Monday, 21 May 2012


Gave myself some breathing-space in the wake of the World Trade Centre post. This blog was written weeks ago. Posts are currently automated. I will do a follow-up comment soon. Meanwhile…

Without question, my digital office door remains open. Saying so feels as though I am, in reality, saying goodbye. I can’t believe how torn I am, over this private Cold War I’ve been fighting behind the scenes. No one sees it…that’s the point.
   On one side. Democracy. Radio Free Europe. Freedom of speech and expression. A grand experiment in social networking, authorly contact, and the support network of fellow penny scribblers. All welcome. No category barred.
   And on the other side of the wall? The monolithic state. Siberian exile. One voice, indivisible. The author, and the blank page. None welcome. All categories barred.
   Here I stand, on the reconstituted Glienicke Bridge. The link from East to West. Where the spy prisoner exchanges were made. Our man for their man. Yet I can’t quite see, standing in the middle of the bridge, which side I should head for. In this case, there’s only one prisoner – me.
   I was in THE COLD. Didn’t know any different. Certainly never expected any different. Until I crossed over, on a spying mission. There is the temptation to defect. Not knowing where that will lead. The uncertainty led me through so many unexpected twists and turns that I grew dizzy from the journey. A journey of few steps.
   Felt like clearing my head. Found myself writing thousands of words to fellow authors. Good writing exercises. Learned more than I taught – for I taught nothing. The exchange of ideas felt sound. Solid. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of stumbling over shifting sand dunes.
   Breaking with tradition. With the order of things. The core. These immovable items aren’t meant to blow away on the wind of a new outlook. Surely, that being the case, I would welcome the new. But I have struggled to welcome the new.
   So I must go and struggle some more. Have a think. Walk around. Consider options. From the moment I accepted that I had to blog, I kept a plan in reserve – kill the blog. It’s not easy to kill the blog, and it’s not easy to prolong its life. MY PERSONAL COLD WAR.
   Advice? From those on the warm side of the wall? Really? Is anyone on that side of the divide going to tell me to quit the experiment? Hell no. So there’s little point in their outlining that advice. I feel cold. And long for it to be colder. The way things were. You flip a coin in the air, and the chances are that it will not land on its edge. But I’m on edge.
   Blogging just to flog books is not my thing. Questions, questions, questions. Without answers, answers, answers. On deciding to self-publish, I never considered blogging. What would I have to discuss with an audience?
   The tired old tale of a writer, writing on writing. Oh come on, audience. That was old even when it was young. A blog in which I constantly asked unanswered questions wouldn’t go down too well. Of even less interest? Setting out my writerly stall with notes carved in primal rock. I’m not here to tell you how to do things. Even when I’m telling, I’m asking.
   I never considered being interviewed, until the offer was made. A non-interview. In which I was determined to say little of myself. My ruthless editing of Karen Woodward’s prompt set the tone. Please tell me a bit about yourself and your book. That had to go. Please tell me a bit about your book. That was permitted. Painting myself into a narcissistic corner was just not on.
   Karen’s version went into the furnace. This is how I repaid the woman responsible for my blogging career? By refusing to list the question I was refusing to answer. What difference does it make to the audience, in knowing more about the scribbler? Yes. Sometimes it matters. I’ve written those pointless questions. Where do you get your ideas? What are your sources of inspiration?
   Old songs, those.
   I stumble across the grey chipped landscape. Looking for a rendezvous with no one in particular. Spy games. Setting up a network of unlikeminded individuals. I’m dragged in for questioning by Special Agent Woodward. She lets the first question slip, and I think I’ve made it past the checkpoint.
   Just as I near the corner, Officer Biozarre and Officer Vanderkarr detain me. They play bad cops to my world-weary traveller persona. There’s a lot of fear in the air. I give up my unbloggable story. Again, I think I’ve made it past the checkpoint.
