Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


For No One Else

I do not want you
to read my poems any more.

You see only the words
and not the mysteries.

But what is worse is
you don't want to see.

28 September 1986

beer matI was surprised to see this poem crop up here. I would’ve sworn I’d written it about my first wife because there definitely came a point when I stopped showing her my work. I don’t remember getting to that stage with F. but maybe I did or maybe I was thinking about my first wife when I wrote it. Hard to tell. I’ve definitely not got to that stage with Carrie and her opinion still matters. I take that as a good sign. It helps that Carrie’s a writer. No other woman I’ve been involved with has written and so they could never understand how important it was to me. I might as well have been showing them a new beer mat I’d ordered online. They always treated writing as a thing I did and it’s so much more than that. I talk about this in the new book:

My wife used to read all my stuff when she was alive. She would check over everything I gave her whenever I presented it to her; it was never a bad time even when my timing was off which, as I recall, it often was. She read it and then passed comment on it. Customarily she would make notes in the margins, circle certain words or recommend alternative punctuation. It exasperated me no end when she handed the pages back and there were no such addenda. It used to grate on me. I was never convinced that the work was perfect so the problem had to be she had not read it deeply enough or carefully enough or she had only understood it superficially, only read it as a story, an arrangement of plots and subplots, text and subtext, dialogue and description. No, those were merely the strings to my bow, not the music; that was something intangible, something beyond crass notation. It is as good as analogy as any. Perhaps one day that will find itself interred in some godawful book of quotes but hopefully not. “Did you not like it?” I would say and she would say it was “fine”—that was her go-to word—but I would continue to interrogate her: what about the character development? did she feel my hero grew or shrank as the case may be? did he have his own voice or was it merely me mouthing off?
     “No, dear,” she would say (it was the only time she ever called me “dear”). “I think the voice was fine—very… not you.”
     On and on I would go, whittling away, but never asking the key question. I never said, “Did you get it?” did she know what I meant. I never hinted at things like that for fear she might say, “I guess not—sorry,” and I would have failed. I did not wish to fail.

I should be done now. I had one last block of minor changes to make before passing it over to Carrie to read and then my laptop froze during the latest Windows update—damn you to hell Microsoft!—and I’ve had to reinstall my laptop from scratch. So guess what I’ve been doing for the last two days. Which is also why I’m writing on this at 10am on Wednesday. Normally I do not like to leave things this late.


Kass said...

Jim, you have the right wife for you.

Your book looks so interesting and accessible.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure how accessible it’s going to be, Kass. Of course I never set out to make it inaccessible but there will be a lot your average reader will miss. At one point Joe quotes Nabokov from his Lecture on Literature, where he says, “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.” It’s something few of us do these days. We all have too many books to read even the once and so we end up not reading any of them properly. Writers, realising this, pamper to the masses and produce books that you can get away with reading only the once which is a shame but that’s not me. No one—and I do mean no one—will pick up on everything in the book. As Joe puts it,

Let’s face it, the bulk of your Easter eggs and wordplay are going to go whoosh! over the heads of the majority of your readers. I mean all the Douglas Adams stuff is fine but Erma Bombeck! Honestly?

And that’s fine. You will get the gist of the book just like when I was a kid listening to Radio Luxembourg on my mono radio; I got a feel for what they were playing. But that’s no way to listen to good music. Anyway this afternoon I finished incorporating my last set of tweaks. It’s time I let Carrie read the thing and see what she says.

Kass said...

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.”

Great quote. It gives me tons of justification for having so many books. I do reread them. Sometimes, I just reread the under-linings.

Congratulations on the near-completion of your book.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, Kass, I’ve now read The More Things Change fourteen times from cover to cover and I’m not sick of it yet. In fact there are still sentences I stumble upon that please the hell out of me. Probably my favourite is: “A genuine, card-carrying, dyed-in-the wool writer would no more be caught sans notebook that a photographer would be seen leaving his house minus his camera or a gigolo without his penis.” One of the running gags in the book is that Jim keeps on thinking about things he intends to look up later—like, for example, if “burglarphobia” is a real word—but he never has pen and paper to hand.

What’s disappointing are the number of typos I missed even after fourteen rereads. I really thought I’d nailed them but Carrie’s a good editor and then we’ll see if my beta readers catch anything after her. Proofreading is hard. I just get so caught up in the story especially the third section of the book because it’s just this tirade or words with hardly a breath.

I’ve not read many books more than once. The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar jump to mind. I’d read them both when I was at school and it was interesting to see how they held up to adult scrutiny. I was disappointed with Salinger I’ll be honest but not the Waterhouse. The book I’ve read the most often is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was the first book I bought after leaving school and I’ve read it roughly every ten years since. It cost me 35p back then (about 53¢) The 2013 reprint retails for £7.95 (about $11.96). Makes me regret not buying a lot more books back then when they were a reasonable price.

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