Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map

This Creation Business

Wednesday, 16th May, 2001

I've always felt a need to create.

Something inside me somewhere has a creation fetish. Maybe it's the pride of being able to look back afterwards and see an alien object and know that it only exists because of me. Maybe it's an outward demonstration of the fact that I've always followed my own way of thinking and refused to follow trends. Maybe it's the satisfaction of knowing that at the simplest level, I did something.

Creation is not easy. I have a huge respect for anyone who works in this creation business, whether it's creation of books or music or art. The more complex yet subtle the piece, the more respect I have. Hi, God. I think that puts you at the top of the list.

I don't have a lot of memories of way back when, when I was knee high to the proverbial grasshopper. Maybe the psychologists would have a field day with that. A few things still sit in my mind, however, and one of which seems in some ways to have represented the current pinnacle of my achievement. Way to go, ten year old me. Now, c'mon thirty year old me, catch up.

It was a book. Only a tiny little scrap of a thing, nothing substantial. It was a book of insects, drawn almost entirely by myself on squared paper and stapled together under a cover. I guess even at ten, I felt the need to publish and be published.

What surprises me most is that I remember the drawings as being reasonably good. Granted, they were copied from books not life, but even so, I have almost as much artistic talent as I have millions in the bank, which is to say none. Maybe I need to wake that hemisphere of my brain up and get it practicing for a while.

It wasn't my first book. Hopefully it also won't be my last.

Infant school in this country covers age five to seven; I started when I was still four. To me, this was a stunning regime of repression that I had been put into. My mother was even summoned to school at one point to explain why she actually dared to teach me to read; after all that was the job of the teachers and what did she know about education anyway?

With a teacher for a father, a teacher in all but profession for a mother, and a teacher for a grandmother as far away as next door, I lived in an environment that not only understood education, but subtly encouraged me to read. I was never taught per se, I just read what was put into my stubby little mitts... and between the three of them, I think there was always something in my stubby little mitts to read. The biggest thank you in the world, family.

So I read and read and read. By the time I was aiming at five years old and seated in my first school classroom, I knew how to read already. I had a thirst for reading material that was quite possibly tangible.

The teacher gave me a picture book.

Surprisingly politely, for a four year old, I read the book and asked the teacher for another one. And another one. And another one.

After working my way in a couple of days halfway up the rainbow of colourcoded books that were supposed to last my two years there, the teacher wandered up to the junior school (lofty heights to us, back then) and brought back a Book. This one had pages, lots of glorious pages. It felt comfortably heavy in my infant school hands and I devoured the thing.

When I'd finished, I took it back to the teacher and asked for a new one. She told me to read another story. Baron Munchausen was a wonderful story but every day for two years? There ended my attempts to be polite and I promptly proceeded to be a royal pain for the rest of my stay with the repressors.

The reason for all this autobiographical ramble is because it explains well the background to my novel, written at age five or six. Novel is a relative term, I guess, and to me filling an entire exercise book with a single story at that age must surely comprise the infant school equivalent of a novel.

It was a long and bloody affair, the tale of the steep bank at the side of the playing fields that disappeared down into who knew where. There were adders down there, which to we mere kids were more than just mildly dangerous snakes. I merely expanded on the truth, surely the role of storytellers everywhere. I conjured up a herd of dinosaurs climbing this bank, bursting through the flourishing bushes and attacking the school.

I don't remember who died, who saved the day, who was lost in the chaos. In hindsight, without the benefit of still having the piece in question, the dinosaurs were probably the heroes of the story and my teachers were their preferred food. I'm sure those psychologists would love to wax lyrical on the explanations.

It's taken me a long time to attempt a second novel, but attempt I have. I have two in progress, one of which has a major chance of reaching completion in some form or other. I think it will end up publishable, in whatever that term is worth, but, of course, I'm biased. This self-imposed regime of discipline is helping to keep the novel in my mind. It will soon help me to complete it.

So, the writing has been there, lurking inside me, for a long while. It's possibly the only talent I have, unless of course I'm merely adept enough at wordshaping to confuse my audience just enough for them to have to pretend that they like my work, when in reality they think it's worthless.

There is art inside me too, and songwriting, and musical performance. With a cry of gratitude to fate, they are so far inside me that they are not in any danger of making an appearance. I may become a writer, with hard work and discipline and dedication; I doubt I'll become anything else.

Other than the book of insects, I have consistently shown a talent for artistic prowess that can only be measured in the negative. My sister has enough talent in this vein for the both of us. My crowning achievement in junior school art class was to create a painting that was so thickly coated in layer after layer of paint that the paper collapsed under the weight.

Maybe I could sell it to the Tate Modern with a yarn about the fragility of artistry and the metaphor of a layered life with hidden layer under hidden layer, all deluged in the vitality of paint. In reality I just used way way too much of the stuff.

Music is something that I've often wandered about. Enough riffs dance in my mind from songs I've never heard that suggest I must have at least a modicum of songwriting talent. My poetry is often subconsciously written with an unknown tune in mind. Maybe that's why I stick to rhyme structures, however obscure, stubbornly rigid in the face of modern free verse. At least a couple of poems have partnered up with appropriate music and merely await the availability of some mechanism to free them.

But I can't play anything but the fool. I have great timing, but what is timing without pitch, key or voice? Reading music is roughly akin to reading Urdu. Maybe one day I'll find time enough to find a way to record an attempt, and pass it on to those who have the talent that I don't.

One of my poems was put to music, though I wrote it for no tune. The young lady involved wrote the music, sang and recorded the piece for me, and it remains the most magical creature in my possession. Seeing something totally mine become something almost totally someone else's was a fascinating experience, and I hope some day that she can record more of my words in her own ways.

For now, though, I forsake art and music and concentrate on the written word. This grand experiment seems to be working in some ways. I feel more like a writer with a steady body of work streaming out behind me. I feel that time will bring a mastery or at least an apprenticeship of words, and, right now, it's watching over all of this with a half-cocked brow. Time doesn't have to be our enemy.

Maybe one day it'll see my second novel.


Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map