John Irving has probably had the greatest effect on my development as a writer out of any other novelist I’ve read. His novels, ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’ and ‘The World According to Garp’ really made me want to be a writer. I’ve just finished ‘Last Night in Twisted River’, his most recent novel, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a classic Irving novel, containing many of the classic Irving motifs – Bears, a New Hampshire setting, writing, wrestling, tragedies… and all written in that rambling, digressive, omniscient 3rd person, 19th century style.
Over the last two years I’ve more then dipped my toe into the SF, Fantasy and Horror world, and I doubt my writing will ever not contain some element of a a fantastical nature, but I’d argue that Irving’s writing is pretty fantastical in its own way of imagining the world. ‘Twisted River’ is filled with giant women who could be mistaken for bears, or who fall out of the sky naked; it is filled with coincidences and nightmarish/dreamlike characters who are impossibly larger than life. But what’s most fascinating about the book is Irving’s insertion of his own ideas about writing fiction. There is a definite metafictional element to it, as the writer character composes the first lines of the book we are reading. According to Irving, this is the most honest description of his own technique, the way he composes the last line of a story first and works backwards from there until he has his first line, at which point he starts writing.
I’ve been considering the plot of another novel (although I should really give the first one I wrote a chance at another draft), and it’s not necessarily Irving-esque, as the main character is essentially a zombie (of sorts), but I have a certain tragi-comic atmosphere in mind for it, although I can’t quite put my finger on the tone of voice just yet.
The previous novel I wrote (The Gardener) was conceived as a short story first, and grew out of that, which is not the best way to approach a novel. So, what I have with it, is a nice idea, some good characters, and passages of decent writing, but I don’t have an opening, and an awful lot of what goes on is poorly researched and under-plotted. Perhaps I can conceive my own way of developing the plot for the new one – not back to front like Irving, as that’s his method and it works for him, and it would be insane to try and copy it. But I may incorporate some element of how he works into its conception, and so hopefully arrive at a fuller and more satisfying plot before I actually begin the writing. That way the plot is taken care of – every thing that happens is set and all i have to worry about is the language. We’ll see.
I have managed to complete a short story recently, ‘Unpicking the Stitches’, which was tough to write, but seems to be receiving wholly positive reactions. I’m woefully behind on reviews for my writing buddies, and need to fight through the December work fatigue to keep at it, but I’m upbeat about the new year. And on that positive note, I’ll go and read a certain compatriot’s 12K story again that I should have reviewed three weeks ago.