14 July 2010: Jeremy Latimer and the Joys of Writing
Well – here is my first journal entry, and for the first time, I have no idea of what I want to write.
Oh, the joys of writing!
The whole experience has been a bit of a whirlwind affair, and the prospect of having a ‘completion date’ is daunting. It’s funny to think that I have dreamed of this experience all my life – and now that the opportunity is a reality … I am terrified.
I have had good feedback from my mentor, and I know her ideas and direction will strengthen my story, but I am still in awe of the whole idea, and my fellow writers – where will we be come late December?
What will the reading public think?
Here is a taster of the revised version of my draft:
‘The wind-swept sands of the lonely desert caked the bloodied sword – its notched steely blade shimmered in the blistering midday sun, clutched in the grip of a masked warrior. Dressed in splendid silk-robes, the boy was barely in his teens, yet destiny had brought him to the edge of the oasis, where he faced his greatest rival. Standing opposite the boy was a dark assassin of immense size – covered from head to toe in black fabric that clung to his brawny frame to reveal a hardened physique – the enemy was none other than the “Scorpion Monk”.’
Yes – my mentor approved of the opening lines, and my ego came alive – but it is still early days, and the workload continues to mount, but the joy of writing never truly fades – it just changes direction from time to time.
Well – there truly is no rest for the wicked, and new ideas and possibilities are swirling madly about my head, waiting to be written and revised.
Until I write again …
8 August 2010: How Jekyll and Hyde Help Refine Writing
I am experiencing the dual identities of writing – which I affectionately think of as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – two different personalities sharing the one body. I refer to writing for pleasure – a sudden rush of great ideas in a story that lives and breathes as it passes from your imagination to the page, and the editing stage – the realisation your text is riddled with cliché and characters are short on personality – that some ideas will die horribly, to be removed from the document forever.
I was always aware of the schism but never fully understood the eternal struggle of keeping both egos on a tight leash. Both characters are essential to completing my project, but they compete for attention, and however hard I try, I always favour one over the other – no matter that both personalities have something beneficial to offer.
I prefer Dr Jekyll – he may appear to be civilised and mannered, spending many years and large amounts of money training to become a doctor so that he can provide a service to the community. However, there must be an underlying madness in one who allows their mind to be subject to experimentation – and such is the way when you start out writing. You have the best intentions to craft an enjoyable book – ideas and words flow forth and your fingers furiously tap the keys, and days pass and pages mount. Yet in your heart, you know your ideas are out there – that deep down you have created a story you can no longer contain – so you develop a formula to help.
You call this formula editing.
It’s at this point we release Mr Hyde – the beast in its truest form. He is free from restraint and cares little for the world you develop – casually destroying ideas going nowhere, and removing characters who add nothing to the storyline. Yes, he appears uncontrolled, but he is the only side of your personality that speaks true. Very few people care for Mr Hyde, but it’s only his hideous appearance that creates the fear – how he reacts essentially distils bold ideas back to their purest form.
In essence, we should really fear Dr Jekyll, knowing that what appears on the outside is merely a shell that houses a disturbingly twisted and unrefined story.
Still, I know which friend I will be calling when a good story pops in my head … Am I wrong?
Until I write again …
9 September 2010: Suiting the Taste of a Target Audience
We are nearing the halfway mark of our journey, and I have just completed the manuscript in its rawest form – the unformed clay if you will.
My mentor has allowed the following week to go over this first draft and begin the editing process, so I am a bundle of nerves. Even now, I am finding some of its words distracting and some themes underdeveloped, but I wonder if anyone else would feel what I feel when they read the book.
Would Michelangelo find fault in the Sistine Chapel? Probably … but could you? This is the lonely and painful art of writing – and with it comes an age-old problem – taste.
I have written my book with a target audience in mind and the dream of attracting people who normally wouldn’t read that particular type of novel, but books are an acquired taste – what reads well for some does not often read well for others. There will be detractors of your work and fans alike.
