Thursday, 2 June 2011

Craig Cliff on Agalmatophilia

As a slack, easily distracted, procrastination-prone, writer, I often have to set myself little (and sometimes not so little) challenges to make sure I write every day.

In March 2008 I set myself the task of writing a story in daily chunks of eight words. Whatever I thought about the end result, I remember loving the challenge of what might be called slow writing.

In November that same year I challenged myself to write a 100 word story every day for a month. I enjoyed this so much I wrote 100 word stories again the next November, though  this time I chose to set them all in the same fictional South Island town. (The town, Marumaru South, was one I had started populating for a historical novel which I had only just started researching in earnest; I decided telling 30 stories about the town's modern day inhabitants would itself be a useful kind of research). The result of my November 2009 challenge could also be read as one 3,000 word story, and was published as such in Sport 38 under the title, '30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South'.

When I heard about slightly peculiar love stories, I decided to challenge myself again.

I had three governing principles. The first was that I had one week to write the story (in part due to my being a slack, easily distracted, procrastination-prone, writer). The second was that I wanted to write something less than 1,000 words (I'm not sure why; I think I was on a conciseness kick at the time). Combining these two aspects, I decided to write a 140-word chapter (and no more!) every day, which would net me a finished story in one week's time. That "and no more!" is an important part. It allows time for the story to marinate. For the hundred possible next steps to play out in my head while in the shower, on the bus, in team meetings… To write down the first, third or thirtieth option that occurs to me begins to stems the flow of other possible ideas and the story begins to be set in stone...

The third governing principle was that I wanted to rehearse another aspect of the Marumaru South novel that I was still researching and not-yet-writing, namely agalmatophilia, or the love of statues, mannequins and the like.  So I had my rough idea: man falls in love with statue. But I wanted it to be a very different story from the novel I planned to write, which meant a New Zealand setting was out.

I sat down on Day One knowing a man would fall in love with a statue in a country other than New Zealand and nothing else. I headed up the first chapter with the roman numeral "I". Roman, Rome, classical statues… Italy seemed the logical choice to set my story. I then felt around for a name for my main character…

Come Day 7 I had my sub-1000 word story. I allowed myself to edit further so that most of the chapters are much shorter than 140 words. Once you open the door to conciseness, it's hard to abide any sort of flab.

Congratulations to Craig for very recently winning the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2011 Best First Book for A Man Melting.

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