Wednesday, October 23, 2013

14.1 words per day


After two years immobilized by depression, Alan Garner got up and spent the next twelve years researching and writing his novel Strandloper  (1996). In his essay "The Voice That Thunders," he writes about how long it took:

"Why had something, presented as amusing and trivial, taken up precisely four thousand, three hundred and twenty-six days of my life and produced a novel at an average rate of 14.1 words a day, or approximately 0.5875 words and hour? 
There are two answers. The first is that it had been the most rewarding and demanding period of my life so far. The second is that I had no choice. I did not even have to defend myself by hiding behind Hazlitt's statement that: "If a man leaves behind him any work which is a model of its kind, we have no right to ask whether he could do anything else, or how he did it, or how long he was about it."
That's romantic rubbish at the end there: of course we have "a right" to question. Art is not made in some untouchable realm of the angels. (What I really want to ask, though, is what he lived on for twelve years. Perhaps royalties from his earlier successful children's books?)

But that's not why I'm quoting Garner here; it's because I love that he figured out he wrote at a rate of 14.1 words per day. 

(Obviously he asked "how long he was about it.")
Of course I find this very reassuring, as I once again write at the speed of sludge (trying to put together my first Burt Lancaster review).


Looking for a photo of Garner, I found instead a couple photos of the landscape he lives in and writes about: 

These remind me how just recently I came to understand one of my favorite books better by seeing where it's set. The book is Fludd, by Hilary Mantel, and I saw its landscape in the (weird, unsettling, funny) British TV show The League of Gentlemen, sent to me by a blogfriend, a local of Glossop,  Derbyshire, England, where Hilary Mantel was born and the League is filmed, in part.

  Watching this TV show, all of a sudden the weirdness of Fludd wasn't so weird. Or, rather, it made sense in its place.
The League's Local Shop is for local people. You don't want to go in there.

The League is a trio of comedians, including Mark Gatiss who went on to co-produce and write Sherlock, and to play Sherlock's brother, Mycroft (below, right, with Benedict Cumberbatch, center, as Sherlock, and Martin Freeman, left, as Watson).

How many books rely on a sense of place, I wonder... And how much do I miss if I don't know the place?

A friend and I were just laughing the other day about how familiar Ole Rolvaag's novel Giants in the Earth feels, even almost 100 years after its publication, if you live here (the northern plains). We were talking about our winter light boxes that keep away S.A.D. (season affective disorder) and I remembered that one of the women in Giants goes mad, living in a windowless sod hut in winter.

This place can really get to your head. 

[Part of a clever ad campaign for Minnesota health care plan featuring mythic lumberjack Paul Bunyan with various injuries]
And now back to writing about Burt.

I only have to write 14.1 words today! Except I should turn it in in the next few days and I do want it to be more like 250 words. Let's see... so I only have to write, say, 75 words.

Here's our boy at his most bruised lily–like, in his first film, The Killers (1947). Film critic Pauline Kael called him "Hunkus Americanus" but 
in this film he's cast in a feminine light (really: his face, for instance, when he first appears is obscured in shadow--not normal leading-man lighting). 
[There! That's 40-some words already.]

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