Saturday, November 13, 2010

Perhaps the play is not worth the candle - or is it?

Golden boys - 2002
Yesterday I sent a piece of writing to a friend who is a well known and respected author. He was generous with praise and asked if I intended publishing the series I have been working on for the last few years. 

It is significant that he didn't ask if I had considered publishing; his emphasis was on whether or not I 'intended' to. I have no doubt that this subtle difference comes from his experience as a writer of, amongst other things, deeply personal biography.

For through I write about landscape and nature, these are usually a backdrop to the main subject: my relationship with my sons and the sense of wonder they have given me. Another writer friend once described my work as an astonished journey into fatherhood.

But therein lies a problem. For that journey is inevitably a consequence of my own childhood and the fractured relationships I had with my parents - my father in particular. My father is dead, but to publish would inevitably cause hurt to others, my mother especially. I am not, and never have been, the person she thinks I am - and she would not want me to improve her understanding. I have no wish to either.

Shortly after my first son was born I recall Jane saying, your trouble is that you have no reference points; or if you do they are the wrong ones. She was right. It took me years to realise that my sons might love me back. And when they did, that simple fact has driven my writing ever since.

But do my sons want their childhood 'out there' for others to read?  And how would they feel about my interpretations of event? For interpretations is what they are; though I strive to be honest, there is a necessary difference between objective and personal truth. Writers must always editorialise; the very act of pressing the keypad is an exercise choosing what, and what not, to emphasise.

I should explain that my work is never 'pour it all out' stuff - nor is it writing as therapy, from which dark secrets are revealed. It is simply a response to the situation I find myself in, and the past I came from.

But what of those who are close to either end of that astonished journey? I fear they will misinterpret my motives, question the need and argue the finer details - and in so doing, miss the bigger picture: that we can all come through.

And yet to write a book and keep it firmly closed, seems, if not exactly a pointless exercise, then a self-interested and self-limiting one. For I have learned from kayaking and climbing - as well as from fatherhood and writing - that for life to be worth living, we must take some risks with it too.


  1. This is a fascinating subject. Did you read and mark the furore about Julie Myerson's book about her son's use of marijuana? I like her work and yet was horrified by the making public of her son's life. This is the crux I think. What is your story, yours to tell, and when do you move into telling theirs, an invasion of their privacy? I think you can only imagine how it would be to be in their shoes, reading your words, now or in ten years time. Mostly I think you should try to leave them to tell their own story, or not, as they choose. If it's about you, I would love to read it.

  2. The big problem is getting started. You just have to do it. Forget about who will read it.

  3. Your story is yours to write, but perhaps it's not yours to publish. But there is no reason why you cannot ask for permission to publish from the people affected by it, when they are able to make a mature decision.

  4. Tricky. You need to balance things for yourself. An old writing tutor of mine reckoned the writing came first and should be the be all and end all. His own mother hadn't spoken to him for years because of a poem he's published somewhere. On the one hand I admired his dedication to his art but on the other wondered whether I could care more about my art being "out there" or the people I loved? Perhaps the responsibility of a writer is not simply to vomit out some cathartic excercise to heal oneself at the expense of others (such writing can be kept under lock and key) but to strive to bring to a wider audience a balanced appraisal of what we have come to understand about out journey and what we suspect was the journey of those who affected us as we past them by? You strike me as a compassionate, deeply sensitive man - I can't imagine your writing / work is for one minutes a character assassination of anybody.

  5. Its a hard one, but my feeling is that it may be worth waiting until your sons are old enough to cast judgement upon it themselves if you think there is any risk that they may be upset by it. I think that you need to bear in mind that their friends at school may read it and that could cause issues. Its one I worry about with my blog and I will almost certainly lock it down when Sam reaches school age.
    That said I would love to read it too :)

  6. If you can get clear on what your own intentions are around publication, that's a good start. Once you know why you are doing it, and are clear what ends you want to achieve, you can try to weigh these up against the possible negatives. Dealing with those incommensurable values (art versus relationships, for example) is a whole other problem, though. Did any of your paintings ever cause conflict?

  7. Write it for your sons to read when they are old enough. then make the decision to publish or not according to how you all feel about it at that time.

    I wrote my story when the teenage kids said I should. It took about 10 years, even at that. And the kids were pleased with it, even though the story is harrowing. But I don't think I would have published without their go-ahead.