Sunday, 1 June 2014

Work in progress

It’s been a while since I posted. But silence doesn’t mean I’ve been doing nothing. Among other things, I’ve been working on a novel. I’ve got about 35,000 words and have reached the stage where I begin to wonder if it’s going where I expected it to, whether the conclusion I vaguely envisaged when I started out is strong enough, and whether I’m giving my protagonist a hard enough time, or giving him sufficient scope to transgress, along the way.

I also face more profound doubts. How can I hope to find another 50,000 words to fulfil the promise of what I’ve done so far? And how much of a promise is that anyway? Is it even a premise? And does anyone apart from me really care whether I finish the book or not?

I read and re-read, trying to be open to the story that’s struggling to emerge. I prune ruthlessly, eradicating jokes, random surprises and other local effects that draw attention to themselves and stall the momentum. I delete modifiers and metaphors, simplify complex sentences, remove words that might send an averagely intelligent reader to the dictionary. I lose half a dozen pages.

I read aloud, listening for an authentic voice (I’ve come to feel more comfortable with first-person narrators who will talk like real people if I can get out of their way). I challenge the other characters to work harder for the space they’re taking up. I interrogate moments of drama and expressions of emotion. Is this the way it would happen? Is this what it would feel like? Is it believable? Is it true? More pages go.

Resisting the temptation to entertain, I push myself to engage readers at a deeper level. My draft begins to grow again.

In the middle of this process I get an email from the literary editor of the Bangladesh Daily Star, who has been given my name by a friend. Would I be willing to write a monthly column of 500 words on any literary topic of my choice? I learn that The Daily Star is Bangladesh’s largest English language newspaper, with a print circulation of 40,000 and a considerably larger reach. I don’t hesitate.  The greatest anxiety for a writer is whether the words will come. The second greatest is whether anyone will read them. The email offers me a potential readership – not for a novel, but for something.

I’ll be posting those pieces here, once they’ve appeared in print– along with other non-literary pieces if I find myself drawn back into the blogging habit. Meanwhile I’ll be pushing forward with the book, submitting myself to the long silence.    

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