Bring Me Existential Dread or the Muse Will Sue

This isn’t true, or is it? I don’t know. I have not been here for some time. That can be said of many areas of my writing, public reading and personal life for quite a wee while. A lot has been going on. Moving four times this year. A big bereavement. Renovating properties to try and ground my life in a way that allows me to work on novels with less pressure. Being a Mama, a friend and human with a heart that beats — in a world that has far too many reasons to create existential dread in even the most positive of people. I didn’t write my novels for about ten months. I just wasn’t sure there was a place for the novels I was working on. The things I was doing to get security — so I can keep writing and provide for my family, were so hard. Each of them was taking me further and further away from getting back to words. I could say I’ve never felt less like a writer than I have done this last year. I wonder if Jessie Kesson felt like this in her crofting years? Most recently I’ve been living in renovations for seven years straight — in the hope of finding a core stability so I can keep working on my books, which can take years to write. Literature is a privileged industry. For those of us with a -+ in such things, there are many reasons at times to lose hope. However, I loved words a long time before anyone read them. I could have picked another career to make a good living from and done well. I am particularly skilled at making houses beautiful. I take old wrecks and restore them from scratch. At the end you’d never guess how derelict or smelly or weird they were when I got them. It is hard work. In the last ten years I’ve moved over ten times and done up every house by myself, some were in extraordinarily bad condition. It was so exhausting. There is a certain art and endurance in taking a house back to the bones and rebuilding it. I am an artist, so my eye to detail is acute. I recently read Tanizaki — In Praise of Shadows. I felt a huge solace in the essay. It’s exploration of aesthetics is so pure. I have gone a long road unseen this last year or so. Now I have come back to this place — where I type and think and begin to create worlds that mean something to me firstly. I know some writers would be appalled by that, those who write  for readers, or editors, or reviews, or glory. I write to become. I write to try and make great art. It’s very impractical of me.  I write to challenge, to rage, to love, to mourn, to lust, to hope, to pursue mortality in the ways it does me. I write to unfairness, and cruelty — I write to be. I have not been doing the longer pieces. The novels. Life has been taking me out.  Despite that I brought out my last poetry collection — There’s a Witch in the Word Machine. It’s a book I really care about and I’ll blog about that separately. I wrote a play. I wrote other things. But, if I am not writing novels then a part of me feels I am just not working at all. So, anyway — I’m back in this space of fiction. I drive up and down the A1 listening to music way too loud and over these ten months of non-faith, non-practise (novels anyway) I have come to some big decisions. I worked out the structure of my 100 year-novel, I reclaimed its ending from the following novel. I am ready to stand by some things which I think are fundamentally vital as an artist. The right to create work that does not always comfort or soothe. The ability to believe in myself even when my content pushes boundaries too hard, or in too real a way? Perhaps keeping the multiplicity of real life in  literature is rare. The world has never seemed so culturally conservative. Is it incidental that we are watching the censoring of media, of challenging thought, the use of propaganda, fascist far-right dogma. Is it an incident that clinging to ideals which claim to be middle-class or elitist as the only way to save us, is beginning to seem old fashioned, out of touch and outright dangerous. We live in a world that should know by now — there are no ‘classes’ of people, there are only those who have more money, and those who do not. I am responding to a hundred years of history in one of those novels — to patriarchy and social exclusion in particular. There is much to make a person feel a true and righteous rage when considering these things. I read a blogger whose articles I find hugely challenging at times. When I find them at their most difficult, it is because they are teaching me about my own biases or ignorance in an area I don’t yet understand. I am identified as threatening at times (in my work) because of the edge I bring to the literature I write. I am an edge walker. I am a risk taker. You don’t come from my walk of life and do what I am doing, without that ability to throw down your soul as the most truthful thing you own. My life has been beyond challenging this last forty-one years, and this last twelve months have been off-the-scale. Stick that in your discordant syntax detector. I’m standing by all the gaps. The unusual. The uncomfortable. I am thinking about my novels daily again. This time I may not stop for a decade. I may be glad of my years knocking walls down. May they have prepared me for continuing to do so, and more.

Bangour Village Hospital (or) Edinburgh District Asylum. A short film by Jenni Fagan.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/219761618?autoplay=1&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

 

I decided to make a short film about the hospital where I was born. It is a Victorian psychiatric hospital village. The site is 222 acres in an isolated area, near a motorway, in West Lothian. It has taken me a long-time to be able to go back to this site and I suppose it’s unusual to be born & spend time in the womb, on a psych ward but that’s how it all started. There was a maternity ward opened on this site at some point but I was not born there. I have a lifelong attachment to Bangour Village Hospital (or) Edinburgh District Asylum and so I chose to shoot my first short film as a Writer/Director here. I will do a follow up article later but for now I’d like to let the work speak for itself. I wrote and shot this as a cine-poem. I am reading it and the eerie singing noise in the background was recorded in a cave with William Aikman. The film was made with a tiny crew from the wonderful Forest of Black Films in Glasgow. More to come soon but I wanted to share it for free, sent out in the spirit it was made in — for art & truth.

 

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