Happy Friday, Friends!
Lately, I have been having some amazing guests on my blog, and today’s post is no exception. A fellow author, Twitter follower, and blogger has kindly acquiesced to my request for a more reflective, informative post. Personally, I love to read reflections of other authors because I not only find their background and experience interesting, but I feel I become a better writer myself after learning from another writer. Paul Sutton Reeves tells us his writing history in brief, and also allows us to take a peek at his thoughts regarding his writing process, his opinion on writing for a particular audience, and includes a writing sample. I connected with him on Twitter, after he had told me I was mentioned in a blog post he wrote. You better believe I was flattered! (Click HERE to read the post.) Now, I’m honored to share his personal insights on my blog. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the read!
I’m a published non-fiction writer. I’ve written the biography of a leftfield musician and worked as a freelance music journalist. I also contributed a chapter to a book about the UK’s culture. Writing fiction is my main interest, though, and I’m currently looking for a publisher for my work (toying with the idea of self-publishing, but so far resisting…).
It seems to me that I’ve been writing forever. I was always an imaginative child and often played alone, making up stories. I would invent entire worlds (isn’t that what novelists do?), map them out and relate their histories. After a few excruciating attempts at writing a novel in my late teens (they never got beyond chapter two…), I poured my creative energies into songwriting. I returned to fiction writing in my late twenties and haven’t stopped since. I’ve always loved reading too. I was a slow starter, but by the age of eight or so, I’d become unstoppable. The writers whom I admire are a huge source of inspiration to me.
I’m not interested in seeking popularity or in writing ‘for a market’. I try to write the sort of book that I would want to read and hope that it’ll appeal to others too. That’s not to say that I’m arrogant enough to be uninterested in reader reactions. I have a small and trusted band of writer and reader friends upon whom I try out my ideas.
I weigh every word that I write carefully and try to make each one count. Clearly, a book may have many facets that draw the reader to it – story, character, place, ideas and so on – but the quality of the prose is key for me. Reading George Orwell or William Golding, Rex Warner or Joseph Heller, is a lesson in itself. Ideas come to me swiftly then take years to be turned into books.
I divide what I write into ‘squibs’ and more serious efforts. My writing is always playful, though, even when the intent is serious. A book without humour, I believe, omits the essence of what it means to be human. It fails to get the joke that the universe is playing upon us. My first three books – all of which I’ve subsequently disowned as part of the learning-to-write process – fell into the serious category. I spent seven years on the third of these books before ultimately abandoning it. It was a painful but highly instructive experience, as a result of which, I could write nothing but novellas and short stories for years afterwards. Finally, I was able once more to embark on a more serious effort. That turned out to be a vast, semi-experimental work, 150,000 words long with a WW2 setting, which took me six years to write. The reception from its tiny audience has been favourable, I’m pleased to say. And if just one reader has been moved by it, then, to me, it was worth the effort. Fortunately, there have been a few more than that!
I’m working on two manuscripts at the moment (I call this my ‘twin-pronged approach’). The first is a sequel of sorts to my last novel, set in the Cold War. The second is something much more fanciful with an experimental structure. Below is an extract from the Cold War book to provide a little flavour of my writing:
Vytis. A knight in armour rides a white charger that rears up beneath him. On his left arm he carries a shield. In his right he wields a sword. Quite why this image should appear on the sign above the door of the café remains unclear.
The Kaffé Kleebob stands on the left hand corner of the street as you enter the square from the north, the route by which the tanks arrived on the last occasion. On cloudless mornings, the sun’s rays stream in through the tall windows on its eastern side, their intensity dimmed by the yellow cellophane glued to the inside of the panes. The old men sit at the table by the door that looks out onto the square. A display of sweet pastries occupies the window on the other side of the door. Cuboid and cylindrical, disc and star-shaped, the items on show are many and varied, glazed with sugar crystals or dusted with icing sugar, filled with cinnamon or chestnut paste, plum puree or quince jelly. There are a half dozen tables in the square outside the café. The old men do not sit at these. The bitter easterlies that swirl across the wide-open space of the square penetrate their bones and make them ache.
