© Write magazine
When I write fiction, I try to follow two rules: not to write about drunkards and not to write about writers.
The main reason for these rules is to avoid laziness. If your main character is a drunkard, he or she can make any decision or perform any action no matter how ridiculous or irrational because, well, they’re drunk. It becomes a cheap ‘n’ easy ploy for authors to sidestep the necessity for logic and reason in their plots. It’s also cheap ‘n’ easy to have a writer as your main character, though in a different way. Writers aren’t beholden to the same working conventions as most other people. They don’t have to be in a specific location for X number of hours each day, starting at Y o’clock and ending at Z o’clock. So if you’re crafting a plot, your writer-character is available to do anything, anywhere, at any time of the day. Which again strikes me as a cop-out.
I also don’t like stories about writers (and literary-related people) because it just seems so up its own arse. I still like to moan about the dire state of contemporary English literature back in the days of my youth by holding up, as an example, the shortlist for 1984’s Man Booker Prize. That year, the novel that should have won the Booker – J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – was the only one that didn’t have a writer, or a biographer, or a literary scholar, as its main character. (For the record, the other novels on the shortlist were Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot, Anita Desai’s In Custody, Penelope Lively’s The World According to Mark, David Lodge’s Small World and, the eventual winner, Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac.) I’m sure such writer-fixated novels were fascinating for the 0.001% of humanity who actually worked in, moved around in and fraternised in the literary world – but were a bit smug and elitist for everyone else.
The only author I can forgive for having writers as his main characters is Stephen King, basically because I find his work so damned entertaining no matter whom he writes about. (Well, as the blurb on his books used to intone: WORDS ARE HIS POWER.) In The Shining (1977), he even got away with having as a main character a man who was both a writer and a drunkard. Wow!
© Warner Bros / The Producer Circle Company / Peregrine Films
Anyway, all this is a preamble to saying that Volume 2, Issue 1 of a new Sri Lankan magazine of poetry, fiction and literary articles called Write has just gone on sale and it includes a short story by me called Holmes, Sherlock. And guess what? As I’m a complete and utter hypocrite, I have broken my own rules and betrayed my own principles and made it about a character who’s a writer. Sorry. I’m not proud of myself.
Incidentally, because the subject matter of Holmes, Sherlock is less dark and macabre than what I usually write about, I haven’t published it under a pseudonym like Jim Mountfield. It’s attributed to my own, real, very boring name.
Available for just 400 Sri Lankan rupees, the new issue of Write can be purchased at the Barefoot Bookshop on Galle Road or at the Sooriya Village Restaurant on Skelton Road. And here’s a link to the magazine’s Facebook page.