Saturday, 27 August 2011

CREATIVE HEADACHES

A 'ghost drum'
           I’m in the process of turning the third Ghost World book, Ghost Dance, into a kindle.
          This has involved me closely reading all three books again, some 20 years after writing them, an odd experience.  I’m relieved to find that they haven’t made me flinch with embarrassment, or want to entirely rewrite them (though I have changed the odd word.)  In fact, immodest though it may be, I think they’re good.  If you like tales of shamans in dark, frozen Czardoms, of shape-shifting, wolves, witchcraft, spirit-travelling, and barking mad czars – these are your bag.
          But the books puzzle me.  I’m an atheist (I tell myself.)  I’m hard-headed and sceptical, me.  I don’t believe in gods, or other worlds, or witches, or ghosts, or any such nonsense.
          And yet I wrote these stories, which are all about spirit-travelling and following the Ghost Road to the Ghost World.  I may have taken some of the ideas from myth and folklore, but I chose to inhabit these characters and these worlds.  I could have written a story set in the solid, hard-headed world around me. But I didn’t.
          It wasn’t just a case of ‘making up a story’ either.  I remember, quite clearly, the compulsion I felt to write these books.  ‘Ghost Drum’ took me three years, and exhausted me, but I couldn’t give it up.  And as soon as it was finished, I wrote Ghost Song, which is Ghost Drum’s mirror-image.  In ‘Drum’, on midwinter night, a female shaman demands a baby-girl from her mother, and is given her. In ‘Song’, on midsummer night, a male shaman demands a baby boy from his father, and is refused.
As soon as Song was finished, I had to write Ghost Dance, driven by a nagging feeling of unfinished business.  I had wanted the barking mad Czar to be a central character in Drum – but he was pushed aside by other characters.  I felt I still had to write his book – and, in Dance, Czar Grozni is truly mad, bad and dangerous even if you don’t know him.
          I’ve long been drawn to the theory that the two walnut-like halves of our brains operate as individual personalities.  I think the one we’re less aware of – which has more time to put its feet up and day-dream – supplies all the best and most original of our ideas.  It knows what we really want.  It’s the ‘muse’ which whispers in artists’ ears.  (I’ve written more about my ‘muse’ here.)
          Some day I must blog about what I learned from Lucy Coats about ‘creative napping’, otherwise known as ‘a guided spirit-journey.’  One half of me finds it deeply intriguing and useful.  The other half is absolutely furious that it works; and the two halves end up scrapping like cats.
          One half of me is hard-headed and sceptical, all right.  Wants a reason and an explanation for everything.  It makes a great editor.
          The other half, the one that dreams up the ideas and images – well, that half is, and has always been, drawn towards the ghostly, the strange, the fantastic, the inexplicable, the numinous.
          There’s the ‘creative dynamic’ for you.  Pass the aspirin.

BLOT

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10 comments:

Katherine Langrish said...

Brilliant, brilliant - both post and Blott. The Ghost World books, Sue, are utterly wonderful. I remember reading them long before I met you and thinking, "cor, if only I could write like that..." It's a relief in a way to hear that the first took so long to write, but if the second followed more swiftly, I'm not surprised. The compulsion which drove you to write them is there for the reader too - unputdownable, unforgettable.

Joan Lennon said...

How I'd love to be able to claw those critics out of my hair the way Blott can. Oooo - so satisfying!

madwippitt said...

But look on the brtight side: if you have critics, you know that even if they didn't like it, at least someone is reading your stuff ...

I used to pride myself on the strength of my scepticism: then I met a dog ghost one night. It jumped on the bed and spent most of the night with me. Really, honestly and truly.

Susan Price said...

Katherine - thank you! Your own Troll books are pretty gripping. And Madwippitt - I believe you. My cat has been dead since March, and I still feel him jump on the bed, I still hear him licking his paws next to me. All imagination, of course...

madwippitt said...

Not necessarily imagination! I had no idea of this dog's existence, it was a very non-pet household, and I certainly wasn't expecting it until he heaved himself onto the bed and pushed me to one side. So it wasn't a case of it being a half-remembered experience ...
John Galsworthy wrote a lovely piece about his spaniel Chris, coming back to visit one last time ...
And didn't someone somewhere actually weigh a soul?
So, Horatio ... ;-)

Susan Price said...

Didn't mean to imply that your ghost-dog was imagination, Madwippit - I was commenting on my own need to look for explanations. In fact, I've ALWAYS wanted to meet a ghost! But maybe I already have, and explained it away...

diebooth said...

I loved Ghost Drum so much - it was for me a pretty much perfect story, and I can't wait to read the others.

This is such a fascinating blog entry. I'm also an atheist. But I believe in ghosts and magic, because I've seen things. It's interesting when you say that maybe you've already seen something 'supernatural' and explained it away because I really think that most people probably have an it's appeared so 'real' that they've not even registered anything as being amiss. I believe in the 'supernatural' in terms of it just being another facet of the 'natural' that we don't yet properly understand - one day science will explain it!

Susan Price said...

I like what you say, Die! My Grandfather, when we were scared of ghosts, would tell us that there was no need, because if they didn't exist, then we were scared of nothing - but if they did exist, then they were as much part of nature as we were - and living people were more dangerous!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Lovely post, Susan - like you I find this tension between the logical and the 'other' so interesting. Especially your point about unfinished business - sometimes I wish the two halves of my brain would tell each other a little more clearly what they want, but maybe that delicious tension is what makes for good fiction.

Susan Price said...

Thank you, DWC - and I think you're right about the tension. I fear that if I could see, clearly and plainly, exactly what I should be writing, I'd lose all interest!