Running the Gauntlet
About five years ago, long before the house of mud, I did something reckless.
I was wandering the aisles of Waterstones in the UK like a bookless orphan. I scoured the shelves for a wedge of contemporary fiction, something rich and thought-provoking that I could sink my teeth into.
An hour later, I left the store in a huff, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s Hollywood or books, there just doesn’t seem to be room for the thinking woman in the world of marketing. I was a soul-searcher approaching middle-age who harboured no calling to settle down in domestic bliss, nor any interest in Louis Vuitton, who I might have thought was a French centre-back. I was looking for a snippet of direction. I wasn’t about to draw it from the world of literature, though. Bugger it! I said feeling far too dauntless for my own good. I’m going to write my own book, then. It was back in 2009, I started Ayşe’s Trail.
Five years later.
Many people have heard about the house of mud. But not so many know of the other journey I was on at the same time, the infinitely more excruciating inner expedition that was my book. Yes, the
earthbag house was a breeze in comparison, I can tell you. Contrary to what I had believed, writing a novel isn’t simply a case of scribbling your imagination down on paper and mailing it to the printer. Oh if only! Novel writing is a mission to the nethermost corner of the dark side and back again, naked, walking on a tightrope, carrying a sack of vipers over one shoulder and a satchel of
hand grenades over the other. Once you’ve embarked on book writing, every submerged demon whose head you’ve been quietly stamping upon, will surge up to haunt you. Your every insecurity will drop from the rafters, stick its fingers in the corners of its mouth and waggle its tongue at you. You will pull out the contents of your soul only to be tortured by the opinions of others. You will read over what you’ve written. Some days that’s a glorious process and you’ll be certain you’re the reincarnation of Proust. The next day you’ll reread the manuscript, bite all your nails off, and promptly use chapters as stove kindling or fold the pages slowly and deliberately into origami swans. Weeks go by. Your laptop gloats at you from table. You inhale, flex your fingers, and dare to take another peek. Slender strands of hope slip out from among the morass of words. You write. You dream. Inspiration floats through the windows in golden clouds. Then one day (did I mention it took five years) the novel is ready, and for at least six minutes, you’re convinced it’s the best thing to grace a page since Goethe wrote Faust. That’s when, arms outstretched like one of the three wise men offering frankincense or myrrh, you hand your precious new-born child over to A Reader.
Readers have little notion of their significance in a writer’s world, until the day, that is, they write. In the hyper-sensitive mind of the writer, Readers are Titans. It doesn’t matter how old a friend or how positive A Reader might be, at the moment you hand over the fragile body of your writing, they appear to you as the divine hammer of judgement itself. How many times have I written blog articles, flinchingly pressed the ‘PUBLISH’ button and felt compelled to run and hide behind the sofa. For the next week I'll be bracing myself for the barrage of comments. Or worse still, the lack of comments.
Articles are one thing. But the novel it’s taken you five years to write? It feels like literary life and death. Sometimes A Reader says nothing to you for weeks and, like a desperate lover waiting for a phone call, you’ll feel irrational and violent urges to beat down their door, hold their head over the gas hob and yell, ‘Well wasn’t there anything you liked about it?’
If you are lucky, The Reader will bother to summon you for feedback. They will inform you politely and earnestly that your story has some potential, but you’ll have to rewrite it. Or delete your
main character. Or change the voice. Because as it stands, it doesn’t quite work. You walk home shoulders rounded, head bowed, realising you are a useless, incompetent cretin worthy only of the crumbs discarded from the round table of great authors. You slide your manuscript under the leg of a wobbling table. And there it remains for a few months.
Yes. Novel writing is a risky gauntlet to run. It’s sobering. It's terrifying.
Thus, it is with heart palpitating slightly that I place before you, Oh Reader, Ayse’s Trail. As always with creative writing, it started out as one thing, and ended up as another. Stories have a life of their own, and often one wonders who is narrating. So, if you like hiking, or soul-searching, or the wilderness, or perhaps you want to know more about the gateway between worlds that is my beloved Turkey, or you have a penchant for the philosophy of time, here you go; Ayse’s Trail. Contemporary biography meets historical fiction. And a bit more besides.
Atulya K Bingham
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