There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Monday, December 4, 2017

On composition: Against the Wind by Geoffrey Household

From Geoffrey Household's memoir Against the Wind.

....In pencil I drive a sort of pilot tunnel through the underground darkness of the imagination. This is by far the hardest work, and I never sit down to it with any real trust that it can be done at all. On a good morning the result is some three pages legible only to myself. In the evening I pass this inchoate mess through the typewriter, and it comes out with the action settled, speed about right, smoothness poor, and the paragraphs close to their final shape. A five-hour day, between morning and evening, will produce anything between seven hundred and a thousand words.

With at last the complete typescript in front of me, I retype the whole lot, modelling the characters nearer to their originals in life or imagination, strengthening the dialogue, and correcting the sentences so that any one of them can be read aloud without pain to tongue or ear. This retyping crawls at a rate of ten or twelve pages a day and, though exhausting, is
at last capable of giving me pleasure. Stevenson said that the fun of writing is rewriting. I should go further, and claim that it is the only fun.

Rogue Male, years later, revealed to me the sort of conglomerate through which the pilot tunnel is driven. A favourite book of mine at the age of eight was Patterson’s Man-eaters of Tsavo—strong meat for the young, but I was not more than pleasurably frightened by it. Possibly I lost my copy in the first term at a preparatory school. At any rate I never saw the book again until I reread it nearly forty years later after the war. Suddenly I was pulled up by a sentence which was nearly word for word in Rogue Male, and I soon found half a dozen fainter echoes. There was no doubt about it. That was where my interest in Fear had come from. Yet today I should not rate Patterson’s anatomy of terror very high—perhaps because in all literature which is not ephemeral the better drives out the good, and his lions are surpassed by Jim Corbett’s tigers.


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