I finished Vacant Possession the other day, and I must say, I didn’t much love the ending. It’s really creepy, too creepy for me, offering no consolation or cheerful resolution whatsoever. Rereading the final page over and over looking for even a faint glimmer of hope, I realised that I don’t really care for being frightened if there’s no reassurance at the end that everything is indeed going to be all right. It’s too upsetting otherwise. Now, I love a good trip on the Ghost Train, but only so long as there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel (which reminds me that there really was a terrible fire at Sydney’s Luna Park a couple of decades ago, in which a number of schoolkids perished when a blaze broke out, unthinkably, somewhere inside the Ghost Train. Few things give me the total heebie-jeebies as much or for as long as this awful stranger-than-fiction tragedy. It’s giving me goose-bumps as I write). I was happy with the atmosphere of dread in Vacant Possession up to this end point, perfectly willing to go along with Mantel’s matter-of-fact little shop of horrors, right up until she withheld the hope. When you read a novel feeling sort of anxious and breathless the whole time, you really do want in the final pages to be able to exhale. But Mantel’s having none of that; you’re experiencing a cold discomfort? Well, good. So you should. B-r-r-r-r.
I’m afraid my next choice is thus far providing scant relief: I’ve gone for The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates. Another Desire bookstore second-hand purchase that actually preceded my rainy day loot, it must therefore, to my mind and by an ever-changing set of nonsensical made-up rules, be read first. I picked it up because one of the Darklings sent around one of JCO’s short stories last year, and it was so stark and dreadful and sickeningly well-written that I felt quite traumatised afterwards and still cringe whenever I think of it. Why would I do it to myself, you ask, why then would I ask for more? Well, I expect the same reason children love being scared, just so long as they’re safely tucked up in bed. Because it’s make-believe, but the writing’s so fine there’s no question JCO makes you believe. And much like Mantel, she makes you believe terrible things.
Meanwhile, I had a great, productive day on MS #2 yesterday. I’m trying to plan, something I didn’t do with #1 and something I don’t tend to do naturally. I have to force myself. But some of the Darklings are terrific planners, and I’m curious to see what my own planning will produce. I’m just trying to learn from past mistakes, you see, and definitely one of the biggest shortcomings of the writing practice that developed around MS #1 was that I did not have a plan. Only in later drafts did I sit down and organise my next steps; for the first few drafts I was flying by the seat of my pants, which were hanging together by the merest thread, threatening to drop at a moment’s notice. Nightmare of public nudity and general mockery ensues.
Planning. I think I’m afraid it’ll wreck something, like kill my vocabulary or blunt my imagination. I have what’s probably an unreasonable terror that by examining my writing, I’ll bring about its instant and irrecoverable demise. I suspect myself that there’s no bigger crock of shit than this theory, but still it plagues me. And I know it is garbage because of the amount of planning and revision that my thesis required; I know it’s an absurdly superstitious worry because of the amount of planning and revision MS #1 has already required and requires still. So I’m going to confront my fear and try to dissemble it in order to avoid some of the same mistakes I made last time and can otherwise expect to make again.
So far, so good: yesterday was great. I made lots of notes on my two main characters and sure enough, it soon emerged that I needed to completely eliminate one of the subsidiary characters. He proved unnecessary, as did several subplot lines I can now happily abandon. It forced me to be tough with myself: whose story is this? And okay, if it’s his story, then what’s this guy doing here? Who asked him, anyway? Oh. I did. Well okay, so un-invite him. Gosh. Can I do that? Sure you can. Is anyone going to miss him? Really? Um, I don’t think so, no. Then show him the door! But that seems a bit heartless… I kind of like him, you know, and besides, none of this is his fault. Nobody said it was his fault. Calm down. Okay, now I’m going to ask you again, one last time: whose story is this? You’re right, you’re right; I get it, I get it, enough already! Je-sus! Anyone ever tell you that you’re a real pain in the arse?