Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Still Life at 75

(article on wallpaper)

This is why I keep a blog. According to my posts, I've added 5,000 words to Still Life (working title of post-mortem photography novel) in the past four days. Which is a lot more than it feels like I've written. 

I've ditched the futuristic one because I can't split my head between Victorian England and the rest of the world post-2220. It's too much of a mind bend. I start putting the wrong things in the wrong era.

I have been struggling with this one, but struggling with writing doesn't always make it bad writing. Sometimes it's just a slow drip rather than a gushing font of creativity. Distilled goodness.

I'm doing something I've never really done before, where I find myself putting placeholders in bold for information I need to research later on. Like, She decided to walk in the direction of the medieval vault add description. Because I know that if I go off and start researching this place that I've never been to, I'll lose a day on Wikipedia and Google Image. I didn't really mind that with Rosy Hours, I did the extra research as I went along and enjoyed myself, but for some reason I want to get to the end of this story. I like the story. I believe in it. But I want to end it so that I can go through and flesh it out knowing that I know how it all turns out. 

That's new territory for me. It's that sentiment that's been attributed to a dozen different authors from Dorothy Parker through to George R. R. Martin: I don't enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written. I feel that one deeply, and once I know I've got a novel and it's written, I can go back and rewrite the bits I don't like, and add a few extra flourishes. I enjoy that part of it. 

I think a lot of authors would say the same, but few people say it out loud because it's not the sexy life of an author. There's a misconception that if a book was difficult to write, it's going to be difficult to read. That's usually not true. The hard work that goes into it is mostly down to working out how to make the book more readable and enjoyable for the person who picks it up after. Hard work equals easy reading. 

I did try to get back into the mood today by watching some post-mortem reels. There was no particular reason as that part of the novel had been written. I think it just brings up that question of why again. Why do we do it? Why do we photograph death up close and personal like that? I get annoyed by the old photo streams because half of them contain people who are clearly alive. Pictures of mothers with babies - neither of whom have expired. All mixed in with people who clearly have. 

But I do understand those ones as part of a wider, normal culture at that time. The modern ones raise more questions. Many are quite brutal photographs, or weirder still, taken from such an angle that you can clearly see cotton wool stuffed up the person's nose. The funeral home has gone to all the trouble of dressing them, applying makeup and making them look as natural as possible, and you take that one photograph that proves nothing is what it seems. 

That's definitely an outstanding question for me, and now that I'm actually thinking about it, something that deserves further exploration before I finish up.

I think it's about having that moment there in your hands. However disturbing, however upsetting - it's about that moment in time never shifting. Never distorting, never getting blotted out or re-imagined. About holding onto something you can't process in that instant, and taking all the time you need to process it. To revisit it, exactly the same, as many times as you need to. 

After all, photographs never change, but the way you feel about them does, over the days, the months, the decades. 

Perhaps that's why the cotton wool up the nose angle. The more shocking something is, the more time you need to examine it. Work out what the hell that feeling is and where it fits in your psyche. 

Most of these reels are compilations put together by people who didn't take the photographs themselves, but some people do share their own pictures. Maybe distasteful, maybe just a very reactionary urge to show something to the world and say 'Fucking hell, have you seen this? What's that about, then?' When you see something for the first time, it's shocking. When you see it a few times, it's disturbing. Eventually, it's just a curiosity. The power of a photograph, held privately or shared, to defeat the monster under our beds.

Right, well, got my second wind there. Should probably press on with it. 

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