OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the Facets of Fiction writers is through to the finals of a ‘first chapter’ style competition with a novel-in-progress. At this stage of the game, it’s a matter of performing (or as I prefer, reading aloud) the chapter in question in front of an audience and panel of judges, and of engaging in a brief Q&A session with the judges.

If a written text is a sort of score, then a reading of it – whether I like the term or not – is a sort of performance. What we give is our own version of how the text is meant to be read, or at least, the best we can do in that direction. It’s been said before, and I witnessed an example with Brian Patten back in the early seventies, that the writer isn’t always the best reader of the work (the last time I heard him read he was great!). But it’s not only whether or not any particular reader can find the best reading – if there is one – but also whether there might be alternative readings not intended, recognised, or understood by the writer. If there are such readings, what sort of validity do they have? Is the question of a sort of validity itself even valid?

We might presume that a reader has an intention for a piece of writing. We might think that it has to be so. But might it also be that what has been expressed in words might also be capable of implying, and communicating, other intentions? Is the reader entitled to experience such meanings, or mistaken in doing so? I’ve quoted before – because I often come back to the same remarks that I’ve read or heard, which have raised, but not resolved issues in my mind – C.S.Lewis castigating the ‘non-literary’ reader for filling texts with his or her own meanings. But to what extent are any of us literary, or non-literary, and how do we, or anybody else know it?

What my multi-faceted fictioneer will have to do, I suspect, is give an account of what the journey looks like from the point along it that they have reached, the journey, that is, of writing their story. What lies ahead, is still waiting to be discovered, by them, as well as by we readers. What you haven’t found out yet, about what you are writing, just like what you haven’t found out as a reader, is one of the joys of the process. We can’t know as much about our stories, perhaps, as there is to know, though there might well be things we do know about them that the majority of readers will never know.

The writer does have one advantage over the reader: that having discovered the secret valley or hidden pass of their story, they can retrace their steps to it. Just because you came to a spectacular view from one direction, doesn’t mean you would choose to approach in the same way when leading a friend to it. The writer’s journey is not on the same path that the reader will take. If the metaphor of the journey, and the path, is fitting, then does it also include the idea that we may walk the same path, without experiencing it in the same way? We might see from it, and upon it, differently to other travellers, and to our guide.

I wonder if, in talking to those competition judges, the writers will communicate the vision, and passion, that sent them off on their journeys in the first place, visions of the worlds they are creating, and of the world they have experienced – the ‘real’ world from which it sprang?

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