What To Write When You’re Writing

Because I didn’t do as much of it as I should have today, I’m going to write a little bit about writing.

I’ll start with considering a late night bus conversation I had with my friend, Luke. We were coming back from the Hightide Theatre Festival*, mostly everyone was asleep, and there was much show-mulling to be done. Luke was enthusing about Vickie Donoghue’s Mudlarks, which I’d not seen but heard universally good things about. It was a play very much of its place, the Essex Estuary, just as Luke’s own debut Chapel Street was, in his own words “not really a play, more just what me and my mates got up to” in his native Liverpool . We talked about whether you’ve got to talk about where you’ve come from as a way to establish your voice on the scene. Luke staunchly believed that you did, I was more wary of that approach. Not because I didn’t think it was a good idea – it definitely is – just I worried that if I started exploiting my background, there would be no way out of it. Most writers of an ethnic descent are stuck playing roles/writing stories that are heavily linked to those communities. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what they wish to do, but I certainly wanted to be far more diverse than that. I want to write about all sorts of tales, in every medium, not be some sort of symbolic catch all for a certain ethnic sub-division. Especially since I don’t really believe my cultural background was the major part of my upbringing.

Mulling over that last point, a few weeks later I realised that I was setting myself up with an entirely false dilemma. I had plenty of things to say about where I was from, and most of it is nothing to do with the fact that I’m brown. I felt a bit thick about not coming to that realisation sooner, maybe it’s because I felt that my ethnicity was my niche? I never want that for myself. Anyway, this is how Bump came into being – and it was a great writing experience. Not an easy one, but certainly cathartic and I wasn’t struggling for words or pages or potential conflict, just with how to dramatise them in the best way. As a meditation on how I felt and now feel about the place I spent my formative years, it became a bit raw at times and I often wondered if it wasn’t coming off misogynistic/harsh/bitter but I reckon that probably means you’re doing it right.

Last week at Letters of Note, they had this brilliant letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to an aspiring novelist. If you’ve not got the time to read it, he basically remarked that while the young woman was talented, she seemed to hold back from putting a part of herself into the narrative. This, to Fitzgerald, was the greatest crime for a writer starting out. He calls it “the price of admission”. I love that notion. The cost of being a good writer is being free with your experiences, even if it exposes your weakest self. When you’re new and have no reputation to promote you, you’ve simply got to sell your heart.

From there, well…it’s often the case with young artists (especially bands, I find) that once they’ve told their stories, they fizzle out. That doesn’t mean that they themselves are not valuable and that their contribution is worthless, more that they didn’t successfully turn passion into craft. It’s the combo of the two that gives you the knockout.

* Incidentally I, rather ironically, missed the most theatrical end of the football season ever while at this festival.

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