Sunday, 25 May 2014

Kipling, Durrell and me: how the novel works...

The Cushion Effect undoubtedly combines the dual elements of what Rudyard Kipling called “the game” and “the quest”, as exemplified in Kim, which Lawrence Durrell, also a proponent of these two fictional elements in nearly all his stories, identified as his bedside book. I suppose by the side of my pillow is the redoubtable The Revolt of Aphrodite, or Tunc and Nunquam as they are entitled as the individual novels published by Faber and Faber. I have long since abandoned The Alexandria Quartet to the ottoman at the foot of my bed.

The three central female characters in The Cushion Effect chase the game, the secret that must be discovered in the novel’s denouement, centred on Catherine’s husband’s midlife crisis. Yet at the same time a second game is played through Naomi and her cushion, which contains an intimate missive. The interior quest, the individual’s pursuit of self-knowledge, runs parallel to the public game or games. It is present in all three women with differing outcomes. Ultimately the focus of attention for the quest is how Leanne emerges by the end of the book, but it is deliberately held in the balance until the very last paragraph. Leanne is the everywoman of The Cushion Effect whereas Catherine and Naomi are its pragmatic professional and impetuous romantic extremes.  

I can see clearly now how my novel evolved although the writing of it took many drafts. My literary forbears have much of the responsibility for that and the methods I use to draw out the sketch of an idea until it is sufficient of a storyline to receive additional embellishment. It is not a way to write a novel a year. I certainly cannot recommend it. Nevertheless it is my way. And the ideas grow into sketches, the sketches into stories and the stories into novels in some haphazard laboratory of the mind and soul. My bench is awash with literary life forms in various stages of development and decay, some oozing life, some barely changing cells and taking in oxygen and water. It is hard to admit that this is not exciting. It’s … a life. My life.

My thanks to Richard Pine, editor of Lawrence Durrell’s Judith: A Novel, whose 2012 introduction to the aforesaid work has inspired my thoughts.

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