What Even is it About?
I have a new book coming out. I am deep in another book, with quite a few other stories in various stages of draft. I’ve published nine books depending on your definition, but I still have trouble saying what my book is about.
I mean skin-curling, makes me slightly sick, trouble. I know my themes, my concerns, I guess, usually something to do with climate change (which the book definitely is about), or the inequity of power, or the fragility of people/identity/love.
My books are a slow and painful revelation.
By the end of the first draft I have a bit of an idea. But my first drafts are a mess, so it’s a bit of a mess of an idea. By the second, third, and then the weird radical rewrite what-the-hell-am-I-doing-but-this-feels-okay draft, I have more of an idea. Each draft is an uncovering. Quite often though it’s less a thematic uncovering as a realisation of what makes sense and what doesn’t.
I’m a terrible drafter. But what I seek is rhythm, clarity where it’s good, obfuscation where it might be necessary.
Books are sense makers (sometimes), they’re the world given a structure, and unity in way that our world seems resistant to (on the surface). But that sense can have so many streams, particularly in a novel, but all writing is like that to a degree. That’s without factoring in the reader.
Read a new poem, then get someone else to read it, and you will see all the incongruities of interpretation.
So, even when I finish a book, when it is published (if it is published) and I think I know what it is about, I’ll find that people have an entirely different notion.
At best the clarity I have aimed for is a kind of murky mirror and the reader puts their face there. Which is a wonderful thing: a magical thing. But it doesn’t make it clearer.
What I think a book is about will change from distance. Things will become obvious, other things will fall away.
So I suppose, outside the interests of marketing, a book is about a lot of things.
You tell me what it’s about?
But that said, The Giant and the Sea is perhaps my clearest jab at something. Not because it's a children's book, but because it came out that way. The next book is much murkier, but that's okay, I feel much more comfortable there.