Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jim Crace's Narrative Imp

I just listened to a Guardian podcast of an interview with the wonderful Jim Crace, author of Quarantine, Being Dead, the Devil's Larder etc.... He has obviously spent time - or been asked a lot of questions which made him spend time - thinking about the writing process, and I wanted to bring in a few things he said about narrative. He was talking about Quarantine, his book in which Jesus is the main character. Jesus didn't start out as the main character, was only "supposed" to be briefly mentioned but, the way Crace tells it, some subconscious force changed the way Crace thought the book was going, and Jesus become the focus.
The subconscious exists in all the chambers of our world, particularly narrative. Narrative is ancient; human beings have been telling stories for thousands and thousands of years and we have become good at it. What that means is that when I, somebody who just has three score years and ten, and whose imprint on the world of narrative is going to be tiny in the grand scheme of things, when I sit down and start writing a story,there are thousands and thousands of years of narrative that have gone before, and thousands and thousands of narratives that have proven themselves before me. Narrative, of course, in that case... becomes wise. It learns a few things, it establishes protocols, it understands shape, it knows what works.

I love this idea, that we have a narrative knowledge in our genes, that it is passed down the same way as blue eyes or a propensity for maths. That seems to make sense to me - some people are writers, some are story-tellers, some aren't.
We all know it instinctively from when we are in a pub and we are telling an anecdote. Some nights it goes well and some nights it doesn't go so well. Sometimes we are in the Zone and sometimes we are not in the Zone. What do we mean by Zone? It just means that we are tapping in really well into all these traditions of narrative. That's what you hope is going to happen. If you think about it too much when you are writing, which is why the subconscious is so important, it doesn't deliver itself. But when it does deliver itself, it's generous. Narrative is wise and narrative is generous and it comes in on your behalf.
This also is something I find reassuring. I know what the Zone is, but to me it had always been something amorphous, I never knew how to conjur it up consciously, or what it meant exactly. Framing it in these terms makes is concrete, and something I can let myself rely upon, knowing that it is inside me somewhere.
....I'd made as a conscious person a bad decision not to have Jesus as a character but Narrative made a good decision and abandoned my bad decision and brought Jesus in. It wasn't as a vicar said to me on a radio show that God was standing on my shoulder as I was writing it, it was the Imp of Narrative. Narrative is playful. And that's what happens.
Isn't that a lovely image, Narrative as a playful, generous imp on your shoulder? Thanks, Jim Crace. You can listen to the podcast here.

1 comment:

Gondal-girl said...

Hi Tania - great to read those distilled comments by Crace, Look forward to seeing the podcast - narrative can be such a wrestle, but you are right, it is in the genes...