I had dinner with friends the other night, followed by a glass of wine. I commented on its taste and how much I enjoyed its flavour, but one friend told me that it was too sweet, and another said it had a strong taste of blueberry.
I swirled the wine about in the glass and asked myself, ‘What do I know about wine?’ and the honest answer was – nothing. I did not find it overly sweet, and I certainly could not detect the blueberry – but I was adamant about one thing – I certainly enjoyed the glass and quickly poured myself another to prove the point.
It is the same with books. I know as much about wine as I do books – all I know is what I prefer. No matter how much a book is recommended, there will always be a polarisation amongst its readers. There are those who rave about Treasure Island … and there are those who, like me, have not got past the first chapter.
Like wine – given time we will discover if my book fulfils the desire of my intended audience – I only need to bottle it. When the cork is popped, I have to be satisfied in my work.
6 October 2010: All Work and No Play …
Oh no – it’s The Shining – I swear …
I am sitting in my little office and the door is closed, but I hear children making noises, dogs barking, cars passing by and a party going on next door. With so many little distractions, I can’t get a single word out of my head and onto the page.
I run a hand over my face and head – I haven’t shaved in days, and my hair is long and messy, and I am eating irregularly … I am not feeling myself.
The sun has set, and my computer is the only source of light and warmth. I’m hunched over the monitor like a man caught in a blizzard, struggling to survive the fierce elements. A line of dialogue suddenly sparks my imagination, and I return to my seat, crack my knuckles and begin typing – but the words do not fit the book: I realise I have written out a shopping list. WHY?
I have been alone too long – this office is definitely too small – maybe the walls are closing in. I make my way to the door. The screen monitor blackens, and the room becomes dark. My fire is dying – I can’t let that happen. I rush over to shake the mouse furiously and pray that it wasn’t a power cut. The screen brightens and heat returns, and the tower begins to whir and hum, playing that monotone song I find so damned intrusive … WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM …
I strike the save icon – twice to ensure I have done it right – a third time to be absolutely positive my document is safe. I close the document and hold my breath – I open it and – YES! – nothing has changed.
But wasn’t that the problem to begin with?
Someone knocks at my door, but I ignore it. I pretend I’m not here. They inform me that tea is ready, but I am not hungry … I only want to get off this page and move onto the next, but I am all out of words. I grab my pad and paper and jot down a list of ideas – but at a glance I realise I have written out that stupid shopping list again. WHY?
My coffee is half-finished and cold – how did that happen? What time is it? I feel like a cigarette – but I don’t smoke … and that stupid page is still up on the screen, teasing me that it will never leave until I change that one line of dialogue that slows the pace of the story. But maybe I don’t want to change it – maybe I like it … but it reads funny … HA! HA! HA! No – not that kind of funny, but a shopping list kind of funny – a sad kind of funny …
WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM … I hate that song now. I shut the computer down and rub my tired eyes. It’s time to return to reality.
I struggle to walk away, but the door opens and the smell of food arouses my appetite, and my son rushes up to hug me, and my wife greets me with a warm smile and asks how my project is going.
I turn and smile and reply ‘We need to get laundry powder and cornflakes.’
16 November 2010: Legacies and Legends
Well, this is truly the beginning of the end of the beginning.
As December draws near, I look at my body of work, and I am feeling quite sad – not for having the opportunity to complete my work under the guidance of professionals, but for the fact that I wanted to accomplish so much more in this time.
I set out on my creative journey when I was barely in primary school. My older brothers would read lots of books and comics and draw amazing pictures, and it was from there that I began to write and draw.
I wish I had kept some of my earlier work – although I’m sure I’d be cringing at the crudity of my craft – but every journey has a first step.
