My name’s Peat and Dan’s asked me to write a post for him while he goes skiving off to the wilderness with his family. I gladly agreed as it seemed the ideal opportunity to give a response to a post Dan did a little back called “A Reason to Write – Wrestling With the Truth“.
You see, I too am a writer, and when I get to the point where it’s worth having author cards, I want ‘professional liar’ put on mine.
So to hear Dan talk about writing in order to know the truth, to wrestle it out of the bushes, took me aback a little.
I’ve always had a somewhat love-hate relationship with the idea of fiction containing great meanings. On the one hand, I associate it with tedious school lessons where I read books I wouldn’t have picked myself. On the other, I often talk on my blog about the books I read at that age in the way I’d have talked about a book at school. I will openly talk about how the philosophies of certain authors affected my life. On the other, I bristle when I see people worrying about what message people will get from this book or that book. The Lord of the Rings is unabashedly monarchist; the majority of fantasy readers are not. I bristle too when people talk about books that are seen as “entertainment heavy, message light” as being inferior to books that are message heavy, and also when people talk about how there are no messages.
The idea of being a professional liar, other than it being funny the first three times, is that it’s a riposte to the people insisting on great meaning. A statement that I am an entertainer making up entertaining lies, not a philosopher.
But, in doing so, I am probably lying.
The truth is when it comes to messages is I have an irreconcilable rift of opinion within myself. There is something similar when it comes to the idea of writing books in order to find truth. Sometimes I do recognise that feeling Dan’s talking about. But I also think of what David Gemmell said about the Alamo and his debut, Legend:
“The Alamo had a big effect on me when I first read about it. Unfortunately I now know the truth about the Alamo… The Alamo is a consistent story of cock-up after cock-up. Nobody there expected to die. I’m not saying they weren’t very brave men. But the whole thing was mismanaged to the point of ineptness… I don’t like to believe that, but it’s the reality of life, so perhaps I shouldn’t have studied the Alamo. Legend is the Alamo spirit – or what should have been that spirit.”
Gemmell was not wrestling with the truth. He knew the truth and didn’t like it. It’s a sentiment similar to Grant Morrison’s treatment of The Invisibles as a hypersigil to change the world, or even Tolkien having the hobbits fight industrialisation in The Scouring of the Shire. Sometimes the author is less interested in finding out the truth of the world and their view of it than they are in providing their version of it, either as escapism or a rallying cry for better.
Sometimes an author seeks to do both, to confront and escape simultaneously, to use something CL Polk said that stuck with me. I like that, as it speaks to another variation of the irreconcilable rift of why to write. That there are multiple reasons, and that they are sometimes in conflict, even in the same author.
When I look at what I’m writing myself, I see multiple reasons for what I’m writing.
Take The Girl and the Knight, the completed manuscript I’m currently pitching. It started as a project on what would happen if a D&D Paladin took his powers and honour to the cause of fighting crime. Somewhere down the line it became a mix of medieval Celtic epic and Noir, all first-person laconic tiredness and big personalities doing petty things. But underneath the witticisms and the mystery, there are some thoughts on what masculinity should be in a modern world, and on picking a way through divided loyalties, and finding a purpose when the world is harsh with you. Things that matter to me.
There’s two other projects I’m working on right now. Stab and Sparrow is a light hearted Pratchettian adventure with two young women, full of witty banter and strange sights. The other is Swords of Scorn, a mix of barbaric ancient Greek Epic, murder mystery, and coming of age, in which a group of unlikely heroes must figure out who killed the god-kings of their country as their magic fades. It’s all fun and adventure, but I can feel themes and thoughts creeping in. Establishing independence for yourself. Family. How far down a hard road someone might go.
Why I write changes every day. It fits into an overarching theme of what I want to communicate, but what I want to communicate isn’t always the same thing. It’s just things I notice and put out there, seeing if it strikes a chord with anyone else.
Even if I know I’d probably never even hear if it did.
But that is my truth, tell me yours.
Note from Dan: I’m on holiday at the moment, so I’m very grateful to Peat for swinging by here and filling in for me. You can read Peat’s excellent and eclectic blog, which covers topics such as fantasy, writing, music, movies, the countryside, sport, and much else besides, over here. Chapter 7 of Resurgam drops this Friday, and I’ll return in time to post Chapter 8.