I opened this blog in February and it has so far been a place for telling people about my writing, reviews etc. I’ve wanted to transform it into a more dynamic and fun place though, so I’m very pleased to be a part of Hic Dragones’ blog tour for the amazing anthology Impossible Spaces.
I’m thrilled to introduce my first guest blogger, Scottish author Douglas Thompson.
As well as numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies, Douglas is the author of seven novels: Ultrameta (2009) and Sylvow (2010) both from Eibonvale Press, Apoidea (2011) from The Exaggerated Press, Mechagnosis from Dog Horn (2012), Entanglement from Elsewhen Press ( 2012), and Volwys and Freasdal from Dog Horn and Acair Publishing respectively, due in late 2013/early 2014. You can find Douglas on Twitter as @UrbanSurrealist or on his webpage: http://douglasthompson.wordpress.com
I loved Douglas’ s story for Impossible Spaces. It’s called “Multiplicity”, and is a weird science fiction story that raises many ideas, some of them quite provoking. I love it when a story makes me ponder further. This story tossed around my ideas of individuality vs the group.
Douglas wrote an interesting blog post about writing within and crossing literary genres on Hannah Kate’s blog (http://hannahkate.net/guest-post-douglas-thompson), so I thought I should ask him of another aspect that fascinated me while reading his story. It’s a complex narrative that discusses several themes. At the same time there is such a strong and personal voice in the story: a woman. I know from own (though limited) writing experience that it’s very difficult to write from a man’s perspective, so I was curious about the gender perspective and if Douglas found it difficult to write a woman’s voice?
Over to Douglas:
Thanks, Margret, for being so hospitable as to offer me a spot on your lovely new blog. The topic of gender might be a good one for me to tackle next. “Multiplicity” is pretty much written from the perspective of a woman. I say pretty much, because it’s actually written in the third person, rather than the first. It adopts the narrative standpoint which I heard the Scottish writer James Robertson describe in a lecture earlier this year as the optimum one for any author: to be hovering in space about four inches outside and behind the head of your main character. It’s become very common recently for me to write from the standpoint of a female protagonist, often in the first person, which is probably harder.
Indeed I can give you a scoop here and publicly confess for the first time that I have even had several short stories published over the last year under a female pseudonym. I can’t reveal that name yet or some of the editors might come after me with gelding knives(!) but there you go, the secret is partially out now.
I think gender is one of the major thorny issues of our current age, something I want to tackle in my writing, and yet I’ve often felt potentially constricted in this by the subconscious prejudice of editors towards men talking about women (or vice versa) based on which sex the editors might be themselves. There’s also been a lot of talk recently about why there are fewer female writers in Horror and Sci Fi (something that I’m pleased to see the table of contents of Impossible Spaces disproves), and submitting as a woman has enabled me to test this hypotheses a bit.
Some of my most seminal influences have been female writers, particularly the American Southern Gothic writer Eudora Welty, who wrote what I regard as some of the greatest short stories in the English language. I’ve avidly read everything Welty ever wrote, including her autobiographical reflection (‘One Writer’s Beginnings’) on the art of writing itself. I was surprised to read, when I was starting out writing myself in my early twenties, that Welty regarded the highest achievement of any writer as the ability to put their imagination into the mind of someone completely different from themselves. I think I expected that she’d say it was poetical descriptions or plot or something like that. But over time, I’ve realised she was right and that forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and into other people’s heads makes for the best work and the greatest insights. It’s almost supernatural at times in fact, the extent to which the human mind can perform this feat, under the discipline of fiction. Obviously, the more different the mind you try to inhabit the greater the challenge, but I don’t think we all have to choose serial killers to get interesting results.
I am the youngest of four brothers, and I think in retrospect I really missed out by not having a sister. I’m fortunate in having made close female friends over the years since (including my partner Rona) from whom I can gain insights into a feminine perspective (even when they don’t know I’m doing it!). Men and women are different, basically. Statement of the obvious. Not spectacularly or disastrously so, but for instance if an alien race asked to meet “one” of us, I think if we’re honest we’d realise that we’d have to send them two of us, a man and a woman (there’s even an argument that we’d have to send them at least twelve of us, but that’s back to my group consciousness theory which I aired in the previous post!).
Everything stems from the basic biological difference between the sexes, and riffs and snowballs in layers of complication on top of that. Women can give birth and men cannot. There is a very special bond between a mother and her baby, which in the case of a girl potentially provides a direct role model from an early age, but for a boy involves a recognition of otherness in himself that he must come to terms with, with or without a father figure. I would describe this as giving rise to a subconscious feeling in men that they are less close to the centre of life than women. Perhaps this is why women have often made terrific writers, to generalise grotesquely: I’d say most women have a greater ear for, and interest in, stories about the lives of others. Self-obsession occurs in both sexes and particularly in writers and artists of course, but in my experience the kind of terrible suicidal depressions which afflict young men in their early twenties (I know, I was one of them) are less common in women because they “get” instinctively that they are not just individuals but part of a continuum of births and deaths and part of a larger social group. Knowledge of this social group and the ability to depict it, are of course key ingredients of making interesting writing. To be male to me, is to always be slightly incomplete, and female company (by which I often mean nothing more than a cup of tea and chat these days!) gives me a subliminal sense of peace and calm, as I regain a certain wholeness to my perspective. I mean none of this to disturb gay readers by the way. Without blundering into an even bigger topic, I would suggest that perhaps gay people have the masculine and feminine aspects of human awareness partially combined in one person… lucky old them! My first novel Ultrameta (Eibonvale, 2009) involved a character who was reborn each time he died, sometimes in male, sometimes in female bodies, and I’ve had good feedback from gay readers of that book. Writing as a woman is a healing experience for me, enabling me to get outside the everyday constrictions of maleness, and I’m sure for gay people those gender chains can be more irritating at times.
One of the miracles of writing (both creating it and reading it) is the way it can enable us to understand other people, people of hugely different backgrounds, races and orientations to ourselves. In that sense it is no self-indulgent sideshow, but a key component in the great human project: that of uniting us all, by healing each of us from the inside-out. To end on a quote from Leonard Cohen (never a bad idea!): “One by one the guests arrive, the guests are coming through, the broken-hearted many, the open-hearted few”. Writers, in my experience (and I meet a lot of them these days as chairman of the Scottish Writers’ Centre) are people with a hard-won innocence, a regained innocence one might say, who have been awakened to the importance of seeing the world like a child again: with reverence and wonder.
The lovely collage is by Douglas’s brother Ally Thompson.
For more information about the Impossible Spaces anthology, or to buy a copy, please visit the Hic Dragones website: http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/impossible-spaces