xxxiv

What am I worthy of? It’s an intricate question. Writing anything has for so long felt like an achievement that perhaps I haven’t stopped to ask if what I’m writing is worthy of me, of what I’m capable of. The story I spooled out earlier this week was really fun to write, good therapy for feeling that I was actually writing, and writing good stuff. But good enough?

I rarely ask myself if anything is good enough, especially from myself. Writing has felt like something I’ve wanted to do but have somehow been unable to do for so long that now I’ve found some sort of flow it’s a little galling, more than a little unsettling, to start demanding high standards. But then if I’m not doing it now, when will I ever?

Even more pressing, putting a lot of work and heart into something which could be better seems counter-productive. As does sacrificing a good idea because it’s easier to write in a more typical fashion. I still don’t feel as if I want to ‘change’ anything, but then I have no desire whatsoever to become part of the ever-present background noise out there.

That fluttering edge of creation I experienced is where I should be at. The idea at the heart of this story can handle this sort of demand, can stand up to being better than simply a ‘curio’, as my ever-loving fiancée accurately described it. Something curious, but without much purpose or presence. I love MR James stories, but that doesn’t mean I have to mould my ideas to his narrative style.

If I’m serious about writing being a career, being a money making pursuit I can call my job, then creating something which is good isn’t nearly good enough. Just being happy with becoming a good writer isn’t going to cut it. I don’t have to have world-domination in mind to be a full-time writer. But I can’t be so unambitious so as to be happy with merely good writing.

I’d forgotten that because I can write, and because it does often come naturally, that doesn’t mean I should be satisfied. But though the initial thought of this was quite upsetting, it only took one in depth conversation with my better half to recognise that all I was doing was – surprise! – conforming to expectations.

Ghost stories work ‘like this’, action happens ‘like this’, sudden moments happen ‘like this’. At its heart, the idea I had was something really odd, as a result of the level of normality it contained which was skewed by something completely unfamiliar. My first draft turned this into something spooky, in an accepted way, with a heavily suggested spiritual ‘message’.

I’d lost the odd normality, the unsettling mundanity that makes the idea what it is, and turned it into a ghostly, demon story which was fine for people who like ghostly demon stories but would be hugely unlikely to step outside of that limited audience – primarily because it wasn’t capturing a ‘human’ experience, but a contrived fictional one.

Which is exactly where I’ve struggled between what I find very easy to write – odd, spooky, highly-fictional experiences – and what I aspire with all my fibres to write – human, resounding, familiar but questioning experiences. Not so much gritty, ever-so-real Ken Loach tales, but dramas with palpable humanity underscored with questions.

This is unfocused, really, but here’s an example perhaps: I’ve been watching Red Riding, a bleak-as-trees-in-winter police drama set in Yorkshire about murder, corruption, good and evil, pain and punishment. It’s hardly happy-go-lucky stuff, but it’s also not kitchen sink grim reality. It’s utterly human, and yet bigger than the human world we know ourselves.

The strongly drawn narrative separates it from ‘reality’, yet the human suffering, pain, love, mistakes, desires, motivations and ambitions experienced and shown by the characters is unmistakeably real. It’s larger than life, but it is still life. What I had was hardly as brutal, but could have been as human. My first approach made it mere fiction.

What I love about Red Riding is the overarching sense of men attempting to be noble, to be good men. That the good men suffer unbelieveable hardships only highlights their noble aspirations, and makes even their weaknesses and flaws noble by their attempts to surpass themselves and their limitations as human. As men, surrounded by insufferable men.

I didn’t realise quite how ‘male’ my writing ambitions were, how intensely focused on what it means to be a man I was, or how much I wanted to explore this in my writing. This story might not give much opportunity for this to happen, but I should remember how it still gives me an opportunity to maintain that connection with a human story.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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