Thursday, 12 February 2009
Thursday lunchtime; reheated vegetarian haggis. My appetite is improving, which is good – today I looked at my plate and thought “That looks alright” whereas yesterday my feeling was more “Oh dear, I suppose I’d better eat something…” But I’ve had a nasty gippy stomach since Sunday afternoon, and it’s good just to be more like myself after the I-am-a-rung-out-dishcloth feeling that gastric trouble tends to leave me with.
I spent yesterday evening quietly sitting down and getting on with some revision. Not exam revision (wake up at the back there); I’m revising GY for the third and, I am beginning to allow myself to hope, last time. Revising your own writing is such a tricky, tricky game; I cringe away from it in dread and look for procrastination opportunities almost anywhere (bar the ironing). It's necessary to be in a frame of mind that is both critical and detached; but, at least if you are me, the critical tends to leap to the front, waving her rifle like Delacroix’ Liberty, ready to shoot everything that moves. One has to be both able to be completely ruthless about the excision of every bit of weak prose or flannelly excess, while simultaneously being quietly kind to oneself in order to counteract the tendency to decry everything one has ever done as total BullS**t. It’s a strange juggling act.
I was brought up not to praise myself, and to assume I had done things wrong, or at least a lot less well than I ought to have done them, and I guess this is the characteristic that kicks in. I start re-reading a piece of my own writing, and a whole Euripidean chorus of criticism begins shouting in my mind. At times it is almost literally like stichomythia, every sentence the subject of a smart retort (invariably negative) from the interior textual demolition team. A few months ago, working on the second revision, I was frequently completely convinced that GY was the proverbial pile of pants. I battled on as much out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness as any conviction that anyone would ever find anything to enjoy in this witless heap of self-indulgent tosh…
Oddly, feeling slightly under-par seems to have helped. The revision has reached the stage where one finally has to say “It’s no good, I don’t need two adjectives there”, and “It doesn’t need another reference to Simon’s hair!”, and “This paragraph is floppy, I must tighten it up”. To my surprise and pleasure my brain last night seemed to be up to this task, and settled to it with a discipline and a calm I cannot always count upon.
One thing I’m aware of is that, funnily enough, my background in visual art helps me here. Compared with trying to “revise” a painting or a drawing, where at any moment any single stroke may ruin the whole completely irreparably, tweaking a piece of writing is much less alarming. I revise a lot as I write, at first draft level, simply because it is so easy to – try it this way, then try it that way, then try turning the whole thing around, then go back to the first way and see if that reads better now… It’s rather like running through one’s lines when one is in a play, thinking through how to stress things, how much one can lift or lower a particular word, how much (to be blunt) one can milk something touching without overdoing it. The actor can revise repeatedly at rehearsal; the writer can do draft after draft, cover every page of the manuscript with notes... The artist wielding a stick of charcoal can simply get it right, hold their balance and ride the wave, or cock it up. Excuse the mixed metaphors there.
Thinking of actors, I just learned something peculiarly pleasing. Going back through GY again reminded me of the actor who I’d love to see playing Simon Cenarth, a red-haired bloke from Ulster called William Houston. A girl can dream! That's him at the top, looking appropriately grim as Coriolanus at the RSC. I looked him up online to see if he is likely to be reappearing on the London stage or on tele in the near future, and found an old interview with him, in which he said that one of his ambitions is to appear in “Duck Variations”, one of my favourite plays (it’s a delightful piece, a quirky, technically rather difficult and quietly moving comedy). The last piece of art I had exhibited was actually called “Duck Variations” in its honour. I felt extraordinarily pleased by this. He also said his favourite holiday destination was the Greek Islands, which I can relate to, goodness knows… He sounded like a nice fellow, all in all; intelligent and articulate, if perhaps a trifle intense. And he’s a bloody good actor; he’d be perfect as Simon.