Here's my kitchen bench in the morning. A book, reading glasses, the Faber diary, a coffee in my favourite Fulmer cup and - just out of shot - a laptop for quick clearing of emails. I like to stand at the bench first thing as I do too much sitting the rest of the day. The sad thing is the rest of the day isn't going to hold the joys of novel-writing as I have too much paid work to do: poems and reviews to mark for the Massey Uni students I teach, an article for an Israeli newspaper about researching The Blue, and finishing off an essay for local lit mag JAAM which has its deadline tomorrow.
I love doing all these things but I love doing them on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or the weekend, but unfortunately deadlines - and a lack of focus on my part in the latter part of last week - mean it's got to be today, Monday.
At least I've had time for a little research for the novel today. It's the small book you can see in the photo - a clean 1963 Thomas Nelson edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - bought at a local book stall yesterday for a dollar. A dollar! I've never read it, and now I am writing a novel which explores the theme of the double, I keep falling over references to Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson's story is more about a divided self than a double, really, but in a strange way the double in literature is a divided self: two people who are the same and yet different, who aren't meant to be together by the laws of nature, and whose natures/personalities seep into and change each other.
Many fiction writers keep away from fiction that follows the same themes as their own, some even avoid fiction per se while they are writing. I personally find that whenever I hit a difficulty in my writing, reading a damned good novel gives me clues on how to deal with the problem and move on. Although I am still struggling with reading novels which use the same themes as mine - the seepage between one like thing and another can happen in fiction too often without the author realising - on the other hand, it can provide a richness in terms of reference and serve to push a writer off into other unexplored directions having seen the lie of the land. So I'm hoping for the latter with my one dollar book, but am still deciding if I can go the next step now and read Dostoevsky's The Double and Saramago's The Double.... Okay, so there is such a thing as too close...
Meanwhile, I am loving Stevenson. What fabulous story-telling, dense characterisation and atmosphere, carefully laid suspense. Here's what I've just read on the page over from the one shown in the photo:
[Background: An elderly man has just been murdered by Hyde in the street. A maid witnessed it. Mr. Utterson is a lawyer and the novel's point of view and a letter addressed to him was found on the body of the murder victim.]
This was brought to the lawyer the next morning before he was out of bed; and he had no sooner seen it, and been told the circumstances, than he shot out a solemn lip. "I shall say nothing till I have seen the body," said he; "this may be very serious. Have the kindness to wait while I dress." And with the same grave countenance he hurried through his breakfast and drove to the police station, whither the body had been carried. As soon as he came into the cell, he nodded.
"Yes," said he, "I recognize him. I am sorry to say that this is Sir Danvers Carew."
"Good God, sir," exclaimed the officer, "is it possible?" And the next moment his eye lighted up with professional ambition. "This will make a deal of noise, " he said. "And perhaps you can help us to the man." And he briefly narrated what the maid had seen, and showed the broken stick.
Mr Utterson had already quailed at the name of Hyde; but when the stick was laid before him, he could doubt no longer: broken and battered as it was, he recognized it for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll.