding of how to work within a style people are familiar with and so respond to with more ease? Does that make sense? Do you see your writing and understand yourself in it more? Or do you more understand the form and how to express "it" first, "yourself" second?

NIGEL BIRD: I think that you're right.

My ability to express myself has improved. The more confident I've become, the less I've been held back by nervous tension.

Learning can't take place under stress. In the classroom, a child who is in fear will be in a state of 'reptilian brain' to maximise the 'fight or flight' response. I guess that's been the same with my writing. I know that shyness and lack of self-confidence have held me back in so many different areas, so to be able to do one thing unhindered is fantastic.

The confidence involves a couple of factors.

First of all, it means I can trust my sub-conscious to take me to the right places. I am more relaxed when following a character's desires than I was in the beginning and I'm happier to let go of the reins.

The other thing is I've progressed in terms of my skills. I'm just a better writer when it comes down to nuts and bolts such as point of view, character, sentences I'm happy with, dialogue, flow etc.

I don't think I understand myself in it any better. I'm not sure where I'd fit in there.


NB: It's a balance. Partly the ideas drive themselves along. When it comes to thinking about how a sentence works or sounds, then it's about what I like and what someone else will go with.

There's no point spitting into the wind, you know?

If there's a message in there or simply a story to tell, it must be read/heard.

Imagine a political message. It's a good message. You want it to be understood, it needs to be palatable in the first instance so that people will pay attention. Blow up a school, you're likely to make people enraged. Write letters and march, Tweet and get yourself on the news and you'll only annoy the people who always get annoyed by such things - the rest will at least listen to what you have to say.

Fiction, art, ideas all come within a framework of understanding, grow from the vocabulary of what came before and what is going on at the same time. The boundaries within that context can be pushed as far as anyone wants; break through the elastic band and you'll be out there on your own on the lunatic fringe (and all power to you).

PD: I hear similar things a lot-this frame work, this knowing what came before and what's up now.

But, how far truly can this extend?

There's no need, even to have new, exciting, riveting fiction produced, for writers to study up, right? As though a person with life experiences, left to their own expressive devices, will be stumped for what to say or how they want to say it?

And there is such variety in the world, sometimes I think that for everything that gets a little foothold, so much other stuff is caught in the wake, knocked out into what you term the "lunatic fringe" without being lunatic at all.

What is 'what's going on?' What's going on on your block? On your street?

And as for history: it's boundless and it contains, really, little readily available record of anything but a slice so thin of who was writing it's hardly, logically, worth calling History.

This touches on your early statement, which I took to be a kind of 'call for fitting in' (not "conforming" not like that) a kind of "Okay, first let me see what everyone is up to, then let me assess whether my ideas gel with them, then let me, so as not to disturb the natives, take on their affects and ideology' when, logically, shouldn't they be thinking and trying to do the same with you and your thing? If you're different from them, it reinforces that for all their study, they overlooked you and probably a lot more, not that you are "foreign" or "fringe," don't you think?

NB: History. So, a million people write books this year and in 100 years maybe five will be talked about. In 500 years, maybe a couple of those will be considered as part of history. That leaves almost the entirety of other work lost. That's what history is - people living and dying and things they had dying with them.

The lunatic fringe is defined by the centre. It doesn't mean much other than to label work that is outside of the mainstream and therefore unlikely to be well-known. In the end, it will suffer the same fate as the rest and get lost when those who know it go.

I want my work to be read. It doesn't have to be palatable to all, but to some. The people I'd like to learn from and who I'd like to emulate don't have big readerships (which is crazy to my mind, obviously); they didn't entirely conform and I guess they couldn't, which is what I like about them.

I'd like my work to be accepted by those I admire. I'd like to take what's good about their ideas and add my own influences and thoughts to create something new and mine. It may not shake the world, but it will be my creation and my art and the world will be a better place for it being there.

Nobody has created anything so amazingly new without standing on someone else's shoulders that would be worth mentioning. We all build on what came before - assimilation, digestion and creation.

PD: I really feel that it so goes without saying that nobody can create without influence that when it is said it seems a sidestep. Ha ha, not meant in an accusatory way, but it does a bit.

That is, to me, yes the integral parts of what creation is-assimilation, digestion, expression of self-equals creation, certainly artistic creation. I've never honestly encountered anyone who feels they created in a vacuum, so the point that no one can create in a vacuum is rather moot.

I say this to move to this view of history you express, ticking off hundreds of years and a concern for posterity. I will not go into ins-and-outs of case studies-writings and writers that lay unknown or even detested during their lifetime, now considered eternal, holy, absolute essential expressions of humanity-but I had to mention it there for context.

It's illusory, isn't it, that any art "shakes the world"-that's just something we say in admiration. Truly, even more is true than what you say of the terminal nature of art. I say that even, theoretically, if one of the authors we hold essential had never written, their entire body of work had been lost, what? We'd know another author, know another artist, find one of these infinite meanings and expressions that are, yes, the ground on which the few things that gain posterity rest on.

Because I don't, and know no one else who, truly, in dead earnest, thinks that posterity exists because of importance or quality. No. It's absurd.

And I love your baseline existential bent in art, I feel the same, so wonder how deep your feelings of wanting to be admired by the folks you admire go. What I mean is-do you say you want to be admired in the sense of "I wrote just exactly what I wanted to write and it would be swell if someone I admired happened to like it" or do you mean more "I want to write something, based on thoughts about or toward the people I admire that I feel they will admire because of their views, their opinions?"

In simpler words: is it more important to you, cards on the table, that you love what you write or that people you admire love what you write? No dodging around it, saying it has to be one or the other.

NB: I'm in the former camp, the 'I wrote just exactly what I wanted to write and it would be swell if someone I admired happened to like it' camp, or at least that would be my perfect resting place.

I'm thinking as I read the question about generations.

We live through cycles quite naturally, it seems. The feeling that as teens we're at the sharp edge of something new and the sense that it will change things forever. For those affected, it really does. It's new because it's the first (the only) time a person can be there. It's going to change things because it happened.

When I was growing up, punk was in vogue. It shaped my own teenage years that came beyond 1977. Did I say this already? And now you'll hear The Clash at a wedding and all the straight folk are dancing to it.

They rarely seem to dance to The Slits or The Birthday Party or the Swell Maps or Wire or The Membranes or The Jesus And Mary Chain though, because they don't play it; they don't play it because these bands didn't make the osmotic journey through the membrane of time into the solution of mainstream. I'd like my books to be like 'You Trip Me Up', noise and joy and love and pure as hell.



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