and posted in Australia, Essay
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(C) Nicholas Fourikis

As it takes me one to three years to write a book, I want to consider many issues before deciding what to write. The worst scenario I can imagine is to rush into a story and abandon ship after six or twelve months.

I don’t want to even think of ‘whodunit it’ stories and I’m not a romance writer. My heroes fall in love and I chronicle the occasional lovemaking scene but I don’t want to fill a book with bed hopping heroes enjoying the delights of the flesh.

My book should be a hero’s journey for without heroes nothing changes and the world we live in becomes a depressing place. Reading the lives of the saints fascinated me, I rejoiced every time Ulysses escaped from yet another near death experience and I cried the day Martin Luther King was assassinated but I’m not into biographies of well-known heroes. I want to write about the unsung heroes you and I would chronicle.

Coming to structural matters, I no longer believe the schoolteachers of the world who stipulate that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. The modern readers don’t have the time to read three to four chapters before the author introduces them to the main conflict of the story. I introduce the readers to the conflict the hero faces as soon as possible. Then I chronicle the actions she takes to resolve the conflict – the denouement.

While many argue the beginning of a novel is important, I hold the last chapter of the book is as important. When the reader reaches the end of my book, I would like them to feel happy my hero accepted the challenges of the conflict. It was a good fight. Here I’m not thinking of the outcomes of boxing or wrestling matches or the end of a war because my hero carpet bombed the Dresden of the story. I am interested in the conflicts between generations or the clashes arising from prejudice, fanaticism or jingoism.

My second requirement is emotional connection not so much because emotions sell but because if I don’t feel an emotional connection with a story my writing is not authentic.

In what follows I’ll only explore stories with which I have an emotional connection. I cannot imagine writing a story that doesn’t have a universal theme. And a laundry list of good intentions will not do. This issue is important but what is a universal theme? Given the constraints imposed by this short contribution I’ll explore only two important universal themes here.

Many writers declared that we don’t live authentic lives – a true universal theme. ‘Man is born free;’ Rousseau noted, ‘and everywhere he is in chains. Politeness requires this thing; decorum that; ceremony has its forms and fashion its laws, and these we must always follow, never the promptings of our nature.’

In the play Uncle Vanya, Chekhov exposes us to many encores of the same theme. The young beautiful woman of the play, for instance, is in love with the country doctor but she doesn’t leave her boring husband because he has a professorship.

T. S. Elliot’s Wasteland is a land where everybody is living an inauthentic life. Doing as other do, doing what someone tells us to do. And no one has the courage to strike out and be the captain of his life.

The world started with an act of disobedience, Fromm wrote, and will end with an act of obedience.

With so much theory under our belts, you will now understand the mess I’m in. Maureen and I were hopelessly in love. ‘No one else would love you more,‘ she declared with conviction while we gazed at the first sunrise of this century. And what did I do? Did I propose to her? Did I marry her? No I didn’t. I dumped her and married a well-to do woman with whom I have nothing in common! Am I happy? Of course I’m not and I suffer everyday of the week and twice on Sundays when she drags me to church. My ordeal has a beginning but no end because I cringe every time she touches me. I cough whenever I smell the smoke in her hair and I think of Maureen when we make love. Years ago I used to think that suicide was the coward’s way out but now I’m convinced it’s an honourable escape from my living hell.

Love knows no societal boundaries, is another important universal theme. Did Romeo seduce the lovely Juliet by reciting the poems of Ariosto? No, a hundred times no. We remember the lovers because there was nothing but hatred between their families. It was un amour fou story that blossomed where hatred reigned.

This memorable love story fades into insignificance when we consider amour fou stories in modern settings. Hatred resulting from a feud between two Italian families does not compare with the hatred based on the extermination of thousands of innocent civilians. Here I’m thinking what the Moslem Bosnians suffered in the hands of the Christian Serbs. When I was young I believed that each prayer repeated has a certain value in cleansing away sin. Now we know what Ethnic Cleansing is.

Away from the Balkans let us consider the amour fou between Almaz, a young Palestinian girl and Simon, an Israeli soldier. Almaz’s brother was a suicide bomber and Simon killed many Palestinians every time his company raided the Gaza Strip. Love however ignored all this hatred and blossomed.

How did the young lovers fare? If you like sad endings her people stoned Almaz to death because she fraternized with the enemy. And Simon flips when he sees her body covered in bruises and blood. She died, he hears, clutching the medallion he gave her – the Star of David.

