On Saturday I was asked to speak at the re-opening of one of the Santa Cruz libraries, this the Live Oak branch. I rarely say no to libraries, particularly those within driving distance, so I went, and talked about beginnings–of libraries, of readers (my early days of reading having been in the central branch of this same library in the fifties,) and of books.
For the purpose I brought along copies of the last two books, both Russell novels, THE GAME and LOCKED ROOMS (at the end donating them to the library, whose shelves are still fairly bare.) I read the prologue for both books, and talked about them.
It was interesting, to look at both books in that way. THE GAME begins with a scene where the protagonist is more or less tied to the tracks with the train bearing down on her, or anyway a man with a knife. It is a scene I pick up a couple hundred pages later in the book itself, word for word, only this time the why and wherefore of the scene is known, which changes its meaning entirely. It is deliberately melodramatic, full of sensory information and evocative vocabulary (“a circle of freshly lit torches cracked and flared in the slight evening breeze” and “the sough and sigh of the torches.”) The book itself is a romp set in India, and the prologue sets the tone for the tale that follows.
LOCKED ROOMS, on the other hand, is the story of the protagonist’s troubling exploration of her past. The introduction there is three dreams, appropriately disturbing and incomprehensible, that together form the body of Russell’s investigation into her own history. Dreams are tricky things to use fictionally, because like sex scenes they tend to go dead on the page, but I needed to use them here because they were the voice from Russell’s unconscious, the only voice from her that can be trusted to tell the truth throughout the book.
And of course, I talked about the beginnings of the one I’m working on now, TOUCHSTONE. I’d written a sort of beginning when I first came up with the idea eighteen months ago, but as it’s pure backstory it’s not the sort of thing you can start a book with. So I gave the book a proper beginning, opening with a car working its way up a rural lane (those of you who read this blog regularly will easily guess that lane to be in Cornwall) and went from there.
What I had not expected was humor. Faint and English, found in an ever-so-slightly arch choice of words and images, but for me quite clear. I hadn’t thought of humor in this book at all, and perhaps when I get further on it will become obvious that humor here, even of the faint and English variety, is inappropriate, and I will remove it.
But it is a beginning.