The Occasional Joys of Writing | Pushing the Wave

The Occasional Joys of Writing

Writing, 20 May 2024
by L.A. Davenport
Lisbon from Santa Luzia View Point
Lisbon, from Santa Luzia View Point, which I visited last week for work.
Last week’s column ended with a round-up of the first four days of the blog tour for Escape, The Hunter Cut, so I thought it wouldn’t seem too out of place to begin this week’s with the thoughts of the last two reviewers of the book.

Ellie Shepherd took part in the blog tour for More Life as a Dog, when she described it as a “very touching and heart-warming read.” She added: “The book is well written and a lovely read. 4 stars."

This time around, she said on Facebook: “Another captivating read from L.A. Davenport, the storyline held my attention and the character and setting detail, poor John really goes through tough time after tough time.”

“A highly recommended read.”

The day after Dee wrote on Instagram: “I enjoyed Escape: The Hunter Cut. I wasn’t sure where it was going at first, but it all becomes clear.”

She also mentioned something that was a matter of great debate before it was published, but I’m glad we stuck with in the end: “I liked how short the chapters are, it meant I could sneak one or two in while I had a couple of minutes.”

And there it is, a week of lovely reviews, which I’ll summarise simply with the words of Emma Fitzgerald, who opened the blog tour. She called Escape, The Hunter Cut an “entertaining story that will keep you gripped to the end.”

I hope you think so too.
The good news didn’t end there: I am delighted to announce that More Life as a Dog has been selected as a Finalist in the Animals / Pets category of the 2024 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

To say I am thrilled would be an understatement.

My two books about the life I shared with Kevin, my black and tan Dachshund, were written solely because I wanted to record our (sometimes crazy) adventures together, and to share with the world something of the beautiful magic that he seemed to have around him, and so willingly gave with others.

That the memoirs have been so widely appreciated and well received over the short years since I wrote My Life as a Dog has been, to me, the icing on the cake, and to have them both described as “heartwarming” many times over is frankly all I could have expected from them.

Of course, being recognised by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for More Life as a Dog is about more than acknowledging a collection of charming tales about a wee sausage dog, but also a statement about my writing.

In talking about Kevin, I wanted to capture something of the energy and wonder that he brought into my life, and the joy we shared. As such, talking about our times together was a pleasure, and I am glad that I seem to have been able to get at least some of that pleasure across on the page.
As such, I was fascinated by an exchange on X (formerly Twitter) recently that gets to the heart of how so many people like to depict writing (perhaps to make it seem difficult to those who would underestimate the craft involved) but I don’t actually believe is necessarily true.

Will Dean wrote: “To write is to fail. The outcome is never quite as beautiful as the idea."

That prompted a swift reply from Heather Fitt, who organised the blog tours for More Life as a Dog and Escape, The Hunter Cut, and was a professional reader on an early version of The Nucleus of Reality.

She said: "Never a truer word spoken!”
I hate to say this, as I am not normally one to contradict people, especially when it comes to the extremely personal experience of putting pen to paper, but that has not been my experience, at least for my recent books.

It is true to say that the journey for the two collections, Dear Lucifer and Other Stories and No Way Home, was painful and tortuous, but I don’t mind at all admitting that I was still very much learning both the art and the craft of writing, and did not yet have the confidence to put ‘myself’ onto the page.

In other words, I tried to write at one remove, which any artist in any field will tell you is no way to achieve creative honesty and integrity.

The first edition of Escape was not much easier. It was my first attempt at a novel, and I had not previously written a single story of anywhere near that length before. I suppose it didn’t help that it had started out as a plan for a short story, got written as a script and was then expanded out again and again until it had enough heft about it that I could use it to fashion a proper yarn.

In some ways, I tried too hard with it, trying to cram in as much as possible, but without yet having the ability to weave it together as a whole, or to give the principle characters the depth and individuality they needed to be able to leap off the page.

The moment I started to truly enjoy writing was when I decided to undertake My Life as a Dog.

It’s not hard to see why: I was exploring some of the happiest events in my life, spent with a creature I loved dearly, even if in the background I was going through some very difficult times both personally and professionally.

