I wasn’t going to blog today. Not very much worth recording happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I have to up early (OK, not early, but early for me) tomorrow to speak to my rabbi (which I’m nervous about). But I am having difficult thoughts about my novel.
E. likes what I’ve written so far, but the more I think about it, the less happy I feel about it. The novel is a novel of character about a bunch of characters in their twenties, religious Jews who meet at Oxford. The bits I’ve written so far are largely about a depressed, high functioning autistic Orthodox Jewish Doctor Who fan (write about what you know). Later there will be stuff from more outside my comfort zone about an abusive relationship. Strangely, I feel more looking forward to that than what I’m writing now. I feel that what I’ve written so is not the type of book I would read, and that just seems wrong. Wrong as in it won’t be good if I’m writing against my inclination. I wouldn’t generally read novels of character like this unless there was another point of interest for me, but I do sometimes read books simply for featuring mental illness, autism, or Orthodox Judaism (I’m unaware of books about Doctor Who fans). Probably not as much as I should do to write a book like this, but then there aren’t so many books about these types of characters. I don’t think I can relate easily to characters in modern novels of character.
The problem really is that the type of books I read, and TV programmes I watch, tell very different stories to the one I’m trying to tell not to mention the ideas I’ve had ideas about for future books. That’s partly because people aren’t writing so much fiction about the mentally ill and almost none is written about the Orthodox world. In the latter camp was Chaim Potok, who I like, and some recent Israeli films and TV, but not much else. I haven’t seen Shtisel, the Israeli Netflix drama about a Haredi family, but David Aaronovitch wrote a hugely patronising column in the Jewish Chronicle a while back about watching it and discovering that Orthodox Jews actually have feelings like normal human beings; if nothing else, that shows how unrepresented the Orthodox world is in fiction.
As for what I do read and watch… well, looking at my bookshelves, and focusing on things that I would like to write like rather than read (I like golden age detective novels, but doubt I could ever write one), in books there’s Chaim Potok, as I mentioned. Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick are my favourite novelists. I like Ursula K. le Guin a lot, and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien is a book I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Ted Chiang’s short stories are probably also books that I would like to be influenced by.
Looking at TV, it becomes even clearer that I like weird stuff. Not necessarily straightforward science fiction or fantasy though. I guess I like the point where realism and science fiction/fantasy blend in to each other. A lot of Doctor Who falls here, as do the Emma Peel episodes of The Avengers, The Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel. Jonathan Creek isn’t science fiction or fantasy at all, but has a similar atmosphere – and we’re definitely talking atmosphere more than genre (Doctor Who is definitely about atmosphere and not about genre purity).
The reason I’m writing this is that tonight I started watching Life on Mars, which for a bunch of reasons (most of which boiling down to “I’m autistic and scared of doing new things in case I don’t like them”) I didn’t watch when it originally aired in 2006 and the first episode was very much the kind of thing I’d like to do, not in terms of genre (police procedurals don’t interest me that much), but in terms of jumping between ‘realist’ and ‘surreal/possibly fantasy’ threads or images. But I don’t think that would really fit into the novel as I’ve started to write it. But maybe that just means I’ve taken a wrong turning and need to go back and start again.
A side-light on that: E. thinks that the protagonist’s Jewish identity isn’t strong enough, in terms of what he feels rather than does. This is probably reflective of my own feelings of being stuck in Orthodopraxy (Jewish observance) rather than passionate observance. It’s hard to write about other people’s feelings when I have a condition that makes it hard for me to understand my own feelings, let alone other people’s.
I will carry on writing for now. I want to get a first draft finished by the end of the year. (I think I was originally aiming for the end of the Jewish year in the autumn, but that doesn’t look so likely at the moment.) I will still aim for that. Once I have a complete draft, I can think about what works and what doesn’t, maybe ask some other people’s opinions, although I’m wary of doing that. I’m not even sure if it was a good idea to show E. what I have shown her, but I felt I needed encouragement.