As followers of rightplacerighttim.com, you’ll no doubt be aware I got married recently. However, the old journalism adage of “Know your reader” has me in something of a quandary. My readers are split fifty-fifty between my friends and family, and the wider writing community, so though I’d like to chronicle the entire marriage, it seems only right to retain the interest of my writing readers with some relevancy.
To that end, I’ve identified three elements of my wedding that also directly relate to creative writing, in the hope I’ll satisfy everyone’s wishes.
There therefore will be no mention of Storm Katie, the flooding, the birth of a calf, the bra-for-booze shenanigans in the bar, nor the armed forces saluting each other in the buff on the dancefloor.
I’ll keep those stories for the pub.
Love in horror
Picking a single extract from all of literature for a wedding reading can be a daunting task – that’s why there are websites devoted entirely to suggestions of appropriate prose and poetry. At most weddings I’ve been to, of the Christian variety, a few verses of the Bible have been recited, but though the sentiment and often striking beauty of those words can be deeply affecting, my atheism and the disparate religions of our Indian guests convinced me they were not the right choice.
Looking elsewhere, I’m sorry to say, I’m not terribly keen on poetry.
Sorry, I just find it either obscure and pretentious, or sickly saccharine and twee. In fact, one of the few poems I’m fond of is Ozymandias, but since that’s about the insignificance of human endeavour and the indomitable, all-destroying march of time, it hardly seemed appropriate.
Instead, it was from an unlikely genre that I plucked a passage of passion: horror.
And so, when Swarana’s cousin opened her reading with the name of the book from which she was quoting, it drew the slightest of winces in me (so slight I hope it went unnoticed). Something Wicked This Way Comes doesn’t sound like a source of great romance; by the pricking of my thumbs, its Shakespearean title recalls a ghostly apparition here to herald horrors for Hamlet.
If you’ve not read Ray Bradbury’s work, I highly recommend him. Within his novels of horror and dystopian sci-fi are passages of such eloquence and beauty, it’s easy to forget the genre in which they appear. His description of the powers of books in Fahrenheit 451 is both powerful and poignant. But in Something Wicked, one of his characters ponders how to explain what love is to his 10-year-old son.
Why love the woman who is your wife? Her nose breathes the air of a world that I know; therefore I love that nose. Her ears hear music I might sing half the night through; therefore I love her ears. Her eyes delight in seasons of the land; and so I love those eyes. Her tongue knows quince, peach, chokeberry, mint and lime; I love to hear it speaking. Because her flesh knows heat, cold, affliction, I know fire, snow, and pain. Shared and once again shared experience. Billions of prickling textures. Cut one sense away, cut part of life away. Cut two senses; life halves itself on the instant. We love what we know, we love what we are. Common cause, common cause, common cause of mouth, eye, ear, tongue, hand, nose, flesh, heart, and soul.
I remember reading it and thinking – this is beautiful. Three years later, I’d pick it out to be read at my wedding – and I wonder if it’s the first time horror has been quoted at a wedding ceremony.
Plotters versus pantsers
My writing readers will be familiar with the term “pantser”: authors use it describe those of us who prefer to write whatever comes to them on the fly – forming fiction “by the seat of their pants” – as opposed to plotters, who plan out every character arc, plot point and scene sequence in exhaustive detail before embarking on the actual narrative.
I’m something in between. I like to have an overview sketched out, but I usually can’t start an overview without having blurted out a load of words for a few hours. It takes me that mind-sick to get the process going, like a creative Heimlich maneuver. Once a morsel of character traits and agency have been ejected, I’m finally ready to get stuck into dinner.
This approach was also evident in my speech. I wrote most of the structure on the morning of the wedding; essentially the intro, followed by some bullets from which to elaborate.
That might sound blasé, but it wasn’t intentional. I had wanted the entire speech written and polished weeks in advance, but time ran away like a nervous groom, and I put it all off until the deadline loomed.
Before I knew it, my father-in-law was taking his seat to great applause and a room full of people had raised their flutes to toast the happy couple. Our master of ceremonies was speaking – introducing me – and then I was standing, smiling nervously, with not a second left to prepare.
But words come to you in the spur of the moment – for better or worse – and before I was five words in I was already deviating from my intro script to mention the experiences of the day; specifically greeting every guest at the venue’s entrance as we awaited the bride. I’d felt compelled to hug all 130 of them. Now, I’m a pretty tactile person at the best of times, but that’s a lot of hugs. During my speech, seeing all those friendly faces looking at me, brought back that memory, so I went with it.
I went off piste a few times, and each incidence drew more laughs or tears than any of the bits I’d planned that morning. I realised, as their reaction built, that every groom has his audience behind him, making it the easiest speech you’ll ever make.
So, I’m a plotting pantser then, and proud to not quite conform.
My best men (for I wimped out and picked two) did an exceptional job. And, for the sake of equality, one of Swarana’s oldest friends, Ankit, also gave a speech about my wife. (Followers of this blog may remember our encounter with Ankit in Vietnam last year.)
Both speeches were performed with the assistance of some extra-orated media. Ankit had my school friend Robbo, currently living in Myanmar, translate his American accent into Queen’s English. To borrow from his home parlance, “Hot diggity dawg, that there boy hit a home run – yessiree-bob!”
Indeed, it was a veritable hoot.
My boys, on the other hand, used pictures and video to tear me a new shame-hole. They constructed their narrative around a risk assessment, filled with evidence to warrant caution; most notably regarding personal injury.
This was accompanied by pictures of me in a dress (plural) and in various states of violent affection with my friends (I can be overly tactile, it seems). The skit had the feel of a Dave Gorman show, with the obligatory slideshow sound effect. The crowd loved it, as did I.
I think that kind of storytelling can be extremely effective. Indeed, I’d discussed with Mike – one of the best men – about using an array of media for a project I’m currently cultivating.
The idea was to begin a story with a news clipping from a local rag – complete with ill-advised typefaces, white space and typos – which gets picked up by a tabloid and then by the BBC, before going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WordPress. YouTubers try to cash in on the buzz, which escalates the issue further, bringing the story to the attention of the American rightwing media of Fox News and CNN.
Each instance of this cacophony of content would be replicated in the design of the associated sites or channels and collated on a single page, so the destructive force of the media could be seen in all its chronological ignominy.
Mike, however, is more ambitious. He suggested creating the news story in real time, releasing each incident sequentially, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs across the internet that would culminate in a live event that would shock millions – kind of like the first airing of War of the Worlds on the wireless in 1938. To pull it off will cost tens of thousands of pounds, so I’d need to plan every step in meticulous detail, effectively orchestrating the media without them knowing – but the payoff if successful would be phenomenal.
Just another project left to bubble away in the background.
So, as I sit here writing this on our balcony in Sicily, the sun lazily making its way down towards Etna, I’m considering the next steps. First, I’m going to get a short story into print. Once that’s achieved, I’ll launch a Facebook page (I have it set up, I just want something to my name before I promote it), all the while working on Citadel (82,000 words into the 2nd draft) and polishing off further shorts.
Once Citadel is a sharpened masterpiece, I’ll start soliciting agents. If I find one, I’ll send out my manuscript to publishers – and then, after all those ifs and maybes, who knows? Maybe I’ll be rich and settle down in Sicily, buy a vineyard. But until then, I’m going to keep slogging away, more confident than ever that I can achieve something special.
And it’s no coincidence my confidence has grown since I met Swarana. I feel like, with her beside me, I can accomplish anything.
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