And of course everything that happens in the book is true, and the ‘main character’ was so well established in my mind that I could simply focus on the structure and flow of the book, and on doing justice to Kevin and our adventures together.

It was fun to think about how best to get his mannerisms and foibles onto the page in a way that both made sense and made for a compelling narrative.

By the time I started on my next project, The Nucleus of Reality, I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to approach writing as a task, and I also wanted to bring over from My Life as a Dog a couple of techniques that I felt had served me well.

Not only did I write without looking back, in that I did not read or revise the previous day’s work and decided that I simply need to finish the book in one go, but also I opened up my mind to whatever thoughts drifted across it while I was putting pen to paper, as it were.

What that meant in practice is that, if I had a so-called intrusive thought during the composition of, say, a passage about a day out or picnic with Kevin while writing My Life as a Dog, I wouldn’t ignore it and try to push it away. Instead, I would acknowledge it, explore it, and see if and how it could be incorporated into the narrative.

It led to some fantastic connections between different episodes, and allowed me to include many more aspects of our life than I had hitherto even suspected I could fit into the storyline.

With The Nucleus of Reality, I took that approach to a whole new level, writing down every idea, image and feeling that happened upon me while I was typing. It is, I think, what helped to create the jumpy internal dialogue that, over the course of the novel, characterises Thomas’s descent into…what? Madness? Paranoia? Delusion? Perhaps all three.

It was, in truth, the most joy and fun I had ever experienced while ‘working,’ even if it led me into some strange mental spaces.

But to come back to the original point, I didn’t any point feel as if I had ‘failed’ while I was writing The Nucleus of Reality. In working out the sketches in my mind into the ‘painting’ that the final text became, I felt I had at least matched my original vision, which was somewhat limited in comparison, as I hope that any initial outline should be.
Kings Charles III by Jonathan Yeo.jpg
King Charles III, by Jonathan Yeo.
I talk quite a lot on here about painting, so I suppose I cannot not mention what must be the art event of the year so far, if one is to judge it by the column inches and worldwide interest it has generated.

And yet the vast majority of the enormous number of reviews of and articles about Jonathan Yeo’s portrait of King Charles III can be summed up as: It’s red!!!!!

That observation seems to have so overwhelmed people that they haven’t been able to say whether they actually like the thing or not, or whether or not they think it’s good art.

To my mind, it’s achieved the principle objective of all portraiture, in that it is evocative and captures what we think of as the King, or Prince Charles, as he was when the sittings started.

I do like the butterfly motif, and the way it is used, and I think there is a sympathy and intensity about the rendition of the face that is made all the more evident by the contrast with the practically monochrome background.

But I have to say I am not sure whether that background, which has stirred up such a strong response, really adds anything to the painting or helps tell the ‘story’ more than another colour, or a more ‘traditional’ backdrop, would have done.

Overall, and although I acknowledge the strong and individual artistry of Yeo’s work, I think I might prefer to search for a latter day Angelica Kaufman if I were to get my portrait painted.

I am saying all this, and yet I haven’t even seen the portrait yet, not really. An internet reproduction is, by definition, nothing like sharing the same physical space as a work of art, and in the case of a painting, being able to spend time with it, to examine the brush strokes, to see the interplay of colours and textures and observe how they interact with the light…all that is missing when looking at a few flat pixels on a screen, themselves a reproduction many times over of the original capture via the camera that took the picture in the first place.

Nothing can prepare you for being in the same place as a painting, especially one you think you know from a thousands books, postcards and magazines. I remember so clearly the almost shock I experienced when confronted for the first tine by Botticelli’s works at the Uffizi, among many other masterpieces in their incredible collection; one that is so vast and so impressive that it leaves your head spinning.

Recently, was captivated by the oil and pastel versions of the The Lavergne Family Breakfast by Jean-Etienne Liotard, shown together recently at the National Gallery. The opportunity to examine the two works in detail, and at my leisure, was in many ways to see them for the first time, even though I was apparently familiar with the works. And of course being able to spend time with Flaming June only served to underline the need to experience a painting to be able to get anywhere close to understanding it.

I hope I get the opportunity to do the same with the King’s portrait.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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