Everyone is guilty of something - the only mystery is,
to what degree?
Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime novel of the year
YOU DON’T SEDUCE INSPIRATION, INSPIRATION SEDUCES YOU
We Flemings love our pubs and our world-famous monastery beers. They fuel a lot of, eh, cultural discussions. And, in my case, a variety of what I could term “friendly but boisterous insults of the author.” Someone blows his alcoholic fumes in my face and delivers a target line, more or less like this: “Thirty-five books published in thirty-three years? If I was a fulltime author like you, for sure I would publish even more books, and they would be a lot better and sell much more than yours! You know why? Eh? Because I would write them utterly wasted! Alcoholic fluid is excellent for a fluent style! Rodeo-style! Fast and dirty! What a life you have, you lucky bastard! Writing isn’t like…like…working as I have to do.”
My standard answer in those cases, delivered with utmost dignity, is: “And what would you write about?” Their standard answer usually goes like this: “Eh….I would think of something! Anything! Eh… Something commercial! Romance, love, sex, mayhem, murder, a villain you would like to tear to pieces with your bare hands, eh….I would think and think until I’ve found something.”
Sometimes, when I’m in the mood, I try to explain them that you don’t seduce inspiration by thinking. Inspiration seduces you when you allow her. The Muse demands a clear head and an intimate connection with your own brain. Okay, I admit, that last part of the sentence sounds weird. And it isn’t that I have gulped down a few monastery beers (world- famous!).
Still, it is kind of like that.
I have to be open in order to find my theme.
Or better: I have to be open so that my theme can find me.
Receptive, that is what a writer should be when a theme knocks at his door.
It so happens that a few days ago, I finished my new novel: “De schaduw van de Mol” (The Shadow of the Mole). So I spent a few evenings in various very Flemish cafés to celebrate this happy feat. I had a bunch of, eh, cultural discussions. Truth is: they become boring after a few days. Therefore, I’m on the look-out for a new theme. It’s like a fever that’s slowly building up.
There are writers who complain about “writer’s block.” Or how hard it is these days to find a real good theme. Maybe they’re not curious enough. When I was little, my mother used to call me in sturdy Flemish a curieuzeneuzemosterdpot. It’s an untranslatable word – just try to say it out loud phonetically, heehaw - but it means that I am dreadfully curious.
A talent for a writer, I assure you.
In my view, you must not only be curious but also passionate about something if you want to write something worthwhile. Although this is an era where for the most part literature has degraded to mere entertainment, I’m a stubborn little guy and I like to think that literature has the ability to say something meaningful about the human condition.
Authors can use stories as a vehicle to probe the vast universe of the human mind. I like my novels to have a social angle: individual lives caught up in broad social currents, often upheavals in tense times. All I have to do to find that angle is to listen, read and watch empathically. Then the rest follows as sure as day and night.
Only yesterday, a female journalist told me about her recent experiences in the metro of Algiers when she travelled after eight o’clock pm from station Haï El-badr to station El-Hamma. Let me give her the stage in her own words: “I was correctly dressed: a beige dress reaching to my ankles, a sweater that covered my arms and a shawl around my hair. I was hardly wearing any make-up. At Haï El-badr, I nipped my train, had to wait for the next one. I was alone on the quay. A young man wearing a police uniform came up to me. Without any hesitation, he said: “Are you not afraid to be here alone at this time of the evening? Be careful: you could be molested.” I told him I thought that Algeria was not like India or Egypt where women can be raped in broad daylight. He tried to reassure me, but at the same time he asked for my mobile number because he thought I was assez jolie (very handsome).
“Once in the train, I noticed I was the only unaccompanied woman in the carriage. In the station Amirouche a bunch of adolescents got on board and immediately started to harass me. An older man intervened but when the young freaks had backed off, he reproached me harshly: was I mad or stupid? In the eyes of those thugs I was une catin, a prostitute, being alone on the metro at this hour instead of being home and tending for my man and children.
“Out of the metro, going to my friend’s house, only a two minutes walk, two times men asked me what my price was for half an hour. At last standing before my friend’s door, another hissed something behind my back and shot me a menacing glance when I looked over my shoulder. Luckily, the door opened. I stumbled inside…”
Listening to her story, seeing her outrage, feeling her pain and confusion, something stirred in me.
A connection deep in the subconscious regions of the mind.
The beginning of a story.
We’ll see. Let it brew.
But one thing is certain: inspiration is seducing me.
Bob Van Laerhoven
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