March really isn’t going to plan at the moment. Having already messed up my creative plans for the month, even my Plan B has now fallen apart as we’ve coughed and groaned and generally felt sorry for ourselves. I did manage to write a couple of poems before the yuck set in, though, so all was not entirely lost.
We had plans to do some long walks, now the glorious Spring weather has finally arrived, getting ourselves ready for going away to walk some of the South Downs Way again next month.
At least we’ve got a sunny back garden to sit in, I suppose.
In the meantime, here’s an old photo randomly of a decorated window on a house in the Nepalese Himalaya I took in 1988.
Those of us who call ourselves creatives, why do we create? Why do we have this need to make things? I know the usual answer is we write / paint / carve / whatever it is we do, because we have to, because there is something inside of us that needs to find an outlet. But what is that something? In my case, as well as a storyline it is frequently a place where I have spent some enjoyable time. It provides me with a comfortable setting in which to tell a story.
Most of what I do, certainly the work I feel is my best, my most successful (in the sense of expressing what I want to express), falls into that category. My long poem The Night Bus, for example, was the result of a thirty year (admittedly intermittent) search for a way to record my experience of a long bus ride across Northern India into Nepal. I attempted prose and paintings without success, although through this I did develop a style of painting I went on to successfully use on many Indian paintings, and had long given up on the project when chance showed me a way into the poem. The poem I completed succeeds in conjuring up (for me) the impressions and feelings I had on that journey; I can relive the journey again by re-reading the poem. Whether it conveys anything of that to other readers, I naturally cannot know.
And my stories, too. I look through Making Friends With The Crocodile, and I am in rural Northern India again. I re-read The Last Viking and can easily feel myself on an island off the west coast of Scotland. This is not to imply any intrinsic merit to my writing, other than its ability to transport myself, at least, into the setting I am attempting to describe.
These stories are a composite of three basics: a setting, as mentioned already, a storyline – and again this needs to be something important to me, or I find it pretty well impossible to put my heart into it, and strong, convincing, characters.
It is useful, then, to know where lots of my writing comes from, and what shapes it, what drives it. I have long suspected that this is frequently nostalgia and, recognising that, have wondered whether this might be a bad thing. Nostalgia, after all, has a rather bad press…does it just mean I am living in the past because I am viewing it through rose-tinted spectacles? As a way of not addressing issues of today I should be tackling?
This yearning for nostalgia, though, is a desire for something we see as better than what we have now. To write passionately about something it needs to be something I feel strongly about. Obviously this can also be something we find frightening or abhorrent – dystopian warnings about the future or anger about injustices, for example – but even in those cases the familiar provides a cornerstone of safety, even if only by way of comparison.
This is also true when I paint. I am not someone who can paint to order – if I’m not inspired, it does not work. A number of difficult commissions have proved that point to me. I paint what I like, what moves me. After all, whatever I am creating, it should be foremost for myself.
That book, then…
I began writing it about five years ago for all the wrong reasons. I had self-published Making Friends With The Crocodile and decided my next story should also be set in India, and as a contrast decided to write about British ex-pats living in a hill station in the foothills of the Himalaya. I wanted to write about India again. The trouble was, I had no idea what story I was going to tell. I had no stories that might slot into that setting I felt in any way driven to write; it just seemed to feel appropriate at the time. I was pleased by the reception the first book had and felt I ‘should’ write this one.
What could possibly go wrong?
I spent time putting together a plot, with which I was never wholly satisfied, and began writing. Really, I should have seen the obvious at that point and bailed out. But I carried on, and twice reached a point where I thought I had the final draft.
My beta reader then proceeded to point out all the very glaring faults.
So twice I ripped out a third of it and chucked it away, then re-plotted the second half of the book and got stuck into the re-write. I’m sure you can see part of the problem at this point – I wanted to hang onto as much of the story as I could, instead of just starting completely afresh. And now here I am trying to finish the final draft for the third time, as my February project for this year. And it’s just not working for me. But at this point, after well over a hundred and fifty thousand words (half of which I’ve discarded) I just feel I’ve invested too much time and effort in it to abandon it now. Somehow, it has to get finished. I do have an idea for a couple of quite drastic changes which I’ll try this week, but unless I feel I’m making some real progress I’ll then happily put it aside for a while and concentrate on next month’s project: painting and drawing.
