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, for unrealised notions, 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: regrettably, there are a handful of such creatures lying around in my own study — too many, really, to bear thinking about.

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 creator 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 spittle, bathing in his artificial 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, the conviction of such as Kayza. 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 fashion or another, young or old, it’s the same, debts, collapsed marriages, spats, rivalries, 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 here, adding a chapter there, 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 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 invention, 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 one hour of a summer’s night | shows the heart negligence and is a slight | upon the very spirit of a living chance…


Re-posted | Original post June 2013

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