Archives for the month of: June, 2013

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

(Terribly hungover. Zozo is a monster! Why do I always let him convince me to carry on drinking? Well, but he is the most charming among us, it must be said. I love him, whether it is sun or moon.)

So: unwritten books, and unfinished books. These are books it must be said to have a rather precarious life. They are trembling things, insects just this moment left the egg, not yet even shaken out their wings to dry. But they exist in some way, tenuous in their latency.

Next in my catalogue of books, we come to the most grim and gruesome of them all: unpublished books.

O, by all the saints of TanZo, is there a class of book more heart-breaking, more soul-consuming, more spirit-flogging, than an unpublished book?

I, by the grace of my ancestors’ Karo, have only had one or two early works rejected by publishers. (Publishers are only greedy merchants, when all is said and done, and have no ultimate attachment to art, for all their snobbery and airs and graces, their love is for quints and ekels and zarels, as is proper in any case for those of mercantile preponderance, only when they fluff about and zephyr their good taste to the public gaze, it does rather annoy me. You are only interested in money? Well, and very good! Then your books are no different, in the end, to barrels of dried fish or pots of pepper. They are products, no more, no less. Don’t pretend you care for art, my dear. Baku, for example, is such a snob, you’d think he’d written Kayza’s words for him. But this is digression.)

I have seen people crushed by their own books. At least one poor soul — Sima, the poet from Libar — I am convinced was led to suicide by the failure of his novel to find a publisher. That boy had an awful Karo, it is true, and hadn’t learned the coldness of spirit you need in this game, and one sensed something haunting him from the very first, but still, it was the rejection broke him, I am sure. And much the same might be said for poor old Maira — she was so highly strung, everyone said it, and she had debts, and Gairo treated her abominably, but she was so convinced by the quality of that last book of hers, when she couldn’t get it out, it was the disappointment took her to hang herself in the garden that night, most undeniably. (Gairo is a demon, I was told he joked about it when he heard, making a pun on her being “highly strung”. I have never liked Gairo, he has a touch of the devil E-Tzhi about him, too much ice in the heart, no one who looks that good in a mirror should really be a writer, in my opinion…)

Well, this is a most digressive entry, all digression and no argument. What I meant to insist upon is this: that the unpublished book is the one which, in general, inflicts the most suffering on writers.

I have lost count of the number of would-be writers I have met over my prestigious career. It sometimes seems that everyone is a writer of some sort or other. Why they all fight and flounder so much to give themselves the honour of this title — “writer” — is quite beyond me. All the writers I know, say that writing is a kind of gilded drudgery. The purer the writer, the greater the drudgery. The best writer I know, Dumo, is an utter slave, a donkey pulling a water wheel: she is the quietest thing imaginable, a shadow has more noise in it than she has, all she does is work, and she is the most boring company (in a wonderful way, though — she has a kind spirit, that woman). But I would take her works above those of any other writer living.

For the rest of us, though, it is a world of vanity and niggle. You struggle to make a reputation, and then you struggle to maintain that reputation. How? By continuing to write good books, of course — in the main, at least. And there it is at once: drudgery. As soon as one book is finished, you must set out on the next. Will it be as good? Is it too derivative? Should you change your style? What do the wretched critics want, who only know the limits of their own discretion, who slum through literature, stealing houses? And the public, forever chasing after the new thing? The latest thing? Well, the public want what the critics tell them, mostly, or what Baku puts on his boards or in the news-sheets. The public has no idea of quality, it is quite terrifying, the amount of vision they waste, reading fashionable vapour, convinced by Baku’s adverts that the work is “magisterial to the peak of judgement”, or “without equivalent in current days” or some such tosh. Ah, what a world, where everyone agrees a work to masterdom, but none know why! Kayza, for instance, is a prime example of this… Well! I had better not think too much of Kayza, it will only give me boils and an even more brutal headache…

Months, years, decades, even, spent on a book, writing it into life. And then, at last, it is finished. Off to the publishers it goes. No: rejection. No word of explanation: no sign they have understood your genius. More fool them! On to the next publisher. What!? No?! Another rejection. And still no sign of recognition.

