(Written in Mandrem, March 17th)
Mandrem is proving to be the complete opposite of the other places I’ve been in Goa. It’s a world away from the frantic hussle of Calengute and Baga, quieter than the trippy trance soundtrack of Vagator and Anjuna, and the only place I’ve been in India where there isn’t one single shop, as far as I’ve been able to tell. (I didn’t even think that was possible!)
The deserted location means I pretty much stay put after dark, as it isn’t wise to wander down the empty unlit beach at night. Oh, I go out in front of my hut, and went for a swim at about midnight last night, but walking back from Arambol, for example, would be a very bad idea by myself. So I don’t go out at night; there’s nowhere to go in Mandrem.
Fortunately many of the things I love to do are best done while spending time on my own. I’ve had lots of time to write, and read back over the things I’ve written earlier this year; unfortunately, it also gave me enough time to realize that something I’ve been working on is currently written from the wrong character’s point of view, so there’s some extensive rewriting in my future. (This might be harder once I go back to working full time.)
And I love to read, voraciously. I’ll read pretty much anything I can get my hands on, if I don’t have any other choice; this has meant that my reading material this year has been inconsistent in quality, as I exchange books on the road when the opportunity presents itself or trade with another traveller. Once or twice, I’ve gotten to read things I’ve really loved and that I will seek out again at home (given the extra weight and volume to carry, I didn’t keep the books in question).
Let’s see, what books? I don’t think I’d read anything of John Irving’s before, but I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany; the only trouble with that book, though, was that the copy I acquired was missing pages 1 through 15. (So I still don’t know exactly how it starts.) I picked an Anne Tyler somewhere else, that I really enjoyed; I’d read many of her novels before and I always enjoy the quirky little worlds she creates. I re-read Heaven and Hell recently, the last novel in John Jakes’ North and South trilogy; I read the series years ago and loved it all (and the TV miniseries, although I think I loved that mostly because Patrick Swayze played the character Orry Main).
And I have a copy of a novel by Kiran Desai (a writer from India), which won the Man Booker prize in 2006. I’m saving as a treat for the long plane ride home as an appropriate way to say goodbye to the country. In the same spirit, right now I'm reading The Jewel in the Crown.
But other than those, I’ve read a lot of very forgettable stuff. Oh, I’ve enjoyed most of it, and I wouldn’t say that most of them were really bad (with one or two notable exceptions); it’s just that they didn’t leave much of an impression. I like books that make me think or laugh uproariously or cry like my heart is broken, or books that are so beautifully written that the words veritably sing. The music of Michael Ondaatje’s prose awes me, every time, and he is an entertaining storyteller to boot (it’s a rare combination).
Most of the books I’ve read haven’t been that. They’ve been run-of-the-mill, formulaic thrillers or mysteries or chick lit that entertained me while I was reading but that went completely out of my head the second I closed the book. I’ve found myself thinking, after I’d finished some, “Hey, wait a minute, I can write better than that!” And you know what? I CAN. I can write bloody brilliantly sometimes. (Other times, not so much, but we’ll ignore those times.) So why on earth are these people getting published, and I’m not?
Oh, right, I haven’t tried. That would be a good first step, wouldn’t it?
I started to get inspired last year when I went to a book launch; a friend from a writing class a few years ago got published and her first book came out in the fall. She’s currently working on book number three of the series about her fictional detective Clare Vengel, and I can’t wait to read more. (Check out Robin’s first book Dead Politician Society if you haven’t come across it yet; it’s an excellent read. You can find her here at www.robinspano.com.)
Right, then, chalk that up on my to-do list when I get home. Somewhere in the innumerable pages I’ve written this year has to be something worth polishing, that could finally get my name on bookstore shelves. (You will all, of course, be buying copies when that day finally comes; I’ll give you plenty of warning!)
It doesn’t actually really matter, though. Enjoying it is reason enough to keep doing it, and I feel happier and more fulfilled at the end of a day in which I’ve written something (even if it never sees the light of day).
So whether or not the rest of the world ever recognizes my genius, I’ll just keep on writing.