Sunday, 18 December 2011
OK, here’s ten reasons I like lists. Not really – I’m joking; feebly. But I had some news this week (I’ve been tedious on Twitter about it and here I am again, this time using a medium which allows for greater prolixity,) so I thought I’d blog a little about lists: the making of them and using of them.
As a younger writer I was amazed at books like The Polysyllabic Spree or 31 Songs which as well as taking the idea of a list as a structural device, to a certain extent celebrate the act of list-making itself. There are other great examples if you want a taster; Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing or John Carey’s collection of essays Pure Pleasure for starters. Anyway, never one to see someone else’s good ideas without claiming them as my own, I began work making lists, searching for the one that might be the elusive book.
Needless to say, it never really happened. I kept a list of cheque-book stubs for a long time, figuring that the scribbled notes I kept on them might help structure a rags-to-riches-to-rags narrative about a compulsive gambler. Then I read Twelve Grand and had to shelve the whole thing. The closest I came was the year-long list I made in 2004, detailing month-by-month every CD I bought. It turned out to be an interesting year to do it – unlike the settled years before or after it, 2004 began in a house I part-owned with a long-term partner, and ended in a bedsit in Chorlton. Much of the year’s CD purchases were buying replacement copies of favourites I was parted from during the split. I forgot what I’d got and what I’d lost, and on a number of occasions returned to my flat with a bag of CDs only to find I already had two or three of them. I bought Poses by Rufus Wainwright twice in the same month.
The lesson I learnt was a simple one. Beginning with a structural device is no way to write a book. It doesn’t matter how good your list is – you’ve got to have something urgent to say.
But here I am, plugging away seven years later, and finally there’s a list I can feel rightfully proud of. Good luck to everyone on it.