Sunday, January 06, 2008

I shouldn't mince my words

Over on my other blog I'm always going on about the way people read fiction for fact (and how annoying that is for a fiction writer!), but it occurs to me that I once came right up against this issue with one of the stories in Balancing.

It's the first story in the collection, 'Condensed Metaphysics', in which a group of young people out on the town get chatting to some pizza-bar philosophers and discover more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy (to quote the Great One). I have to say that it was indeed inspired by a real-life event: some mates and I had been to a poetry reading and got a bit drunk, and we did end up having some similar conversations with some strangers in a pizza bar, but needless to say - as all writers reading this will know - I elaborated and invented outrageously (both conversations and characters), pulling it all into my own little ready-set-up world of ideas and obsessions (as we fiendish writers will.) Well, I had the idea right away - woke up the morning after fired up with it, sat down and wrote it in a day or so and slammed it off to the London Magazine.

A couple of weeks later a letter came back from the editor Alan Ross. It was very funny, he said, and he'd like to publish it. But what he needed to know: was it fiction or fact (and actually if it was fact he'd be able to publish it a lot quicker, in the reportage section at the back of the mag)? Well, this made me laugh, and I wrote back what I thought was a pretty smart reply: OK, so he'd guessed that something like it had actually happened, but there was no way that it was true to life!

I sat back and waited, expecting the 2-year wait or so that was normal for short stories in the LM. But then the next issue arrived, and there was my story, printed as travel reportage and under the title 'Chinatown' (which was where the story was partly set)!

That'll teach me to be cryptic, eh?


Vanessa Gebbie said...

I love that is one of my favourites in 'Blancing'.

I guess the thing I find hard to deal with in the comments of 'non-writers' is 'where did this come from'?

THEY mean, exactly what you've said, what was the event that sparked the plot.

I answered that question from a writer's perspective in a Q and A session a few months ago, with a ramble about using emotion as ink, and in the case of this piece, using 'betrayal' as ink, and giving the emotion to a character to tell their story.

My careful explanation was met by slack jaws and blank stares.


PS Happy New Year!!.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Happy New Year, Vanessa!

Mm, slack jaws and blank stares... Know the feeling!