Monday, 21 January 2013

Repeat Readings Part Three

Try to convince someone of an author’s control and intention, and they’ll often raise a suspicious eyebrow. Yeah right, their face says. That pattern of images is coincidence. You’re reading too much into it. Teaching, you get this a lot. You might be discussing “…patter out their hasty orisons” in a poem by Wilfred Owen, for example, and drawing attention to the poet’s use of sound. It’s like a machine gun, see? Yeah right, go the faces. You’re not seriously saying he meant that?  They write it down, but they don’t buy it.

However. The editing process has given me a little bit of fresh insight into this one. I’ve read and adjusted Poisonboy seven times now. (Previous posts with this title – there’s two, I think – have told little stories about re-reading. Poisonboy is now my most read book, beating this, which is more than a little narcissistic for my liking.) Anyway, here’s a pretty exact account of what happened with one image as I re-read and re-wrote.

It started with the antagonist whose face, torn by dogs and healed ugly, is raked by scars. He only has one eye. When he blinks in the half dark of a shadowy room it looks like a peeled egg. Level of intention here – currently zero. I just like the idea. My boy Dalton Fly is our protag. He has a Lucky Jack; a playing card he believes serves as some sort of protecting influence. On re-read two, I notice the Lucky Jack has only one eye because, well, Jacks do, don’t they? And the single eye ‘stares impassively at him’ or some such line. It’s a neat link between goodie and baddie so I keep it in and forget about it.

Later on in the book, one character has a toy rabbit, a throw-back to their childhood, as a pet. It has no eyes and it's called Hoppy. I added the detail early on with no sense that it might link to anything. My daughter has a toy rabbit called Hoppy and it has a missing eye, so it was a little reference to that. On re-read three and four, I’ve now got the eye image stored away somewhere in my mind and the level of intention starts to rise. Following a dose of Belladonna, Dalton can’t see properly; his vision buckles and distorts. It’s a straightforward symptom of the poisoning, but I play it up a bit more than I would have. Later, I fiddle with a fight scene in which the lad takes a beating and comes round, face swollen, with one working eye. By re-read five, I have to describe the hot pellet of a bullet, so it becomes a ‘metal eye’. For another character, cleaning spectacles and being able to see properly is important - he never can; his lenses are always grime-encrusted. 

What does all this mean?

I’m not entirely sure; I’ve made a dodgy pattern and I don’t know why. Except that the story is a bit about seeing the world, and seeing it in a new way, maybe. Yeah, that. I write all this because it might look, just a little bit, and just occasionally, like I know what I'm doing.

Rest assured friends. I don't.