Ah, dismal, dismal condition. You deliver the manuscript again. No, I’m sorry, Mr Baku is too busy to see you in person. You wait. Nothing. You hope. You wait. Still nothing. You hope. But, your belief is waning. You hope less. And when the rejection comes, it is less unexpected. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Rejection. I think I took my second novel (The Orchard With No Trees) to a whole fifteen publishers — that is to say, every house in Sahil, and by all fifteen, I was rejected. (Actually, I think Misuzomas mislaid the manuscript, rather than legitimately rejecting it, but by then, I had entirely lost heart, and I took the world’s hint — but, oh, what tantrums in my spirit! What ulcers of bitterness blown, what plots of revenge I dwelt upon! When I was successful, when my alpine genius was undenied, when people viewed me from all around, admiring me, envying me, how I would despise them down, those snobbish oafs who had dismissed my work, and so distempered me)…

Even now, years later, I can feel the burn of those rejections, when I think of them. Of course, as you get older, you realise, it is nothing personal, they just don’t think your work is any good, or will bring them in their quints and ekels. They don’t sit around, laughing at you (unless your work is awful, I suppose)…

Well, it is a brutal mill, literature, that grinds us all down. Even Kayza, who is a permanent sensation at the moment, is secretly ground down: those who really understand art laugh at him behind his back, mock his prose, watch the empty bubble of his achievement floating past; we know he is not so good, his style is an elegant mirage, we think it funny he seems to take himself at the multitude’s estimate, when the multitude has no real care for literature (why should they?) but only form long queues to feel themselves significant, and will swallow any trifle if it has the age’s taste to it, ignorant of what it is they consume, unable, in the end, to take a book seriously

So, perhaps they are right, after all?

Old, old complaints, I know…

Yes, a gilded drudgery. Whores, fools, slaves, thinking we are kings and queens, and perhaps even sometimes that we might share the parameters of a god. But gold is wrong. It is not gold, at the heart of it. Better than gold. Like air, but air very slightly changed. Taken from us, given back to us, slightly changed. Yes, I do think it so — this literature. Not the lions, not the hurricanes or wars, or poisons, or seductions, but a slight change to the air.

I should sleep. This morning does not agree with me.

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

So: there are the unwritten books. I’m sure there must be a philosophical category for such, but I don’t know it offhand, and I certainly can’t be bothered to look it up. (A writer who depends on other people’s definitions is hardly a real writer, in my opinion. And research is too pedestrian an activity, like moving goods from shelf to shelf in a shop, to be considered suitable work for a truly creative artist.)

We must grant that an unwritten book certainly possesses some life, even if it is only that of the most ephemeral inkling.

Next in my catalogue of futility come the unfinished books. Ah, a sad, sad species, one with which I am all too well acquainted: there are a handful of such creatures lying around in my own study — too many, really.

Another vast library could be dedicated to unfinished books. And for each book, a story might be written, detailing the reasons for the failure of the writer to finish their work. The Catalogue of Interruptions — that might be its title.

Let us deal promptly with what I will call “victorious failures”. These, I suppose, are the sorts of failures Kayza has. I heard him with my own ears say, in Kasamono’s the other evening (where he was holding court in the most shameless fashion), “I got about half way through, and I thought

Aha — this won’t do at all!

But I saw straightaway what was to be done about it, and I started again, on a much stronger book”.

Typical Kayza! Why do people swallow such pompous stuff? Really, the number of toads around him, licking up his radiance! Absurd…

Well, in any case, that’s what I mean by “victorious failure” — a book that is unfinished because the writer is strong, and can see their way opened to a better book.

It’s admirable, I suppose, if irritating. A weaker writer won’t let go of a bad book so easily: it’s like a raft they cling to, even if they know (deep inside) the raft is slowly sinking. A writer’s life is generally a kind of permanent shipwreck. Mine is, anyway, and most of the writers I know are floundering about in one sort or another, young or old, it’s the same, debts, collapsed marriages, scandal, hopeless crew, the lot of us… But their book, their precious book — well, that’s the one thing that keeps them afloat in all the turmoil, the roll and the spume. And the weak writer — young, maybe, no confidence, poor technique, loss of nerve, whatever — is much, much less likely to let go of a bad book, on which so much appears to depend, than a strong writer (or a “successful” writer, like Kayza, who are so stolid with fame and flattery and flannel and flappery, they don’t know what it means to be a real writer, anymore, I quite insist).

Who can blame them, these desperate fellows, bleeding their ink away into a useless book? That manuscript, it’s their raft. Are there any other rafts in the vicinity? No, they can’t see any. And they took so long, expended so much effort and ingenuity, such love, such dream of reputation, and it isn’t really a bad raft — is it? — so why should they abandon it? The saints of all TanZo know that everything else in their life is chaos! But at least they can stay afloat, have some hope that the next morning will bring progress, some sight of land… Well, and so it goes on (rather like this raft metaphor), and the weak writer sticks with the bad book, revising, crossing out, re-starting, changing a name, and generally puts such a bother of tweak and splice and hesitation into the work that it becomes merely a lamentable trail of doubt and botch and second-thoughtery, until finally they end up with a disaster that is so obvious, they are forced to give up, and possibly accept that, for the time being at least, paid employment as a government clerk or tutor to the inane offspring of some local lordling will have to do for now, and that their masterpiece will remain unfinished for a year or so…

