Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Truth About the Truth About Sappho

The fiction that I'm now calling The Truth About Sappho is a collection of stories that I began properly in about 2004, although parts of it go back a decade before that.
I have notebooks with recognisable characters and situations dated to 1994, and some parts of it, as with some of the parts of Chariot, date back to my early teens. In fact, some of the elements of Chariot began in the very first cycle of stories that would become The Truth About Sappho.

Much of the work was serialised on the blog that I wrote between 2001 and 2011, itself named after a pivotal character in my fiction. The short novel Memory Sticks , which frankly needs a lot of work before I can revive it, was the middle section of the project. Stormboy, too, is part of the same cycle of stories, although the tragedy that inspired it caused it to become its own thing.

The dreamlike transition of characters – Ryan, Sarah, Simon and Ana the main ones, but others too – from setting to setting just sort of happened, the result of endless drafting and rewriting, changing it from horror to science fiction to fantasy to a sort of gentle magical realism to a simple, natural realism.

At some point I realised that I didn't need to pin the story's trappings down, and that it worked better as a flowing, changing thing, and that it could be recast in various ways as the story advances, because fiction doesn't need to work like that; the four protagonists begin by working through the effects of the nameless – deceased – narrator (I know his name, and anyone who followed that old blog probably does, but it actually doesn't matter), and then, playing the game he wrote, drift in and out of these stories, sometimes changing gender, age, situation. Over the course of the serial, Simon and Sarah, both married, both lonely, both sort of desperate, embark on an ill-advised affair, the awkward, crushingly real consummation of this, and the realisation that it can't go anywhere, bringing the book to its ending, the narrator powerless to stop something that he brought into motion by his (sudden, unexpected, unexplained) demise and yet which is not his fault.

I realised that I was interested – and always have been – interested more in the emotional trajectory of these characters. Sarah and Simon's affair; Ana's depression; Ryan's loneliness and fear of getting old.

I think after a while I worked on it for so long and with so many dead ends and corners that it ceased to be viable, but one of my goals this year is finally to knock it into a shape I can use.