Achilles’ Heel

I’ve mentioned Martin Amis before on this blog. I’m not a big fan. But one thing I heard him say once in an interview has stuck in my mind ever since. The interviewer asked him what Time’s Arrow was about and his response, whilst typically pretentious, struck a chord with me. He said – and I am paraphrasing slightly – “it took me two hundred and something pages to explain what it was about, so I can’t really answer that. Go and read it”. Or words to that effect.

I’m currently trying to write a decent synopsis for my novel Hinterland. It’s far from finished but by virtue of the fact I made the final of Pulp Idol a few months back the first chapter is due to appear in a competition anthology. The synposis has to be fifty words. A piece of piss then you might think – I’ve just churned out over a hundred on this post without even really trying. Except I’m finding it the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m getting nowhere with it.

I had the same problem with the synposis for my thesis. I wrote and rewrote it about twenty times and it still wasn’t very good. For Oblivious I think I just quoted some bits of the text and then had a few lines cheekily mentioning Raymond Carver as an influence and then a brief summary of a few stories. Synopses are absolutely the thing I’m worst at writing (if you exclude poetry – I’m pretty shit at that too).

Do you think I’ll get away with something that takes the Martin Amis approach? “Hey, you, read the fucking thing and then tell me what it’s about”? No, I thought not. I might try something completely random as a standalone bit of free-floating text. I think I might have to. Trying to describe the story inevitably makes it sound crap. Maybe that’s because it is crap? I’ve probably said before (and if I haven’t I certainly meant to) that I don’t refer to myself in any circles as ‘a writer’. Because I’m not. I write stuff, I enjoy writing stuff, but I don’t make a living out of it, I’m not recognised in any way in particular. But one thing’s for sure – I’m much more of a writer than a goddamn marketing person. I can’t pitch to save my life.

Hinterland – imagine Apocalypse Now crossed with High School Musical”. Well, for one thing, it’s nothing like that. But even if it was it would sound shit right? “It’s a post-punk Jim Thompson set in England”. Closer, but my god, I’d sound like a wanker if I said that.

On the plus side, my fifty word bio went a bit better:

“I am an IT consultant and PhD student, currently editing a thesis on American author Richard Brautigan. I have primarily been writing short fiction for about ten years and self-published an ebook collection called Oblivious in 2010. It has sold literally tens of copies and was recently shortlisted for obscurity.”

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4 thoughts on “Achilles’ Heel

  1. James Everington July 5, 2011 / 5:14 pm

    I’m rubbish at summarising my book too. I think I normally just say something like ‘It’s a book of short stories influenced by X, Y, Z”…

    For someone who doesn’t like Amis you sure do mention him a lot… is it like at school when the boys pull the hair of the girls that they secretly fancy..?

  2. Neil Schiller July 5, 2011 / 10:46 pm

    James, you are not wrong. I’ve probably mentioned him more than any other writer. It’s a bit bizarre really. I guess it probably is the case that even though I’m not a fan I can’t deny that what he does he does well, and has been kind of influential. Oh ok, I admit it, his sexual magnetism is too much to bear. I want to have little Amis babies…

  3. James Everington July 6, 2011 / 7:02 pm

    Those would be Dead Babies then.

    I have to admit, I quite like his comment – the blurbs on the back of books etc. are always bad, so why force yourself to make one up on the spot?

  4. Iain Manson July 9, 2011 / 1:20 am

    You raise an interesting issue. If there’s one thing I’ve come to believe about writing, it’s that good writers make every word count, and bad ones don’t. It doesn’t mean that good writers must turn out short novels — though I’m a huge fan of RK Narayan, who deliberately kept his work brief — but it does mean that they don’t waste words.

    This is why advertising copywriting is considered a good training for creative writers. Making up a good jingle is actually quite a skill. And do you recall the famous hook for the film Chicken Run? “The Great Escape with chickens.”

    I reckon that if you stop actively thinking about it, the words will come. For what it’s worth, a useful trick is to distance yourself from your book by imagining that someone else wrote it.

    Hey, James, isn’t Martin Amis good?

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