23rd May 2013
The book cover saga continues. My preference is for dreamy landscapes, but that is just dreamy me. My editor wants to veer away from suggesting this is just historical fiction. I want to get very far away from any hint that this book belongs on the shelf with romance fiction. If I don't get a hard back, I should at least have a classy cover. She was asking me what book covers from my collection have stuck with me, and, honestly, there are not many. Book covers tend to be pretty bad, often irrelevant. But album covers do have more impact, and Dougie MacLean's are particularly good. It helps that his wife is a landscape artist. In fact, I have a print of the picture on his album "Tribute" hanging on my wall. If Simon and Schuster could come up with anything half as good as Dougie's album cover "Indigenous," I will be happy.
I should qualify what I said in my last blog about how the arts reflect back the Zeitgeist. I should have mentioned that this isn't something that can be forced, anymore than you can force a mirror to reflect a flattering image of yourself. If you, as an artist, get in the way of the reflection, you'll end up with fun-house type distorted images. On the political scene, this happened with Karl Marx. I've read "Das Kapital," and it is a very interesting analysis of how societies function and evolve. But he wasn't trying to get in the way and force any of this to happen. Lenin and his successors were, which is where communism all goes downhill fast. Modern art to a large extent has also fallen into this pit, and turned the reflection into a mind game.
So in light of what I said last week, let me council artists in whatever medium to stay out of the way of themselves. The examples I gave of Dan Brown and JK Rowling prove the point, because they are not trying to re-introduce notions of the sacred feminine or magic. They are just standing out of the way and letting the wave of human "Geist" speak through them. They would probably recoil from such a description and tell you they were simply writing the stories they would want to read, which is always a good platform for a writer, as long as you listen deep. This is a lesson I have had to learn as a writer. You have to trust that what is important to you will come through in your writing anyway. Your art is the writing, not the agenda.
I have all kinds of agendas that I could try to wheedle into my work. I have strong opinions on the evolution of mankind, on the environment, on how to raise kids, and a huge Scottish Nationalist agenda. It turns out that almost all my books are set in Scotland where I grew up, but that is just what I hear when I listen in the wind. It's like a bagpipe drone, always there behind the song. That's why writers tend to live in exile, all the better to hear that drone.
I keep meaning to write about turning books into films. Right now all attention is on the new movie version of The Great Gatsby. But it's a bit like translating poetry: so much nuance gets lost along the way. Some movies manage it, but often by chance: "Zorba the Greek," is a great rendition of Kazantzakis's classic, but only by virtue of Anthony Quinn in the lead role. There are some movies that have even done a better job than the book. Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient," for one. It's an interesting topic, and a very hard feat to pull off. Perhaps this is why Diana Gabaldon has never sold film rights to her outlandishly popular books. I have a vision of being in a cinema watching one of my books on screen for the first time, and sinking further and further into my seat with sheer horror. Lucky John Irving was allowed to write his own script for "Cider House Rules," and got the Oscar for it to boot. But this is a big subject, and I will tackle it next time.