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When I was young, my birth-mother was intermittently very sick, and so raising me was largely up to MY DAD. He protected and nurtured me in a world that was often very scary, and despite everything, I had a magical childhood. We would go for long, long walks in the English countryside, pick blackberries, and tell each other stories. We’d have picnics, for which he always brought along a Kit Kat. I still have a soft spot for Kit Kats today. He strongly encouraged my love of writing.
Here is a picture from my first note book (with my dad’s photo rather clumsily pasted on top by me) showing a story I dreamed up in 1982, called THE DAY THE MONSTER WALKED. Before I could even put pen to paper, I would record stories on a tape recorder and my dad would patiently transcribe them. These were stories about Buck Rogers and Doctor Who. That he did all this for me, while holding down FT employment and being, for several years, almost my sole care giver, is remarkable. The role a father has in your life is unbelievably powerful, something I realize more and more with every passing year. Thank you, Dad.
Six weeks. It seems like a lot longer, but in fact, it’s only been six weeks since Blind Spot became available as a book in the world. In that time, I’ve read to about one hundred and fifty people over the course of six events: four in Edmonton and two in Montreal. I feel that, in many respects, being a newbie in this business means building relationships with readers almost on a one-by-one basis. I’ve met many new people throughout this, and what brings us together is a passion for narrative. It’s very life-affirming.
A writer needs readers. A reader needs writers. We’re in a reciprocal relationship. Of course, readers and writers are often one and the same person. Whenever I read to a roomful of people, I always try to stay conscious of this. There might be somebody in this room who, unbeknownst to me, is also a writer — quite possibly a brilliant one. Maybe they’ve not been discovered yet. How does that influence how I read or answer questions about Blind Spot? At the very least, it means I try not to act like I am privy to any special knowledge. Sometimes I answer a question about the writing process with an answer that sounds like another question. I’ll finish my statement with, “you know?” As in, do you agree? I’m not entirely sure. This is what I think. What do you think?
Several great questions stand out:
What is the difference in writing process between a short story and a novel?
How do you know when you’ve finished a book?
I answered the former question by saying I believe a short story is like a brief glimpse at the world. It’s like opening a window and peeking out. The writer perhaps draws your attention to something you hadn’t noticed before, or you had noticed it, and maybe thought you were the only one. There’s that nod of the head, that sense of almost kinship you feel with the author sharing this moment with you. By contrast, I said, the novel is far more concerned with story-telling. Even if the novel appears plot-less, there is still a requirement to set up a problem and to resolve it between the covers of the book. A novel is a far better vehicle for bringing closure.
Then my interlocutor said, “But I asked about process. What’s the difference in process?”
And that’s where I had to admit, I was a little stumped. Is it a question of time invested? Hard to say. I’ve got one short story that took about three to four years to complete. I kept going back to it over and over again. It took me that long to figure it out. Hmmm. There’s the obvious fact that writing novels, generally, requires producing more words. So it’s going to take a lot more clickety-clacking at a keyboard. But that was the only true difference I could identify.
So how about the second question. How do you know when you’re finished? Well, ideally, I’d say, you get to the point where you can’t think of anything left you want to change. I genuinely feel this way about Blind Spot today. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t change it, because the book that exists in the world today is true to the vision I had when I was drafting it. If I tinkered with it now, I’d likely end up breaking it. I’m a rather different person now, and so I want to write different kinds of books.
That’s why I’m writing a second novel!
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Blind Spot is out in the world, and on balance, I am happy. I am particularly happy with how it has been received in Edmonton. My former hometown seems to have embraced the story with particular enthusiasm. At the time of writing this, I’ve been on the Edmonton Journal’s bestseller list for five weeks, rising as high as the number one spot.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU above all, to the independent bookstores. I was a big fan of independent bookstores before Blind Spot, I’m a lifelong devotee today. I can see how a city without an independent bookstore is diminished, somehow. Indigo and Chapter’s don’t care about books; they scarcely even have a passing knowledge of books. They sell products they don’t give a shit about in pursuit of profit, pure and simple. I hope I don’t live to regret these words one day, but there, I said it! Of course, I am one hundred per cent OK with people buying books from Chapter’s or Indigo — I don’t want to leave the impression that I am not. A bookstore — any kind of bookstore — is better than no bookstore. And even within these giant corporations, you will find individuals that care. I’m just arguing that caring about books is not key to the overall business model. Whereas for the stores that helped me launch Blind Spot — Audrey’s in Edmonton, and Drawn and Quarterly and Argo in Montreal — a love of books is integral to how they do business.
God bless those bookstores.
In the course of these six weeks, I’ve been joined by other writers. I have read with Thea Bowering, PJ Worrell and Marguerite Pigeon. I’ve discovered great new Canadian fiction. I’ve read things I never would have read otherwise, because before Blind Spot I didn’t really pay much attention to new Canadian writing. Now that I am paying attention, I can see there’s a veritable flood of fantastic fiction. Even though I haven’t read with either of them, I want to also mention Greg Bechtel and Kathleen Winter, two other writers I discovered this year. They’re both fucking great! The kind great that makes you want to swear just like that!
But still, I’m not completely satisfied
There, I said it. In reflecting on how it feels to publish a first novel, I admit that I want more. I want to read in other places and reach a wider audience. Next year I may well get to Yellowknife and Vancouver Island, and perhaps I’ll get to Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg, too, and I’m excited about these prospects, but I want even more. I want to read to Americans. If any American is reading this and wants me to come to his or her city, let me know! I want to read to Brits. If you live in my former homeland, invite me in for a scone and tea! I enjoy readings. I really do. They’re exhausting, but I feel like I’m fulfilling my life mission when I do ’em. I especially love talking to readers (who, as I mentioned, are also often fellow writers). I feel the social side of writing is often overlooked. I don’t want to overlook it. If books aren’t read, aren’t discussed, aren’t shared, there’s no point. We do this so as to feel less alone, less trapped in our own heads. We do this to make connections.
There is plenty more news about Blind Spot on the NeWest Press website, including reviews and media coverage, so I won’t repeat it here. I will make a brief aside, though, and say that the review in October’s Quill and Quire made my heart soar! Here is some of what they had to say about Blind Spot!
“Laurence Miall’s debut novel isn’t a cover version of L’Étranger, but you can hear Camus playing in the background… Blind Spot is the story of a minor failure, made all the more powerful by its honesty and restraint.”
I love this because I like to feel part of a tradition, part of a greater culture, part of something so much bigger than just little old me. And I’m not at all adverse to wearing my influences on my sleeves. Albert Camus? Fuck yeah! I’ll take that.
So yeah, I feel like I am where I want to be. In 10 days, I turn 39, and I feel happy to have reached this promising juncture in my life. I still have a shit-ton to learn about writing and about the business of writing (less fun, still important) but as of today, I feel I’m doing OK. Above all, I am grateful to each and every reader that takes a chance on me and dives into Blind Spot and finishes it and tells me what they think. Even if the reader hates my protagonist, Luke, I’m still delighted that they make their thoughts known. We’re in this wonderful world of books together. Let’s live it to the fullest.
In 1988, I became a big fan of punk music — The Damned, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, UK Subs, etc. All of these groups had, alas, already passed their prime, or disbanded, and I’d never been to any of their gigs. I lived in a small village in England that didn’t have any kind of musical venue — or in fact, a single shop. But one thing I was able to do to demonstrate my Punk Pride was, during a trip into town, buy a pair of Dr Martens boots.
Eight holes. Yellow stitching. Hot in summer. Slightly menacing!
Oh, how I loved those boots… for about eighteen months. Here’s what was cool about those boots. One, nobody else had a pair. I was the only punk in the village. Or maybe there were other punks, but they didn’t show it. Two, donning the Doc Martens was a non-conformist act! An act that could only be performed on Friday nights and weekends, because, of course, the school dress code prohibited such clonkers. Three, I had more courage when I wore my boots. Like the time I was playing indoor soccer at the Ashton-under-Hill Youth Club, and became over zealous with competitive spirit, and kicked the hand of Stewart Lemon, dislocating his finger. What a moment! Me, dislocating someone’s finger! Lemon, the affable, tall athlete that he was, blamed the boots more than he blamed me.
Then, in 1989, I moved to Canada, and newcomer’s nerves claimed my Doc Martens. To my amazement, I was allowed to wear the boots to school, but everyone at school openly mocked them. Punk was even more out in 1989 than it had been in 1988. So I sold my boots to a skateboarder called David Ko, the only kid who had enough attitude to wear them.
Fast forward to 1992, and I became a big fan of industrial music — Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Hilt. It was time to buy another pair of Doc Martens. This time, I went one step better, and on a trip to Germany, I bought some earrings in the shape of skulls and wore them proudly. Man, I was the real deal — in my mind!
Fast forward to now, and I’ve just purchased my third pair of Doc Martens. These ones are just a little more low key. Four-hole, black stitching, instead of yellow — but nevertheless, excellent for walking to and from work. I still feel like a bit of a non-conformist, because nowadays, most men in Montreal’s downtown core are swearing sleek, close-fitting sneakers, or dress shoes. They’re not wearing clunkers like this.
But I can be trusted with clunkers — that’s what I tell myself. My days of kicking kids in the hand are over. I still love punk, though, and I still love to bug out to this fantastic video of comedian Alexei Sayle singing an ode to Doc Marten’s boots on the 1980’s hit British comedy, The Young Ones, released during the true heyday of punk — 1983.