   Officer Biozarre calls me back for questioning. I get the light in the face. Days in the cells. Nights in the bare room with the light. Officer Vanderkarr weaves in and out, playing good cop from a script. I wonder how things will be, when I’m released from the cells.
   That’s the dangerous time. When I’m tailed through the crowds of readers who start asking even more awkward questions. With the light in my face and Officer Biozarre making witty asides, I skip ahead to the questions the readers must ask.
   I prepare my cover-story for the day on which I’m asked THAT question. Maybe that day won’t come. There’s always the plan. Kill the blog. I can’t bring myself to do that. The network took gold to construct.
   Should have used iron. It rusts as though corrosion is going out of fashion.
   I’ve invested heavily in letting go of detail, through my words. Some of the material I cast into the light was trivial, as viewed through the eyes of readers. But it’s never that way for the figure under the spotlight. Every trivial syllable is platinum-priced.
   Of course that day will come. I’ll be pinned to a wall by barely-leashed dogs, and the interrogation will start with the first thing on the opposition’s list and the last thing on my secret list that is at least three lists beyond anything I expect the interrogators to know about.
   They want a report. From a fugitive.
   So they ask questions designed to uncover answers when those questions go unanswered. There is one question that goes unasked by colleagues. Doesn’t mean the readers want to know, or don’t want to know. I think the worst. In my mind’s eye, I see others forming the words. Inevitably, I am asked THAT question.
   How did you become a writer?
   I can answer in a sentence. Cryptic. Startling. The answer means nothing. Gives little away. May be interpreted literally or figuratively. Is more likely to be interpreted figuratively. Far easier to imagine a dial…
   Instead of giving anything away, I invent the dial. It’s my way of answering unanswerable questions. Misdirection. Deflection. Obstinate refusal to talk. I hide behind songs playing in someone else’s head, on the off-chance that telepaths are tuning in to my own private radio show.
   The dial runs from 0 to 10. (Not 11 – no Spinal Tap references here.) There is nothing wrong in setting the strength to a low number. And you shouldn’t think badly of anyone who sets the dial to a high one. Ask the question. How did you become a writer? Set the dial, in answer.
   At 0 on the dial are people who do not become writers.
   We love these people – they are readers.
   Clicking to 1 on the dial we have someone who thinks…I read a book, and felt I could string a few paragraphs together. How hard was that? The next thing I knew, I’d written stories…
   And if that’s all it takes to get you there, the number 1 on the dial is as valid as the number 10.
   At 10 on the dial, the answer goes like this…our family fled Nazi Germany to start a new life. We moved to the Netherlands. When war broke out and our new home was occupied, we hid in the attic behind a secret door. I kept a diary. My name is Anne Frank.
   Clicking 2 on the dial…I was a bookworm, and wanted to write.
   At 9 on the dial, we hear this. My skanky mother was murdered when I was ten years old. To make it up to me, my Hollywoodised dad intro’ed me to true crime rags. I became a peeper and a creeper. Did dipshit jail-time. Joined and left the army, avoiding Vietnam. Caddied, sold golf balls, and wrote books. I am the Demon Dawg of US literature, and the undisputed King of Crime Fiction. My name is James Ellroy, woof woof. Down, Barko. Go hump some other hepcat’s brothel-creepers.
   And so the list goes. Add bonus points for inspirational figures in the background. More, if those are famous authors. Dial higher, adding detail like that. It’s not a competition. That’s a good thing. There are no bonus prizes for high scores. Any value over 0 is a winning value for every writer.
   All you are looking to find, in dialling a number, is a sense of scale. This is a game you can play at home inside your mind. So, writers reading this, add it all up and pick a number. Answer in silence – uttering the digit mentally. How did you become a writer? Be as honest with yourself as you can. No one need ever know. A simple number, avoiding the need for interminable explanation.
   Some people feel the need to talk about the literary journey. Talking about it only goes so far. The basics. You never get the whole story. I suppose that’s why I came up with the image of the dial. A lone sentence, cryptic, startling, says as much or as little as the number I have in mind. In my case, we know the value is above 0.


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