What I never anticipated was taking another million steps from there and still facing uncertainty. I thought a smaller, more unique country would allow better opportunities to realise my dreams, but it has been a struggle fraught with ignorance on my part. When you’re younger, you tend to wait for the world to come to you – for publishers to burst through your door, wanting to sign you up because you’re so damned special – and when that fails to happen you begin to doorknock. You don’t knock on everyone’s door – you kind of test the waters by dipping a toe – and when that first frosty reception alarms and frightens you, you withdraw from the water’s edge and bide your time.
So I’ve been sitting at the water’s edge, casting stones, and refining my work, but I should have been more aggressive and personal with my work. I can say that I have seen some of my ideas appear in other people’s work – not because they stole them, but because ideas are continually floating through the air and are plucked and harvested by gifted people with a flair for creativity and a vision to achieve.
I’ve been sitting by the water’s edge too long.
I am part-Māori, part-Croatian, part-European – but if you look at me, you would definitely say I am a Māori – and when people ask where I am from, I say Pamapuria – not Scotland, Wales or Croatia. I am not rejecting that side – I truly embrace my unique heritage – but when I look in the mirror, I see Māori, and when I step out into the world people treat me as Māori.
As a Māori, I have always felt like I needed to prove myself – like the world was measuring me up and waving the bigger stick. This was not bred into me by my parents. This was an internal mechanism that was triggered by years of watching the news and watching social events unfold. But I have always had a profound sense of pride in my history and wanted to do more to lift my wavering spirit in the face of mounting statistics that told the nation Māori had higher levels of unemployment and less chance of success in the business world.
Sure, my mother and father provided for me as I provide for my children now, but I have always desired to achieve beyond everyday success – the kind of success I label ‘frequent-normalcy’ – going to work, buying a house, putting food on the table and clothes on our backs. We don’t celebrate that enough – but I desire more.
When I was home and visiting the local cemetery, I asked my father about a headstone that bore our family name. He said it was a great-uncle of his but he could not tell me any more. I realised at that moment that for all the years this man had spent on this earth – whether good or bad – his experiences are lost for all time. He had become a chunk of stone propped up in the ground with hardly a memory to carry him on into the future.
Was this to be my fate – to be remembered for a generation or two and then fade into obscurity? To become a cold block of marble with faded letters?
We might mention some folk with fond memory – whilst others live on in books and history – but most will live in this life and fade from the world without leaving a trace.
Not me – I want to be remembered long after my great-grandchildren join me in the next life, and I want to be remembered as someone who inspired others to do the same. For all our big talk and backslapping in admiration of our cultural identity, we have barely scratched the surface of what we can achieve as a people.
I can’t sit at the water’s edge and watch while others have all the fun – I’m going to jump in and get wet.
29 April 2011: ‘So Long and Goodbye?’
Well, this is so long and goodbye as I bow out of the Māori Literature Trust and Pikihuia competition.
It is not without regret that I have been advised that my manuscripts have failed to attract attention amidst the crazy competitive world of publishing.
I have ascended the mountain, sustained some minor injuries, celebrated as we reached the top, admired the views but failed to find somewhere to place my flag.
Am I disheartened? Probably, but I am not the fiery young individual I once was – ready to fight the world at any given chance.
No – time mellowed that fire a long time ago.
But the experience has had its moments – such as reading praise for one of my manuscripts from Patricia Grace herself. I remained enthusiastic during my mentorship under Huia Publishers, doing my best to remain creative and professional, but definitely struggled towards the end. I wryly expressed to my mentor that if I was fortunate enough to be published with this particular title I would probably cry because I was so tired.
Prophetic words indeed as I am now spared the heartache of one kind only to face another less appealing prospect.
Where do I go from here?
I really honestly don’t know. I’m a lost sheep in the wilderness.
I had leaned on HUIA so much to guide me to the bitter end … and now that the final decision has been made I only hope that the powers-that-be release me with the same enthusiasm with which they received this unknown Māori boy from Glen Innes – and not some text saying so long and goodbye.
But for now – so long and goodbye.