More from Mark Haddon
Published: December 31, 2004
|More on why he writes: For me, writing is a vocation. I didn't take a decision to become a writer in the way that I might have made a decision to become an orthodontist or a pilot. It's more like being gay or being a Catholic priest. You gradually realize who you are, you come out to yourself, then you come out to your family and friends and hope no one runs away screaming. The upside is that I have never really had to ask myself that question which plagues so many people--What am I doing with my life? The downside is that I get up every morning to face a blank bit of paper (and there are times, many times when I wish I was working on a supermarket check-out instead). … |
Having said that, I do, in fact, do other things. I write novels. But I also write poetry, TV screenplays, radio plays, film scripts. And I paint. And my writing is, I think, better for it. When I'm struggling with a particularly difficult chapter, I'll spend a fortnight writing something completely different (or painting, during which I can forget about words altogether). Then, when I return to that difficult chapter, I've got some distance and the solutions to the problems I was wrestling with are often staring me in the face.
When do you write? Whenever I can, is the short and honest answer. I need to write to stay sane. So writing (or thinking about writing, which is equally vital) automatically expands to fill the gaps left by everything else (painting, looking after two small boys, marathon canoeing and, nowadays, dealing with my vast inbox of dog-related mail).
What was the hardest thing about writing The Curious Incident? The plot, unquestionably. Putting myself in Christopher's shoes was the simple part. But having decided that I wanted the book to seem as if it could have been written entirely by Christopher, I realized that I had a knotty problem on my hands. Christopher has no concept of the reader, and a concept of the reader is pretty much essential if you are going to shape a book so that the reading of it is a moving, entertaining, satisfying experience. I mulled this one over for a long, long time until I hit upon the idea of making Christopher a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I could then have him fit his story to this model without him having any idea of an audience.
Do you outline your fiction in advance? Yes and no. I started Curious Incident with absolutely no idea of where it was going, then had to pause for a long time to work out the shape of the book. At the moment, I'm writing a novel with the working title Blood and Scissors. I know in the very vaguest terms what is going to happen (someone gets married, someone goes insane, someone has an affair …), but within those loose constraints I try and let the story evolve.
How important were your five unpublished novels to your development as a writer and eventual success? Hugely. Most of them were absolutely dreadful and coming to that realization each time was not a pleasant experience. Curious Incident was a better book, I think, because I put into practice everything I'd learn when writing for children (brevity, humor, a well-shaped plot …). Doubtless, if I got to the age of 60 with 20 unpublished novels in my bottom drawer, I would be in a locked ward somewhere full of heavy-duty tranquilizers. But I now realize that I am in the enviable position of having spent a great deal of time under the bonnet (or hood, as you say). I know why my writing works when it works and I know why it doesn't when it doesn't. And that's the kind of knowledge I don't think you get if you are one of those writers who are blessed with a natural talent and produce a wonderful novel at 22.
A parting comment: In my admittedly biased opinion, writing is one of the most rewarding things you can do with your years on the planet. But that doesn't mean it's always fun. Being an outdoor kind of guy, I think of it as climbing a mountain. There are hugely enjoyable periods, and there are periods when you wonder why in God's name you embarked on this ridiculous escapade in the first place. But when you reach the summit, it's all worthwhile and the view is fantastic.