Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Writing As Wasteful Self-Indulgence

I’ve written in these pages before about Deborah Lawrenson, author of the very fine THE ART OF FALLING and the Lawrence Durrell-influenced SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD (and the forthcoming THE LANTERN) - indeed, it was the Lawrence Durrell hook that drew me into her novels first. She isn’t a crime writer by any stretch of the imagination, even if there is a crime lurking at the heart of SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD, which is why I’m doubly pleased that she not only agreed to read the m/s of THE BABY KILLERS, but offered the following blurb:
“THE BABY KILLERS is surreal rollercoaster of a read, full of the blackest humour, and yet poignant – an outrageously funny novel that’s also deadly serious about the pain of being a contemporary writer. The joy is in the writing itself, all sparky dialogue and wry observation, so smooth that when it cuts, it’s like finding razor blades in honey.
“Here’s the agony that underpins the novel: the writer – as opposed to the real-life human being who is father, husband, son, brother, friend – only truly becomes what he strives to be when he is on this own, wrestling with his creations on the page. Yet, at certain times in life, when there is a new baby for example, or publishing hits the economic buffers, guilt for all those stolen hours sets in and those fictional creations become demons.
“In THE BABY KILLERS, Declan Burke hasn’t just written another comedy crime novel (at which he excels) but has used it as a getaway vehicle to peel away the layers of the writing process itself, howling with anger at the state of the world and sparing himself no punishment along the way.” - Deborah Lawrenson
  I thank you kindly, ma’am.
  THE BABY KILLERS, for those of you new to these pages, is a novel which will be published later this year, and which has already received a number of humbling blurbs from some very fine writers. As such blurbs by definition come from fellow writers, I’m a tad concerned at this point that the book, which is in part concerned with the process of writing a novel, will be more interesting to other writers than it will to readers who aren’t writers. And there’s always the danger that a reader with no interest in the process of writing, or the struggle to get published that most writers experience, will simply feel that that aspect of the novel is at best self-indulgent.
  All I can say to that is that this book captures a particular frame of mind, an especially profound time and space in my life, and that I wanted to incorporate that into the story itself. As a challenge, as an experiment, as a once-off peek behind the curtain of the writing process, to expose myself as a pathetic ‘wizard’ furiously pulling on levers in a vain attempt to convince the world of my ‘magical’ powers. Perhaps it’s because so much of the publishing industry - leaving aside the actual writing for the moment - is an exercise in smoke and mirrors, one in which too many writers swan about offering lofty guff about genius and the creative process and dropping broad hints as to how they occupy a different plane entirely to their readers, when the truth is that they are every bit as desperately seeking truth, inspiration and meaning as the people who read their books.
  Most writers, if they’re honest, struggle with the same issues (financial and otherwise) as are dealt with in THE BABY KILLERS; most writers, if they’re honest, lose the battle, although very few, thankfully, resort to blowing up hospitals in frustration.
  Maybe THE BABY KILLERS is an exercise in self-indulgence - at this point I’m still too close to it to offer any kind of balanced opinion. That said, and for those writers who aren’t earning a decent living from publishing novels, which is most writers, the very act of writing, that of stealing away time, effort, income and emotion from your nearest and dearest in order to invest it in a tissue of lies, all for the sake of satisfying ego and ambition, is as self-indulgent a process as can be imagined. But can you imagine how much poorer the world would be without it?


Deborah Lawrenson said...

Hmm...could do better. That's the other thing about writers: we can never just leave it be.

Why don't you make "getaway vehicle" to peel away the layers, etc? Better, no??!!

PS. Thanks for the puff, yourself.

Naomi Johnson said...

Consider also, as a writer and as a human being, that time away from your nearest and dearest also gives them the space to be who they need to be. Giving them all of your time would simply smother them. Balance is a great thing, but what is balance for one person is smothering for another.

Julia Madeleine said...

I never thought of it that way, as a self-indulgent thing. Hmmm...all this tiime, is that what I've been doing? Nah! I think it's more of a neurotic, semi-insane, compulsive thing that's beyond my control, of which no amount of medication, nor psychotherapy could ever fix. :)

Declan Burke said...

Deborah - I've always known that writers were incorrigible fixer-uppers, but redrafting a blurb takes the biscuit ... I thank you kindly, ma'am.

Naomi - That's a very good point right there. Food for thought, and a salve for a guilty conscience.

Julia - 'neurotic, semi-insane, compulsive thing' ... not a bad description at all, ma'am. Although I'd be inclined to through a touch of OCD into the mix too ...

Cheers, Dec

michael said...

All writing is an exercise in self-indulgence.

How many wonderful independent films have been about filmmaking?

The struggles of the writer balancing family, etc is not that much different than the struggles for others with many other careers. Ask any single mom.

Stop worrying about THE BABY KILLERS, it has a publisher. Worry about DANNY BOY or whatever your next book is.