Today I'm pleased to welcome Author Deborah Valentine to 'The Story Factory Reading Zone'
About Deborah Valentine
Plus Ca Change from Deborah Valentine
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s an old adage and deceptively complex. Things do change, sometimes quite radically, while others remain an underlying constant. This struck me as I recently attended the Matisse, The Cut-Outs, exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Matisse was an old man when he started doing his ‘cut-outs’. A new art form born out of a stroke, of being wheel-chair bound; his limited mobility left him unable to paint as he once did. But he could still see, he could wield a pair of scissors and, with the aid of a bevy of lovely young assistants, was able to create beautifully flowing works of art. At first, the work seemed child-like, almost primitive, but evolved into ever more sophisticated compositions. Things had changed, changed radically, yet his feel for expression, his artistic eye, remained a constant.
So what has this to do with writing? With the notable exception of Neil Gaiman, who constantly urges writers to ‘make good art’, few writers are comfortable calling themselves artists and instead speak of ‘craft’. But if Art is an expression of the inner life, of caring and purpose, then however poncy it may sound writers are artists. And we all change.
When I first started writing, with that child-like joy of play, I wrote a series of crime fiction, The Bryce Series. In the happy ignorance of youth, I didn’t even know I was writing crime fiction—it took my agent to point it out to me (writers couldn’t get by with that today—we’re all expected to be so savvy, or at least know what we’re writing!). Unorthodox Methods, A Collector of Photographs and Fine Distinctions were well received and are bound up in my mind with that first thrill of creation, that realisation of purpose in life: ‘oh, this is what I do—I write’. I love those books and the people within them. But… Plus ça change.
With The Knightmare—a book with a touch of the supernatural, the historical epic and the romantic—make no mistake I’ve changed genres, despite reasonable plaudits in a life of crime (so to speak). So why the change? Aren’t we supposed to stick with a formula—or at least a genre—so we don’t, heaven forbid, disappoint or confuse our audiences? I don’t think audiences are given enough credit.
Life can throw a lot of things at you—death, disability, poverty, something as simple as a change of path or as unexpected as happiness. Certainly I had my fair share of rocks on the road. I spent a number of years writing The Knightmare. Like Matisse (somewhat) I started all over again, getting my scissors out from time to time. Yet it was exciting following a new path, with new experiences both comfortable and uncomfortable behind me. It took me somewhere fresh, allowed the imagination to flow in other directions. As life goes on, you discover more things about yourself and the world around you. Perspectives change. There is a shift in the light, throwing up shadows or illuminating the dark.
But of course, some things remain the same—as it is with us all. There is still an emphasis on relationships of one sort or another—familial, romantic or friendly. And however it has evolved through life, there is still a point of view or use of language that is unique to every writer. And a sense of humour (or lack thereof). When I, and when audiences, pick up this book, they still know it’s me. And I still love my characters.
I’ve a new book in the offing, Who is Huggermugger Jones? It will mark a change for the hero and heroine of The Knightmare, as well as for their friends, introducing new characters who will instigate another era in their adventures. If there is one thing that stays the same is that I like a series. Because like the people around you—family, friends, workmates—characters grow too and have a life of their own. Not to mention a sense of humour uniquely theirs.
The important thing is not to be afraid of change—it gives a new lease of life to everything. Matisse could have dried up and blown away after his stroke. Instead he worked on his cut-outs for the last 17 years of his life. As a result of working with them, Matisse took the work another step forward, designing stained glass windows for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence on the French Riviera. Hugely satisfied with the work he pronounced it ‘the result of all my active life’.
So is every book.