By Baret Magarian
Eight years ago I was on a flight to Larnaca, Cyprus about to start a holiday in the company of friends. There was something faintly momentous about my feeling of excitement and liberation from the daily habits and deadening routines that normal life can slip into.
About two hours into the flight another faintly momentous thing happened, sliding out from under the tired, calloused epidermis of the quotidian. It was almost imperceptible, an undefined tension in the stomach, a fluttering of emancipating excitement. I half recognised that feeling, though it wasn’t wholly familiar. I pulled out my MacBook and began to write, and after an hour and a half I had a more or less complete story before me (the story would eventually be titled “Clock” ; it is the sixth in the collection). It needed some shuffling, some polishing, a bit of polyester, maybe a few injections of literary botox, but I had the “thing in itself”, the essential bolus of the piece in front of me. I was rather pleased, never having experienced this kind of creative ease before.
Intercourse, fertilisation, conception, incubation, delivery – they were all concentrated, distilled into those one and a half hours. I can’t really account for it. But then, while I was on holiday, the same thing happened on two other occasions. More or less complete stories more or less fell out of me, or my brain, or what remains of it. Maybe it was something to do with the Cypriot breezes, the mezedes, or the penumbra of peace that slid over my consciousness like a mystical lover in the night.
After the third of these epiphanic creative bursts I began to realise that I might have embarked on that long, vexing, wonderful, self-cannibalising journey also known as the composing of a book. Now, many ideas for stories were popping up like mushrooms, all demanding to be developed and realised. It was rather wonderful and mysterious and I started two, three, four stories in a spirit of excitement and mild delirium.
On a few other occasions other stories “wrote themselves.” I remember very clearly that before I began to write them I had absolutely no idea of what the stories would be about, no idea of what the basic story or plot was, or of who the characters were. I somehow managed to pluck deep into some subterranean crucible of molten creativity and pull out these little nuggets of narrative.
Other stories – the longer ones in Melting Point – were more recalcitrant, and had to be planned, structured, meditated upon. Notes were made, diagrams drawn, snatches of dialogue containing important ideas or plot developments jotted down. But throughout all this I was always careful to work on several stories simultaneously, to juggle different projects, so as not to get stuck on just the one story, so as not to become obsessive about finishing it. I wanted to push hard against the threat of writer’s block by fuelling this frenzy of diverse activity. By keeping up the heat I was able to thwart the forces of inertia and stasis.
I may have been influenced in terms of this multi-faceted approach by something Roberto Bolaño had once said regarding the importance of writing stories not one at a time, but simultaneously. In any case it was a very happy writing experience on the whole and relatively free of the doubts and vexations that had assailed me during the writing of my first book The Fabrications.
As I reflect on the (not always, but often) trance-like ease of the composing of Melting Point it seems to me that the following might be of elucidatory value: perhaps after studying literature and attempting to write it for many years the shape of its tropes, structures, devices begin to become in some way ingrained in one’s mind, become, so to speak, second nature and one arrives eventually at an intuitive place beyond the rational and empirical. And at this point it becomes possible to create something without so much obvious planning.
Obviously, however, one cannot finish a book while always being in the delirium of white heat inspiration – the process of revision, expansion, problem-solving, stylistic polishing: all of these require full frontal, stone cold sober deliberation. But I do think that what happened to me in terms of the initial stages of writing Melting Point may have had its basis in a kind of abdication of the cerebral part of creation, a giving in to something far more spontaneous, emancipated and – ultimately – mysterious.
I’m very glad it happened.
Baret Magarian was born in London, of Armenian origin. He was educated at Durham and London Universities and has published The Fabrications, Melting Point, Mirror and Silhouette and Chattering. He is a lecturer, pianist-composer, amateur painter, guitarist, writer and poet. He has travelled widely and has worked as nude model, translator, musician, interviewer, journalist, book representative, and in PR.