Or perhaps that should read silent beside a little canal on the Guidecca?
How could I have thought, when I embarked on the mad enterprise of writing a novel for the first time, that today I would be printing up the first 42,000 words – half the drafted book – in a form I am happy to share with any good friend patient enough to take it on? This will be the twelfth draft, of which the remaining 40,000 words are waiting for just one more edit before they come on stream.
In other words, The Venice Book exists.
I shall be talking about the journey, briefly, as my contribution to the morning workshop at the June 1st meeting of the Bath Writers & Artists group. Specifically, the problems for a novice of coming to grips with the question of Point of View. An ‘angels fear to tread’ issue, this one, and only someone as ignorant as me would have let a story evolve over places and generations without realising what an issue Point of View was going to be. ( I didn’t at all feel like pretending to be an Omniscient Narrator, unsurprisingly for someone so new to this hard game!)
I am also doing a short slide presentation in the June 1st afternoon session showing how some of the camera images I brought home from Venice evolved/dissolved into key content in my book. Evolved/dissolved so much that I now see the original pictures as if they were taken by another person and came from another place – at the same time knowing that collectively ( I took 1,500 over three years ) they were indeed the inspiration for almost everything in The Venice Book.
This seems a good time to begin thanking the people who have supported me on this journey. I have three ‘readers’ who have kindly borne with me almost from the start – they came on board the early chapters of the fourth draft, and two of them were brave enough to come back with the questions and comments which made it possible for me to carry on doggedly to reach the twelfth. ( The friend who never raised an eyebrow, the wonderful illustrator of my Letters from Mexico, Jude Wisdom, just made me glow with hopefulness every time she ‘liked’ the latest section of the book.)
Poet Antony Mair has been one of my readers, poet Ann Preston another, and I am hugely grateful to them both. Audiences at Bath Writers & Artists have listened kindly to a few short readings at different times and this sense of having a supportive constituency has meant more than I can ever say. I am also very grateful to Dawn Gorman for having bent the rules at one of her marvellous Words and Ears events in Bradford on Avon and let me stand up as the prose writer I was trying to become, rather than as the poet I had been.
When I began The Venice Book, it saw itself as a fairly conventional love story which happened to locate itself behind a particular red brick wall on the island of Guidecca. (See my photograph above.) The tragedy of the surrounding city was not my subject and I would not have felt competent or confident to take it on. But as I started following blogs by some Venice residents, it became less and less possible to keep the encroaching darkness off the pages of my book. It insisted on seeping in. It became the story which refused not to be told. I am still not competent to tell it well, but I am trying. And in the end, I hope that the Venetian writers I follow so respectfully might be able read The Venice Book as a small contribution, by an outsider, to their testaments.
Writer Erla Zwingle is one of the people I need to thank, for her excellent blog I am not making this up and the Campaign for a Living Venice site for reminding me all the time that a true city is not a tourists’ comfort zone. I try very hard not to ‘borrow’ (aka ‘plagiarise’) from these posts, but I hope they are keeping my head open to the things which I used to be too raptured by the dazzling surface of their city to understand.