If you like happy endings Simon deserted the Army and walked to Jordan with a forged passport. In Amman he meets Almaz who abandoned her family to be with her beloved. Imagine what the Army or his family thought of Simon. Consider the shame Almaz brought to her family. Fleeing from so much hatred they survived under the protection of the UN for a year before they boarded a plane to Adelaide where they spend the rest of their lives building bridges between the Arabs and the Israelis.

In summary, amour fou stories unite all of us because the heroes ignore the petit bourgeois reasons that divide one family from another, one race from another and the members of one religion from another.

But wait a minute, you’ll interrupt. What do we know about Arabs and Israelis? Are we not supposed to write about what we know? You are right but I don’t think many readers would want to read about the life and times of my auntie Mabel. She married three times and ended a binge alcoholic but she was no hero.

If we don’t know much about the Arabs and the Israelis we can research the topic, talk to Australian-Arabs/ -Israelis. This is what writers do!

Jules Verne was a lawyer but he consulted with scientists and artillery engineers, before writing his book From Here to the Moon. Michael Ondaatje wrote The English Patient after he studied the living history of the era between the two world words. Michael Frayn is a journalist who sought many free tutorials from nuclear physicists before writing Copenhagen. An outstanding play that explored the consequences of a conversation Heisenberg (a German) and Bohr (a Dane) had during the war.

That is what writing is. You forget your auntie Mabel and break the rules because you have a memorable and original story to tell! Literature is in good hands so long as creative writers lean toward disobedience.

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4 Comments so far:

  1. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    Nicholas,
    I love the breadth of your thoughts and the clarity of your expression. Thank you for sharing with us this important piece.

    I am particularly interested in the different ways writers write. As you say, research can be of utmost importance and ‘breaking the rules’ in the way of which you speak is something I wholly embrace.

    One thing, if one is faced with the ‘worst scenario’ of having to abandon a story after some six or twelve months of work, or even longer perhaps, it is, of course, extremely disappointing and frustrating, however I do believe that nothing goes to waste. And in this case the writing will still have extended the writer in development of some kind; sometimes, too, parts of the disbanded writing can be used later in other ways or other forms.

    Some writers are more considered and careful in their approach to starting a work, while others might work off a single idea, not yet thought through, or a potent image that will not go away but inspires pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Some writers have no idea how their work will progress or end and the characters or scenarios develop as they go with their own volition; this can be quite an exciting process. As an example here, Vladimir Nabokov would walk and walk while thinking through his writing and then make concise notes on file cards before commencing writing, while Sue Woolfe (an Australian author) has a chaotic method of sitting on the floor surrounded by scrappy little notes of thoughts and piecing some of them together to make form, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.

    It’s all a wonderful process, whichever way it goes, and thanks again for sharing your thoughts and process of writing.

    Liat K-N

  2. fourikis says:

    Hello Liat,

    And thank you for your comments. If I dont use pages and pages of a MS, I keep them; I too never erase them.

    Writers have different ways of going about the task of writing a MS. I write a skeleton MS first where my mind explores different areas of the novel without editing anything. Then I use segments out of the skeleton MS to form chapters of my definitive MS.

    I always encourage friends who are about to write their first book by saying. Forget the plot of your book and write episodes that must be included in your book. When you have enough episodes you’d find a way of sticking them together and form the MS of your first book.

    To thank you for your comments I share with you the aphorism by Pindar.
    “Exhaust the present!” or “Exhaust the possibilities the present offers you!”

    I’d like to meet you during my visit to Melbourne this Easter, if you are free. And talk and talk.

    Ciao, Nick

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Hello Nick,

    A wonderfully thought provoking essay. Auntie Mabel is always a stumbling block I try hard to avoid, or as you say, the writing becomes too mundane. Even though my real life Aunt Mabel’s were such interesting characters known as the “Flora Dora’s” – zany yet more astute and larger than life than your average. Often think I should characterize them in prose.

    I think your essay is so good your should indeed publish it widely in literary markets so that many can learn and enjoy.

    Ciao for now, Gabrielle.

  4. Hello Gabrielle

    And thank you for your comments. Right now I’m busy with the MS of the novel
    ” Hypatia’s Feud,” I’ve been working for some time. The good news is that after I complete this task this year, I’ll follow your advise.
    My six aunties led fascinating lives but “my Hypatia” (she is mine after so much research) dealt with univerasl issues / themes
    Your aunty sounds interesting and I feel you are the right person to give her blood and bones.
    Once more I thank you.

    Regards, Nick

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