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Posts Tagged ‘John Fowles’

During my latest stint of two weeks without a computer (the pedal-driven, twig and raffia monsters I work on have a habit of breaking down regularly), what with the rain coming down incessantly, I had recourse to a number of books in an effort to save my sanity. I read T C Boyles’ The Inner Circle, Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost (big books, both of them) Joe Orton’s Diaries (he was killed by his lover, remember?), Christopher Isherwood’s A Meeting by the River, and on and on. And on, anything to try to save my sanity. These books don’t reflect any pattern; I’m not a planned reader, I read anything I fall over or that people lend me. Being obsessive by nature, I dare not make a reading plan, find it wiser to keep myself open to whatever reading matter comes along.

The last book I read before the snowed tech finally got around to me was The Journals, Volume 1 by John Fowles, another big book, edited by Charles Drazin from the raw material of Fowles’ diaries, over two million words covering the period from 1949, when he was in his final year at Oxford, to 1965, when he’s wrestling with a lucrative offer from Fox Studios for The Magus.

Fowles, c. 1952

Fowles, c. 1952

These days, Fowles is well known for The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, all of which were made into films, but being unknown as a novelist myself, I found most interesting the period in which he was struggling and unrecognised. I thought other indie writers might enjoy reading a bit about this part of Fowles’ life too, so I’ve included a few lines from The Journals below:

25 August 1956

Halfway revising The Joker —  now The Magus. The construction is all right. But [there is] constant slipping down in technique; invasion of cliché. I have to treat each sentence drill-fashion. Is it necessary? Is it succinct? Is it clear? Is it elegant? Has it clichés? It usually has.

10 May 1958

Creation by effort; it is despised. What is admired is the ‘natural’ genius of the ‘born’ artist … myself … I seem to have endless obstacles to overcome — laziness, doubt, slowness, the cliché — so that if I finally achieve anything … it will be in spite of myself; self-taught, self-made. And no aid from the bloody muses.

About his poverty:

4 May 1958

Rent increase; already they take five guineas a week. Now it’s to be six. We shall have to leave. It’s too much to lose each week, even with E [his wife] working as she is now, fulltime …Poverty is now part of me … There is still very little I would (indeed could) do for money; but sometimes the strain rises above the surface of my acceptance. The great black wall to wall … poverty that we have had for the last four or five years; we swing from Friday [his payday as a schoolteacher] to Friday. Like squirrels on the run; it doesn‘t do to think of a branch or Friday giving way.

When he finally makes it with The Collector in 1962, you heave a sigh of relief. Some of the first things he buys are an overcoat and a suit for himself, an outfit for his wife, a secondhand camera, a coffee table and some secondhand chairs. Touching. (Though, upon reflection, you begin to wonder just how Fowles defined poverty when he and his wife were both working fulltime before his breakthrough, and they had no children. But let’s not ruin the story; perhaps the rent they were paying was exceptionally high for the times.)

For any writer out there who is currently struggling and unknown, the journals give a glimpse into the problems of a writer whom we all think of as having made it, and just a taste of his struggles AFTER he’s made it, the terrible script conferences where he tries to hold on to the integrity of his work in the face of Hollywood’s dollar worshipping producers.

The Volume 1 Journals end where he’s bought his place Underhill at Lyme Regis, and has just accepted Twentieth Century Fox’s offer for The Magus of $7,500 for the option, $92,500 on exercise of the option and $10,000 for a treatment. I couldn’t relate to those figures and, as I imagine Volume 2 will be his life after fame has hit him, I don’t think I’ll be taking it on. Still, Vol. 1 is an interesting read for struggling writers, and aficionados of Fowles.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, by the way.

 

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