I’ve just finished Douglas Coupland’s Eleanor Rigby, a very touching book about human condition and it’s made me understand what I want to do as a writer. It’s not just about me finding a way to unburden and express myself but it’s also important to me to pay witness, yes to speak for the ordinary people or speak through the mouths of ordinary people and to touch others. When I wrote Housewife with a Half-Life I felt it was a touching book and that it said some human things and with its follow up and the other books I’m working on I want more than anything to continue that, to make entertaining books but those that at their heart are about people just trying to find their way.
I think that’s what I saw in Douglas Copeland and what I need to say over and over is this generation is all about finding ourselves and being who we need to be and not sacrificing ourselves for others and yes it is so hard when we reach out and care for others and when they don’t reach back or sometimes do even more, turn against the care and twist it round and make it nasty. Or when society deals unfair blows, lets banks destroy lives, take away supports from those who need them most. But turning outward and finding the joy in that is what really sustains us, and turning away from the idea of the troubled artist to one who wants to connect and testify to life is what can give us a more sustaining ambition.
I heard a lovely piece on the radio about Alice Munroe who recently won the Nobel Prize for writing. All she wrote all her life was local stories about ordinary human things. She didn’t try and follow the market or trend, she could not explain her stories she said, she just reached in to what was real and did it. The writing and the witness was the thing, for her and how lovely that her writing was, in the end, recognised at the highest level.
What I want to do, have always wanted to do is to spread some comfort and to express what is uplifting and admirable in the world against the juxtaposition of the struggles we face. This is exactly where books such as Eleanor Rigby, The Fault in our Stars and the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry are pitched, loneliness, connection, disaster and optimism side by side.
To try and stay true to exploring these human fundamentals is a more humble aim for our work. It takes the worry and the hype away from writing because if you stay true to that thing, that idea of humanity that that you want to get through, this is the purpose of the books, the focus of it, then that will give a path through. Technically I want to make characters in the book real, I want us to care about the people more that the ideas behind the books, I want the human to come through – even when I talk in certain books, about possible aliens and UFOs, it’s still all about humans. Motifs such as Voyager travelling out of the known universe now with all these human artefacts on board, going just to see what’s there are very relevant and striking to me. We are all Voyager, travelling across our human lives and carrying the markers of our lives with us.
We like the idea of this cabin away from the world without society beating in because society and it’s preoccupations and inequalities becomes a fog, creates chains, keeps us from the quietness of the things that are important. I want my books to be cabins that people can go into and find these human stories, stories about our frustrations and concerns, our strange psychologies. Life is the thing and the writing bows down to it. It is a more humble starting place, it may be a more vocational philosophy that others trying to develop a writing career are comfortable with. It does not preclude all ambition to be published though or to be known, but it’s main focus of making and testifying takes, in every instance of writing presence and practice, the external worries away. It’s then about you and the clay and the shapes you want to make, not whether others will like them just now.
Related: Dan Holloway’s new book Self-Publish with Integrity helps you explore what you want from your writing
More thoughts on maintaining the Integrity of your project https://alisonwells.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/taking-the-time-for-the-book-you-want-to-write/