I tried to push the events of the week from my mind. My mother was dying, I was waiting to be fired, and staff, who had joined my team in good faith, were facing redundancy. After the fifth large Armagnac I decided to continue work on the book. I knew I was drunk, and I also knew that the chances of writing anything worthwhile were prettty negligible. But forcing my mind into a fantasy world seemed infinitely more appealing than concentrating on the reality at hand.
That’s Gemmell’s own description of how he came to write Wolf in Shadow, from the foreword to my omnibus edition. Drunk and despairing in 1986, in a cheap and unfriendly seaside hotel that he describes, borrowing a line from Jack Dee, as “the kind of place where the Gideons leave a rope”, he tried to work on Wolf in Shadow, his contractually-obligated saga of a ruthless warlord rising to power among a nomadic horde (the prequel to his iconic 1984 fantasy Legend)… but he found his fingers with a mind of their own. He began writing a paragraph in which a mounted scout was to crest a hill, look down onto the plain, and marvelled at a vast army below… but instead, at the climactic moment of discovery, his fingers wrote out for him: There was no sign of Jerusalem.
Please bear with me; I fear I may commit a heresy.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire was published in 1962 to a chorus of… well, mixed but broadly approbative response from seasoned readers. Some critics loved it. Others thought it a load of rot. Most, however, it seems, fell somewhere in between, complimenting its style, craftsmanship and vivid imagination, but regretting its insubstantiality. TIME, for example, lamented that it “does not really cohere as a satire; good as it is, the novel in the end seems to be mostly an exercise in agility”. In a similar way, the New York Times regretted that it was “a curiosity into which it is agreeable to dip rather than a book which can be read straight through with pleasure… It is one more proof of Mr. Nabokov’s rare vitality. Unluckily it is not much more than that.”
Since it was published, however, the novel has (as we’re told by academics) managed to get better and better every year, until it can now be regarded as, at the very least, one of the 50 or so greatest works of fiction of all time, or even, according to some experts, the greatest novel of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, taking only the text as it is, rather than what it has become over time, I think the initial response was rather nearer the mark.
Bloody hell. I hadn’t realised quite how long it had been since I’d written on here! I didn’t even do the obligatory end-of-year “wow, I haven’t written much on here this year, have I?” post…
Well, last year was the worst for my reading in probably a decade, which was partly a problem with me (changing schedules, etc), and partly a problem with the books I tried to read, and partly watching too much TV instead.
And while I’ve done some con-langing, it’s paradoxically been a bit too advanced to be suited to one-off blog posts. Similarly, I’ve had a couple of world-building projects that never got finished, but that felt too big to be worth posting as I went along, before I’d worked out the kinks.
On the positive side, I’m hoping to have three, maybe four book reviews up in the near future. And maybe a political-commentary post, even, though I never seem to get those finished before, you know, the world has moved on…