(Having published five short stories (one of them twice!) its fairly important that I make an arse of myself by drawing a comparison between George Orwell and, well, moi.)
I purchased a copy of a slim George Orwell volume, ‘Why I write’, part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, last (European) summer when I was in Paris. To be honest, I was in Shakespeare and Company, and I wanted to buy something so they could stamp it – there was nothing in the book I didn’t already have in some other compilation.
In the title essay, Orwell gives his reasons for writing: sheer egoism; aesthetic enthusiasm; historical impulse; and political purpose. I can understand Orwell writing such an essay – after all, he was a brilliant writer who wrote great works, he was an insightful thinker, and his thoughts on writing were worth recording and sharing. For a long time, I liked to think that I shared such motives, but the fact is, the first, and maybe a version of the second, are the only ones we share. And that’s ok by me, because I’m not George Orwell and as much as 1984 is on my list of favourite novels, and my copies of his books of essays are well dogeared, I am never going to produce work like that. (Neither am I going to fight in a Spanish war or go undercover as a tramp, and that is all fine by me.) And of course, not being George Orwell, my motives are of no interest to the world. But dear reader, seeing there is just the two of us here, I figure there is no problem with me sharing a little in this private place where no one else treads – its not like this is going to be sold to tourists in Shakespeare and Company on an overheated day where beers call one’s name like frothy sirens from tourist traps along the Seine, is it?
I write for pure pleasure, and that is why I often don’t write, because it is not pleasurable. I write because if I write often enough, sometimes I can live in the moment, and its just me and words, and they are coming out right, and some weird shit is coming together on the page in a way that pleases my inner ear, and I am not worrying about work, or bills, or the calls and demands of my family (whom I love – honest). None of that is any guarantee that what is coming out is any good, but I am enjoying it, it is pleasing me, and that is cool, because the internal critic has wandered off somewhere to annoy someone else for the afternoon.
And the pleasure is the passing of time engaged in something I enjoy. There is no historical impulse – there is little history in a story about a man who used to be a lizard. There is no political purpose, or none I can discern in a man receiving a telephone call from his dead son. I have aesthetic enthusiasm, but it is personal, and it is about words sounding right (to me, most likely to no one else) in service of whatever strange idea I am playing around with.
I think the main thing I am trying to do is please a particular reader. He’s a 16 year old boy with a sense of humour and a hunger for the strange. The compliment he likes the most is, how did you think up something that weird? He has some vague hope that maybe he could make a living as a writer. He’s long gone now. Don’t get me wrong, I am not writing stories for a 16 year old audience, certainly not a 16 year old audience of today. The boy might not even like or understand the story if he read it. I just like to think he would give an approving nod to the impulse behind the story, if that makes sense.
So in a strict sense, the aim in writing is not publication. Though true, that is also a lie. Mere publication does not impress that boy – he has read plenty of shit in his years. But he has also read the Dangerous Visions books, with Harlan Ellison’s comments in one or other of his introductions that writing for the trunk is masturbation, and he agrees, what is impressive is to write the thing you want to write, and then find someone willing to publish that. So, getting a nod to the impulse, and then another nod that, hey, you managed to place that piece, well done, that’s what I mean by impressing that boy.
So yes, sheer egoism, I understand that, compliments are good, editorial acceptance is great, and impressing that boy is fine. So where is all of this going?
Last year I published a story under a pseudonym with a good magazine. I had written it originally for a themed anthology, then let it lie dormant after rejection. I came back to it and worked over it a number of times. The style was different to most of my other stories, and I had a genuine aesthetic enthusiasm for it, trying a couple of different things: telling two different though related stories; one set in the past but moving forward, the other in the present but using a series of flashbacks; and having two main characters who would never meet. I am always happy to place a story, don’t get me wrong, but I was particularly happy that this story had been accepted, that someone read it and liked it, and others would have a chance to read it.
For personal reasons, there were a couple of tiny aspects of the story I thought it best not to have associated with me in another capacity at the time – no self censorship, I just didn’t need a particular complication. So I decided to use a pseudonym. As publication time approached, I wondered how that would feel (remember, I’ve only had four other stories published, so there is a novelty in seeing my name in the byline) given sheer egoism is a motivating factor.
I kind of liked it. Most of the genre writers I admired from the good old days used one or more pseudonyms. I got to make up my own name (which ended up being a tribute to both my parents and The Terminator). I have no cachet attached to my own name, so the magazine lost nothing. And I loved seeing the story in existence, out there in the world.
Which is all a very, very long winded way of saying that if you are interested, check out ‘Some Corner of a Dorset Field that is Forever Arabia’ (just left click on the title) by that cool new writer, Lloyd Connor, in a recent edition of Three-Lobed Burning Eye magazine – it’s tops (and now I am doing an Anthony Burgess, except his review of his own work was slightly longer, and more critical, than ‘it’s tops’ – then again, I’m no more Anthony Burgess than I am George Orwell). You can even hear Mr Connor read the story in a very serious voice that sounds remarkably like my own attempt at gravitas. (Don’t tell him about the mispronunciations though, he must read more than he speaks.) Mr Connor is I understand very grateful to 3LBE and to its editor, Andrew S Fuller.
And of course, after all of that, ‘George Orwell’ is a pseudonym so, me and Eric Blair, we have that in common as well. (As well as what?)