Tuesday 20 November 2012

Room with a view

I recently read The Unquiet Mind of Hilary Mantel, an article about two-time Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel. When she writes, she looks out on a view of the sea, where, as the interviewer says, "there is no sign of human life; nothing except waves and clouds." I think that must be the perfect view for a writer.  A view like this is not blank; sea and sky constantly change. This summer, I spent some time on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Islands I watched being hammered by waves disappeared in fog on the following two days. Ships passed. Whales sent up spouts of spray as they swam by. Storms rolled in. But the expanse of it, the way it literally opens perspective, has to be good for writing.

Hilary Mantel. Portrait by Leonie Hampton.

In the interview, Mantel says, "...of course when you write, you put into every sentence an overflow of meaning, and you create in every sentence as many resonances and double meanings and ambiguities as you can possibly pack in there...." The interviewer, Sophie Elmhirst, follows this remark with the comment that Mantel "can sound arrogant." To me, though, this is just a writer talking about how much fun she's having. 

I've felt that little hit of pleasure -- especially while revising, when I have a better handle on what I'm working with -- when I know that some small thing has a resonance that maybe no one else will even notice. But I know.  

Mantel also says that "...to be a novelist is to relish uncertainty, to be shot with doubt." I think that explains why so many writers are almost superstitious about discussing something they're writing before it's done. You don't know exactly what's going on or why and you don't want to know. Part of the fun of writing is discovering what you're doing through the writing.