What writer of substance hasn’t experienced such a mess? I know I have, several times — even a writer with my polished reputation, I can freely admit, has bodged a story or two…

Another thing I overheard Kayza say was

Genius is certainty

(I’m almost entirely sure that isn’t his own saying, but something he’s borrowed from Yala Dona, but he passes it off as his own wit, and of course his entourage of poodles and creeps will hardly challenge him, or even care about so small a thing as genuine originality)…

Yes, certainty…

And he also said:

Genius is play

(he seems to have so many definitions of genius, he may as well say “genius is three pebbles one stacked on top of another”, or “genius is mud”, but of course, he is the great genius, so who will argue with him? Not I, in any manner: it is beneath me to twiddle categories with Kayza, and he knows it, too)…

Anyway, back to the core of my subject: unfinished books! They must be accepted as possessing still more life than an unwritten book. And yet, in some ways, are they not also more dead? Do they not die more completely? Their death more lingering, more terrible, more deathly? For a totally unwritten book could still, in some abstract notion, be a great book. But a failed book — I am talking about failures, here, among the unfinished — how can that be said to be great? The writer gave up on it, and left it to die. A horrible situation, really, not one I’d wish on anyone, not even “the Master of the Clouds” (wretched title! but I know Kayza likes to be called it. Really, who thinks these things up?)…

No, the more I have thought of it, the more I am certain, that an unwritten book is preferable to one half written. I know, of course, there are so many more reasons a book is never completed — from the prosaic heart attack, or being hit by a carriage, that sort of inconvenient end, to war, losing the manuscript (awful!), fire, and so on — but those books with which we fail, they die a most grisly death, in my opinion.

In fact, as I consider these things now, I grow more and more convinced that the only books that are really safe from death are unwritten ones! All the other categories of book are fated to die.

It is late, I will interrupt myself here: I am expected at the Gryso Theatre, to see the re-working of Kayda’s The Zarens. I don’t have much hope of it, it is terrible rough work, Kayda, he was a brute with all his swords and murders, probably another wasted evening, but it is a fine summer evening, and, as the poet says

to waste an hour of a summer’s night | shows the heart negligence and is a slight | upon the very spirit of a living chance…


Dustless | Volume 3
Stories in the Falling Snow

The purpose of a road is to connect one thing with another, and to enable travellers to traverse the landscape with greater ease. Yet, what happens when the land seems too great for the road? and when the road seems endless, connecting the traveller to nothing? What becomes of a journey once it appears to have no destination?

Is this not TanZo? Is this not the Way?

Through remote cantons, on humble beasts, a great lord for a guide, the travellers must follow the road, and endure the land – because there is no other road, and there is no other land.

It is said, among the SurGaKu: “For us, all things, eventually, turn into stories | and only by following the story | do we ever come to know of things”.

The SurGaKu teach: “And all stories, of course, come from the past; and to the past, of course, most stories return”.

And some among the SurGaKu add: “The past is a lost place. Do not go there”.

*     *     *     *     *

Please enjoy…

Dustless | Volume 1 || Amazon US / Amazon UK

Dustless | Volume 2 || Amazon US / Amazon UK

Dustless | Volume 3 || Amazon US / Amazon UK

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

Certain books die. This much is clear.

Certain books – many – perhaps even most? – can hardly be said to live at all. These are the books that are unwritten – the glimmers, the amusing sketches (to be worked up at a later date) of dilettantes, notes jotted down on napkins, half-thoughts from people half awake and half asleep, thoughts that seem urgent, requiring prose.

Ah, the unwritten books! Surely, the vast numbers of books published through the ages, gathered together in a mountainous heap, must still be just a flash, a quibble, a fraction, compared to the books that were never written?

What a stupendous library it would be, the one that held all the unwritten books of our world!

What a ghostly babble, those pages will contain… Such a crowd, a roar, the rustle of a thousand weak intentions, the riffling plod of a hundred million half-hearted notions…

I have run out memory, the number of people who, on finding that I am the Amza Iyaa, have told me: “Ah, I have the idea for a most splendid story!”, or “I wish I could write a book. I have often thought of writing one…”

Yes, yes

I say, moving away from them as quickly as I can

I’m sure you have it in you

although, of course, in my mind, I think: Ah, but if wishing were doing, then doing, and life in general, would be far less interesting…

— something of that kind, in any case.

Yet, who can say these unwritten books never lived at all? Certainly, they were never given the cool reality of ink; certainly, they remained stumps and visions, they were never granted articulation, their plots were never worked out, their characters were mere phantasms, schoolboy crushes, lumpy exaggerations… but, still, there they were, for those moments or days, or even years, those unwritten books, they certainly existed, didn’t they?

Isn’t it possible, that somewhere in that library of unwritten books, by far the greatest masterpiece ever created languishes?

A wonderful, wonderful book?