My latest book, working title The State I Am In (a fake book in the same-titled Belle & Sebastian song), is a fictional autobiography with three narrative strands: one representing my spurious past, one a fantasy present, the other an imagined future. I arrived at a point in my writing where all attempts to write about issues meaningful to me via fictional constructs (i.e. characters), were leading back to me—me wanting to write directly about me. But, because I still wanted to write fiction with characters and plots and everything, I decided to make myself the subject, the source material. The hairy nub of the matter. So inside each (mostly fictitious) narrative are morsels of truth from my own life, smuggled indecorously, or hideously obvious. The reader’s task (if they wish) is to piece together a portrait of the author (me) from the information imparted. The three narratives can also be read for their own merits if the reader is spectacularly disinterested in me. Here’s some logic.
By putting all my neuroses into the novel, by remorselessly parodying myself so no aspect of my personality goes unmocked, I exhaust all self-criticism until I am completely purged of all indulgent solipsistic nonsense, freed at last into a world of happiness and self-love. The tragedy of the novel is that this doesn’t happen. Or something like that. This is an ex post facto spin I have put on the idea but makes sense to me as the sort of berserk subconscious motive I might have for writing this book. I simply want to mess around with the notion of the autobiographical novel—how a writer’s best work is based on personal experience, how readers attempt to relate certain details to the writer’s own personal history, how we can never completely disappear ourselves, Barthes-like, from the text and must be culpable for every ruddy word. So far, I have completed two thirds of the first draft between May and August.
Arlene’s Atoms, my completely complete novel, my heartiest attempt at a mildly ambitious, mildly mainstream breakout novel, has been sent to six potential agents: had turn-downs from one (Conville & Walsh), waiting for the others. Once the MS is turned down from all six (one won’t correspond, I have to assume a no), I’ll scope out other possible UK agents, then will send the MS directly to big-publisher slush piles (i.e. into the vast blackness of space), then small-press slush piles (at least the suggestion of a response!), then I’ll give up. Not writing. But shopping the novel for the foreseeable future. If this book doesn’t get published I don’t hold much hope for getting another one out there.