Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Juvenilia

For a long time I wanted to write a novel about a pianist. The pianist was going to be a jazz pianist and the novel was going to be called 88 Tuned Drums, which is how someone once described Cecil Taylor's aesthetic. At first it was going to be a Bernhardian monologue by the pianist's obnoxious brother or best friend. Then I decided it would consist of eighty-eight short sections that could be read in any sequence, with different sequences having particular harmonious or discordant effects. What a great idea! I thought, patting myself on the bottom like I was my own teammate in a ruggedly masculine and not-at-all-homosexual sporting team. Form and content: together at last! But the novel never came together because a) I realised I would have to learn a lot of stuff about music and life as a musician if I was going to make it work, and I was too lazy to get into all that; b) I became obsessed with my ingenious structural conceit to the point that I had no interest in developing characters and incident and story; and c) I realised there were already a gajillion novels about pianists and nobody was clamoring for another. Seriously, a gajillion. Just off the top of my head there's Bernhard's The Loser, Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, Wladvslaw Szpilman The Pianist, which was adapted into the movie by Roman Polanski. (There are lots of movies about pianists, too.) I'm sure you can think of your own examples, and if not, just make some up. (The Middle C by Christos Tsiolkas, say, or Pianofortress by Matthew Reilly.) If a novel or movie is about a classically trained musician you can bet they'll be a pianist, violinist or cellist, unless they're a principal opera singer or composer. Why aren't there (as far as I know) any novels about glockenspiel or trombone virtuosos? (The Tromboner's Wife has a lovely ring to it.) Are you telling me a novel about a French hornist - maybe even a horny French French hornist - wouldn't totally rock? It's time for literature and cinema to give equal consideration to the non-"sexy" instruments, like those anti-rockist rock bands who set up the drums at the front of the stage so as not to privilege the guitars or whatever. Thank god I didn't finish my piano novel. I would only have become part of the problem.

Other novels I have started, and in some cases written quite substantial portions of, include: a blatant Terry Pratchett/Robert Rankin rip-off about two young men who spoke using an absurdly rich and pompous vocabulary (I was sixteen and had recently discovered the thesaurus) and had wacky fantasy-based adventures of some sort; a Tarantino-esque lovers-on-the-lam pulp fiction in which an oversexed, wise-cracking couple went on a road trip/crime spree and inexplicably (I distinctly remember this part) shot up the toilet block of a Merimbula caravan park; The Critic, an alleged satire about a sharp-tongued tv critic and his entanglement with a Sam Newman-esque ex-footballer/media sensation. (I was in thrall to Martin Amis when I wrote this, which is funny because nowadays I'd be more inclined to write a satire about MA than emulate him); City, a grim fantasy set in an isolated city called City, because what could be more imaginative? These putative novels were all produced in my late teens/early twenties, so I probably shouldn't be too harsh on my callow self-of-old, nor should I make my self-of-now feel miserable by pointing out what, say, Keats had accomplished by the age I was drafting chapter one ("Bright Tights, Big City") of my city-based fantasy novel City, featuring John "City" City, a city guardsman whom the city has pushed too far...

7 comments:

Mel said...

Patrick Süskind wrote a novella called The Double-Bass which I always meant to track down but never did.

Mel said...

Also, I am sure I have blogged about my shameful juvenilia. When I was 14, I was determined to publish a fantasy novel by the time I was 15. It never had a title because I referred to it as "my master novel". I made up the characters' names by mashing keys on a typewriter and there is no way some of my character combinations could ever have been replicated in typeset type!

Then there was also my crime novel phase during my teen years in which I invented various hardboiled detectives. Justin Fowler was a dissolute upper-class Brit who had a problem with cocaine and suicide attempts and had a faithful butler (think Jeeves crossed with Alfred from Batman). Then there was Delia Byrne, the sassy, ever-so-'90s redhead who drove a Ford Capri and would only wear black, grey and mint green.

(Oh, I'm so embarrassed.)

I think I had a third detective whose name was Claudia, but the details are mercifully hazy.

In my early 20s I decided to do a parodic fantasy novel called The Stymrocnahan Chronicles. Stymrocnahan was a prophesied child whisked away at birth from his dying teenage mother, raised by druids and destined to save the realms, you get the picture.

Mel said...

Ah crap I'm sorry to be spamming your comments but your talk of City has reminded me that I'm currently reading The City and the City at your recommendation and it's really rather good.

TimT said...

Did you pick the chapter title 'Bright Tights, Big City' because of its spooneristic potential? (Bright Sights, Big Titty?)

When I was at uni I kept on telling people that I was going to write a book called 'The Mystic Significance of Chess', because, well, I liked the title. And liked chess too, but really, it could have been backgammon or lawn bowls or parchesi (whatever that is).

Apparently Paul Heindemith wrote a series of concertos for neglected instruments (Bugle concerto, concerto for timpani, etc). Never heard any of 'em.

Tim said...

FWIW I would probably read the Justin Fowler mysteries and The Mystic Significance of Chess.

That's funny about the Mieville, Mel, because this week I've sent a couple of people curious about him to my review TC&TC. His new one is meant to be good too.

Christopher Miles said...

I desperately want to read about the adventures of John 'City' City.

Bobby Pfeiffer said...

Mhm, over-planning and getting too caught up in the form has that effect. All I know about writing is that wanting to write, brooding over an idea, thinking of writing or even trying to write don't quite get the job done. Writing does :D