Lee Battersby has long had a reputation as one of Australia’s leading writers of short fiction – in fact, even I had heard of him when I first came on the scene! The acclaim for his novel, ‘The Corpse-Rat King’, and the buzz surrounding its sequel showed that he is equally adept at the long form. I had the privilege of beta reading CRK and, while I am not sure I was much help, it means that I felt a degree of proprietary interest in its success. For that reason, and because Lee is an all round good guy, I’ve been delighted to see how well it has been received.
Lee is someone who is incredibly supportive of both other writers and the arts scene in Australia (see this amazing exhibition he played a big role in making happen). He also possesses an emotional honesty that is all too rare, something he brings to this guest post. Here, he eschews the usual platitudes about writing being a constant delight and how being a writer is an easy choice to make. It’s something we all think, but are not always brave enough to say aloud. Thank you for doing so, Lee.
IF THIS IS PARADISE, WHY DO THE DRAINS STINK?
My problem is, I write in bursts: very heavy investments of both emotions and ideas, followed by periods where I lie fallow, exhausted or just plain worked out, and open my receptors to the Universe around me in an effort to refill the idea banks. It’s a great way to create intense, correlation-heavy texts—there’s an amazing synchronicity when your subconscious throws up two unrelated things that suddenly, in a way that neither you nor anybody else has ever seen before, fit together just so—but it’s draining, both mentally and emotionally.
I have down periods; great big down periods, where I question why I even bother writing. It’s a valid question: I have a large family, a job that attracts a lot of pressure and forces me to spend a number of weekends and evenings at work, a monster of a mortgage… writing takes me away from living my daily life. Much of the time I can’t adequately juggle the need to pay attention to all of my responsibilities, so I end up falling between them all and disappointing everybody. I’m not very good at my job, I don’t see enough of my family, I’m constantly under financial pressure, and most days I feel like I’m not a particularly good writer. Certainly, I can’t manage the business side of being a writer as well as some of my peers, because I simply can’t devote the time necessary to learning to be an effective businessman. Like an overweight Southern has-been, I often just rely on the kindness of strangers.
None of this is good for the mindset. Writing is an essentially selfish act. It demands total focus, and all the advice you receive from established professionals reinforces the selfishness—“Write every day”; “Live in the world of your characters”; “inhabit the world of your novel/short story/poem/limerick every single day”. Close yourself off, turn yourself inward, ignore outside influences. Place the imaginary, egocentric world of your imagination above the real, empirical needs of those around you and make them understand that it is more important than them right now and don’t damn well interrupt!
To which my sick son and hungry dog and dripping kitchen sink cry bullshit. Because we live in the real world, and once you’re a husband, and father, and wage-earner, and home-owner—at least, if you’re trying to be a better one than your ancestors—the real world is bigger than you are, and more selfish, and frankly, more important than some figment of your imagination that might, in all likelihood, net you a couple of grand two years after you first start ignoring your family to write the damn thing.
Which begs the question: why do it?
Which would normally beg the answer: I don’t know. And to be honest, 75% of the time, I don’t know why I don’t know. It’s an instinct, like a homing pigeon or an elk that still crosses the same highway, year after year, to get to mating grounds long dried up by an industrial estate, no matter how many times it almost gets run over by 18-wheelers on the way. But every now and again— not often, and sometimes, not often enough—I sit back from my keyboard in the certain knowledge that what I’ve just written, what I can see blinking back at me from the screen, is not only a unique fusion of two thoughts but an amalgam of two concepts that have never, ever, been combined in that way before, and even if it were to happen again it would not be so sweet, so explosive, so goddamned perfect. And it doesn’t matter that I’m eating baked beans for the last three days of the pay cycle, or that the dog’s pulled another work shirt from the line and has chewed a hole through it, or that I’ll be in another meeting tomorrow where the boss who doesn’t believe in me and the subordinates who don’t respect me will take turns to outline all the ways I’m responsible for the world being shit.
Because for that moment, that one, tiny, incandescent moment, I am a creature of sublime thought and purpose.
And apart from my wife and children, there is not a single thing in this world I could not live without to have that one, tiny, moment.
Lee Battersby is the multiple-award winning author of ‘The Corpse-Rat King’ (Angry Robot Books, 2012) and its sequel, ‘Marching Dead’ (2013) as well as over 70 stories in various markets round the round world including Australia, the US and Europe. He blogs at the Battersblog (www.battersblog.blogspot.com) and has a sometimes-belatedly-updated website at www.leebattersby.com. He lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife Luscious Lyn, three moderately insane children, a dog he doesn’t like much, and the piles of detritus that come from life-long obsessions with Daleks, Lego, Nottingham Forest and the like.