And, to be honest, if it eventually ended up as a story of less than ten thousand words, and if I felt satisfied with it, then I’d take that as a result, now.
And the moral of all this? I’m sure there was a point after a couple of months when I knew I shouldn’t have been writing this book. I should have binned it there and then and saved myself a lot of fruitless trouble, but stubbornly ignored the warning signs.
One of the things about growing…older, let’s say…and I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing, is the growing realisation that we’re never going to live in that place that we are convinced is perfect for us, or have the day to day lifestyle that is everything we want.
One consolation for the writer, even if it’s rather a shallow consolation, is the opportunity to write these places and lifestyles for ourselves. For the last year or so, nearly all my creative writing has been rather experimental, which is one reason I’ve not put much up on here. Rather than focusing on writing the complexities of a story arc, I have been very much concerned with the character of the characters I have written, and possibly even more concerned with the environment they occupy.
In a way, then, I’m exploring different versions of myself – although that, surely, is what all writers do anyway? – and it is instructive how much all of these versions have in common. For anyone who knows me, the information that these scenes involve almost nothing of town or city should come as little surprise. But it’s a learning process, a personal learning process. And even the photos I’ve chosen to accompany this post serve to reinforce what I already know about myself.
And the other strand that occurred to me as I thought about all this, is how it has brought home to me that the priority in my writing – my absolute, number one priority – is that first and foremost I am writing for myself. Whatever I write has to please a rather demanding reader; myself. And if that means my writing is even less ‘commercial’ than it was before, then so be it.
Strangely, this seems to have removed the pressure of time. I’ve always ended a writing day either pleased with the amount I’ve written or berating myself for not having written more. As if that was the sole measure of how successful or productive my day had been! Now, though, writing just for myself, success can be equated with how good I feel the output is; and by ‘good’ I mean quality (as defined by me, for me). So even a few lines that work well may be a good day’s work. I think this time pressure, this fixation with writing a certain amount each day, is a purely commercial pressure; an I-need-to-finish-another-book thing.
But first, a disclaimer. I am not a legal expert, and if you are in any doubt about the subjects I’m talking about, you should consult an authoritative source.
In general, as most writers are aware, the maker of an artistic work (e.g. painting, novel, photograph, concerto) automatically owns the copyright to said work. Selling the work does not constitute selling the copyright. This is an issue that occasionally confuses writers, for example, but it is worth remembering that even if a publisher agrees to publish your new novel, you retain the ownership and copyright to that novel, unless you specifically sign them away.
This means that the painter of a picture may sell the picture, but the new owner has no right to make any copy of this work for any purpose, and the artist retains the right to do so. Again, if the new owner is to have the right to make a copy of the picture and publish it, the artist must specifically assign the new owner the right to do so. After all, purchasing a novel or a music CD does not confer the right to copy and sell either of those.
But it’s not all as straightforward as that, and it’s more complicated if an artist has been specifically paid to create it for a purpose, or creates it as part of their duties for an employer. In this case, the employer / commissioner may hold the copyright.
As an example of this, my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile features an image from one of my paintings on the cover (see picture on the right). I sold the painting many years ago, but the image still belongs to me as I did not sign it away.
Therefore if you wish to use an image on the cover of your book that does not belong to you, you must obtain written permission from the copyright holder to do so. If so, then what you will almost certainly get / buy are reproduction rights and NOT the copyright. That would give you the right to use the image for certain purposes (e.g. book cover) but the artist retains the right to sell the reproduction rights to others, too.
Unless they are exclusive reproduction rights. See? I told you this could get complicated.
It is possible to take (another) artist’s work and sufficiently transform it so that it becomes a new work, but again the devil is in the detail (quite literally). There have been a number of cases where artists have taken others to court to argue the point – and the point is whether the new work is sufficient transformative to be considered a new work. As an example, a photograph downloaded from the internet and then either just being subject to colour changes, or having another image added to it, was considered to be infringing the original copyright.
But there have been other cases where the original image has been altered sufficiently to be considered a new work. If you are intending to go down this route, you would be wise to acquaint yourself with the ins and outs of this. To get a more detailed analysis, you might find this link useful: February 13th Creative
And if you have paid someone for an image for your cover? It might be someone you know, or it might be over the internet (perhaps one of these ‘get a service for five dollars’ sites), but the law doesn’t change. Ensure you have the appropriate permission, preferably signed, before pressing the ‘publish’ button with their image on your cover.