The taller of the two men is always first to arrive, a little after the bell of St Ludovic’s has struck for ten o’clock. He orders Turkish coffee and a pastry (hexagonal with a date and almond filling) then settles down to read the morning newspapers, making his way through the mixture of trivia and propaganda masquerading there as news. Shortly before the No. 8 trolleybus makes its circuit of the square, the shorter man joins his companion. He orders his brandy and takes out a novel from the inside pocket of his coat. Having finished with the morning edition of the local paper, the taller man passes it across the table. The shorter man turns to the back of the newspaper where, amid reports of ice hockey and football matches (‘Vasas SC 5, Volyn Lutsk 0’), he finds that day’s puzzles. Ignoring for the moment the cryptic crossword puzzle (5 down, ‘Olive, material for curtain’), he concentrates instead on the symbols arranged on the grid of the problem. He is preparing himself intellectually. ‘Red to move, alchemist to capture sanatorium in three moves’ (convention dictates that the solution must always end to red’s advantage). The hands of the bell-tower clock crawl around toward twelve. Each man will eat his lunch of pork sausage, bread and cheese, washing it down with a glass of red wine. And now they are ready to commence the game.
Some say that it was brought here from the west by Roman legions. Others claim that it arrived from the east with the Mongol hordes. Its antiquity is not in question. Each match takes a long time to complete, never taking less than several hours, frequently lasting for days or weeks. As players grow in skill and experience, it takes longer and longer for the game to reach its conclusion. For all that, it may end quite abruptly should one of the players make a false move, triggering a sequence of exchanges that will be over in a matter of minutes. This is one of the reasons why seasoned players deliberate so carefully on the possible consequences of every move they make and why a single turn at a critical stage in the game may take many hours. For them, the board is a minefield to be crossed with great caution. To the outsider, it may appear that no play is taking place at all. It may even seem that one of the participants has died, mid-game, while in fact, he has merely been contemplating his next move*. This particular match has been going on for years, the positions of the pieces noted down at the end of each day’s session on one of those score pads readily available from presses across the city. And it takes many, many years to acquire knowledge of the game’s myriad complexities and subtleties. Young men often believe themselves to have mastered the game, entering upon a phase of bravado and hubris in which they apparently defeat at will older players of the game. This period always ends in disillusion, leading ultimately to despair. Humbled, such players will begin their studies anew, making marginal improvements in technique throughout their thirties and forties, adding minute aspects of tactical play to their game until at last some semblance of competence may emerge as they approach late middle age.
Realisation is slow to arrive and thus all the more profound when it does. The point of the game is not to win at all. At the very moment that he believes victory to be his, the player finds the taste of ashes on his tongue. In reality, he is clutching defeat. The true goal is to achieve a kind of stasis, merely to persist. Stalemate constitutes victory. New stand-offs, fresh impasses, novel forms of inertia… It is here that the real beauty of the game is revealed.
The old men sit across the table from each other and unfold the board. This comprises a grid, 23 squares by 23, in seven different colours arranged entirely at random. The squares resemble the tiny tiles with which the kitchen floor of the café has been laid and in which no pattern may be detected either. If the game’s origins are indeed Roman, this may explain why some players refer to it as a mosaic. No two boards are the same. The example at the Kleebob Café is held to be an especially challenging one. The old man on the left hand side of the table slides the lid from the wooden rectangular box containing the pieces and empties them out onto the board. Each player begins with 69 counters, arranged along the three rows closest to him. Although cast in semi-abstract forms, the phenomena they represent are concrete enough. The majority of the pieces are military in inspiration – cavalry, armada, legion… And then there are the arcana. These are more esoteric – library, pope, astronomer (called astrologer in some sets), mausoleum, lighthouse, poet (also known as seer), apothecary, lion, ass… In a further complication, the pieces each player possesses are not always the same. Every set is unique. The counters used in this city are divided into red and black (influencing, no doubt, Stendhal’s masterpiece, Le Rouge et le Noir). As the game spread westward in the post-war period, the contest was generally white v red (as is the case with sets of a 1920s vintage and those from sixteenth century England, both of which contain many pieces not found in other sets). Originally, the pieces were white and black, called ‘gull’ and ‘daw’ (or ‘rook’ among players of a rival, less ancient game of strategy). This allowed, of course, for Manichean simplicities to be employed when referencing the game for rhetorical or allegorical purposes, alluding to the struggle between holy and evil empires, between the Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. To the old men, it represents nothing more than the passage of time. And perhaps twenty minutes have elapsed as the shorter of the two men considers his move. He lifts the white counter occupying square 7J (amber) and places it two rows up and three columns to the left on square 10H (jade), a move which he intends to be defensive but which his opponent construes as aggression. Though bad feeling is engendered, and may well turn to acrimony and rancour, the afternoon will invariably end in an uneasy truce of sorts.
* In any case, is not death merely the contemplation of eternity?
A special word of gratitude to Paul for being my guest today! I know you’ll join me in saying: best of luck with your endeavors in fiction! To connect with Paul via social media, check out any or all of his sites: