Angela Carter – Three Things I Learned

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Not actually Angela Carter

So. The BBC have just shown a cracking documentary about Angela Carter (available on iPlayer until early September 2018). There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, but three things stood out for me.

1. She wrote a lot, consistently, over a twenty-five year writing career. That may seem a strange thing to take away from her life, but I am impressed that she discovered what it was she ought to be doing and got on with it, despite (possibly because of) the crap that was happening in her life. ‘Getting on with it’ or ‘turning up’ at the desk to write books, stories and articles, without worrying that many people don’t appreciate them, is an emblem of a real writer.

2. She didn’t have much time for the constipated middle-class novels of the 1960s and 1970s. There’s a lovely clip of her dissing the Booker Prize winning Hotel du Lac. I know the feeling. Here’s a little doggerel fragment I jotted down a few years ago under the title ‘why I have given up reading modern novels’:

… with kind and beastly people
having largely beastly lives;
and all the beastly people
are cheating on their wives
(or husbands …)

Carter wrote the novels she wanted to write which, for all their ‘fantasy’ were still deeply political. Sometimes, the best way to write about something is to write about something else.

3. She held the view that the writer and reader create a contract, and so long as what happens within the writing sticks to that contract the reader is content to read. That is a very different test from ‘could that happen’ or ‘is it real’, and should be liberating for both the writer and the reader. If I apply that test to my current work in progress (Fortune’s Favourite – a story set in the eighteenth century english theatre world) it tells me to turn the volume up, not down.

Thank you, Angela. 

Contra crepusculum

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Polychrome painting of a wolf in the Font-de-Gaume cave (drawing by Henri Breuil)

So. I find myself in a trap of my own making, caught between Angela Carter on one side and Stephanie Meyers on the other, because I have decided to write about wolves. More specifically about wolves and people with an indefinite and poorly defined line between them.

Currently, I have a short, ten-minute, play with one character who is a wolf and who is also, somehow, human (or, at least, appears to be). I managed to write that without leaping to the obvious conclusion that everyone reading this will reach in a few milli-seconds: I have written about a werewolf. Which is where Angela and Stephanie come in.

I have not read the Twilight Saga and do not intend to. I have not read Angela Carter’s wolf and werewolf short stories, but I have bought a copy of The Bloody Chamber, the collection in which they appear, and I will read them in the next few days. I am, though, wary, as they will inevitably change by thinking on the subject, and I will lose the knowing innocence that has served me so far.

My problem is that I don’t really want to write about werewolves, certainly not in the Meyeresque (hence the title of the post). I don’t want the huge, leapy, instantly-transforming things of team Jacob (even without reading/watching I know too much). I don’t even want the dorky New Zealand werewolves of What we do in the shadows (that good, but bloody vampire comedy).

I want to write about wolves and people. As yet, I don’t know how to do that, but I will find out in the only way I know how: by writing about it. And I’m starting to think I might want the wolf of Gubbio.