Unusually for a story about fishing (which of course is not about fishing) this is a post of two halves. The second half (which I wrote first) is about the ‘tools of the trade’ and you can pick it up half an hour after this one. Here I’m simply offering some insight (I wish) into what the narrative is all about. (while trying not to get sidetracked into a long diatribe on what ‘narrative’ is all about.)
This is a piece about process and structure. The other post is about tools and structure.
With a fishing analogy you’re going to expect a struggle, right? It’s just that I expected the struggle to be within the narrative – I meant it to be the case that the ‘story’ you would read would be like catching a fish. Instead working on The One That Got Away turned into a struggle ‘for’ the narrative (and narrative) itself.
Less ‘I shall make you fishers of men’ and more ‘oh what a tangled web we weave.’
The novel sprang (not sadly, fully formed) from the theme behind A Fishing Line and the characters of Another World is Possible. I wanted to offer a different narrative perspective, to explore the notion that a minor character in one narrative can be the ‘hero’ of their own story and in the process perhaps play the archetype against the multidimensional both in terms of narrative and identity.
A successful end result for the reader will be a novel that challenges (in all the right ways – i.e. makes you think) about your preconceptions and beliefs while it engages. You have to want to keep reading. It has to give something. It has to deliver something. It’s an act of creative communication after all.
A successful end result for the writer will be achieving a complete redesign of the traditional patterns of narrative in order to reflect the transformational nature of the work, while saying something important and thought provoking about society and identity.
You’ll appreciate then, that this is intended to work on a number of levels. The trick is to make it accessible on more than one. Catching a fish (or not) is one metaphor. That wasn’t enough to make it work. Another metaphor I’ve adopted (discovered in the ‘process’ of part two of this post) is the full deck of cards.
Still, something was missing. But now (I believe) I’ve finally found it. You perhaps will not be surprised to know that, exactly like in the archetypal story that part spawned it, A Fishing Line, it was what was there all the time. The thing I had been avoiding writing about for twenty years. We’d call it the ‘elephant in the room’ these days. Where would we be without clichés?
So The One that Got Away is not so much about Catching a Fish as facing down an elephant. The elephant, in this case, might be construed as ‘the economy, stupid.’
You know how ‘the past is a different country, they do things differently there’? Well, Cuba is a different country and they do things differently there too. It can be quite a culture shock to find yourself in a ‘First World’ country facing ‘Third World’ problems. At least it was for me in 1999 when I first visited.
Deftly trying to avoid all the clichés in the book of proverbs, something happened there. Something too awful to talk about. It didn’t happen to me. I was only indirectly involved in the ‘happening.’ I was a witness if not an ‘innocent bystander.’
But this life-changing moment, was so small and insignificant that if I told you, you’d most likely suggest I was making something out of nothing. It turns out that one man’s cataclysmic event is another man’s little local difficulty.
Either way, I found myself in a Catch 22. A novel that never really ‘spoke’ to me. I had something I needed to write about but could not find the words. Fundamental to the writing process (in my opinion) is being able to ‘take the reader’ to the very places they cannot go alone. I had to find a way to place the reader into the situation.
I understood what had happened. But I couldn’t resolve it. It’s not just that I felt helpless, more that I didn’t feel I could do justice to it one step removed – but I knew it was more than a ‘you had to be there’ moment. It was shocking and profound, but in a very understated way. It taught me something about the human condition. And more importantly, what it means to be human, and what a heavy responsibility that can be.
Finally, I acknowledged that the very heart (or purpose) of The One That Got Away pivoted round this ‘moment.’ And until I faced down that elephant it was never going to work. I had help. I didn’t come to the realisation alone. The ‘cavalry’ are revealed in part two!
I don’t write books with endings, never mind happy ones, but my ‘happy’ ending has been achieved at the point when I wrote the insignificant little scene as accurately and honestly as I believe I will ever be capable of and slotted it into its place in the bigger picture.
You will have to wait until February next year to judge for yourself. I’ve got that fish in the landing net but I still need to prepare it for service.
If I’ve done my job right, it will be like no other fish you’ve ever eaten.
You can find more of Cally's writing at the unco store