Only Pig-Headed Dogs Can Write Novels
‘Everybody has a book in them’ – so the saying goes. Rest assured, this is nonsense. Being able to write a piece of high-quality long-form fiction is not the same as having the ideas and experience that might inspire it. However, in the spirit of the phrase, I do think it’s good to acknowledge that the writing of a book is not necessarily a mark of superior intelligence. I know plenty of people who are smarter than me, more emotionally intelligent, have read more widely, are more socially and politically aware, but have tried and failed to write a novel. They know what they want to achieve but they can’t seem to get very far beyond the point where they realise that they are not quite as good as they thought they were going to be.
Only a rare beast can write a novel. A grunting, howling thing. It has no central writerly aspect. The main difference between it and the people who don’t finish novels is the ability of its ego to deny all and any evidence of its failings. It is a pig-headed creature and, like an annoyingly persistent child that eventually gets what it wants, it denies its failures and carries on until they are obliterated by its eventual success.
This is not to say that pig-headedness alone writes novels. The creature in question also needs the obsessive and optimistic heart of a dog. For instance, when a normal-headed human-hearted person realises that their prose is ugly and clumsy, it’s full of chatty or passive language and it constantly segues into interesting but pointless reflections, they feel dismay. Their pride shrinks, their self-esteem withers and they think, ‘That’s enough writing for me today, thank you very much. I want to be a happy person.’ Conversely, the pig-headed dog snorts at the pointless words on its page and thinks, ‘I should remove these lesser successes so that it can become a much greater success. Then, I should do the same thing again, and again, and again, until there is nothing left but success.’
A pernickety pig-headed dog often spends two or three hours working on a single paragraph, snorting at the ugly rhythms and awkward structures, growling at the useless words, but lowering its snout and snuffling through, cutting adverbs, moving commas, aligning everything with its pig-headed vision. More often than not, the wretched beast accidentally accrues some small flourishes of form and, bit by bit, its paragraph starts to read well. Everything ends up flowing and doing its job. At this point, the beast howls, ‘Success! I always knew this paragraph was a success.’
You might think I’m trying to amuse you but it’s really very sad for the other writing creatures. Dog-headed moles have been known to wander out into fields and start digging and digging and then disappear forever. Mole-headed pigs sometimes sit with words tossed like salads across their pages, believing that they are immersed in linguistic conundrums the likes of which pig-headed dogs have never witnessed. It’s a terrible state of affairs.
The worst thing about it all is that pig-headed dogs are also incredibly lucky. “There’s no such thing as luck,” I hear you say. “Luck is a concept created to divert our fear of chaos, so that we can tell ourselves stories about being chosen or overlooked.” This is entirely false. Pig-headed dogs prove time and again that luck exists by being the luckiest creatures on the planet. After ignoring their friends and their loved ones for what can only be described as sociopathic periods of time, they emerge from their novel writing and find that everybody is extremely proud of them, because their manuscript was the lucky one that got plucked from the slush pile, and it just happened to appeal to that one publishing professional who gave it a second glance. Why is this the case? Because they are pig-headed dogs!
Approach one of these creatures at a book fair and ask it, “How do you write a novel?” In reply, you will receive a wry but pleased smile. It will raise its chin and say something like, “You don’t have to be a pig-headed dog to write a novel. You just have to read a lot. Keep trying, and eventually you will get there. I’m just a normal-headed human-hearted person underneath it all.” Yet, as it speaks, you may notice its crazed obsessive eyes staring through you, or its snout twitching at the air, sniffing for success, and, if you lean in and listen carefully, you might even hear the faint beating of its deranged but optimistic heart.
(c) Matt Wilven
Matt Wilven was born in Blackpool in 1982. After receiving an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing, he spent the next ten years honing his craft. Fresh from burying a library of juvenilia beneath his ex-landlord’s patio, he has emerged as a debut novelist with a distinct, accessible voice and an eye as keen for reality as it is the surreal.
Matt’s new novel Farzaneh and the Moon is published by Legend Press on 15th May 2019.
About Farzaneh and the Moon:
When N meets a charismatic outsider called Farzaneh, he realises that something has been missing in his life. They fall for each other and begin an intense and passionate relationship. However, Farzaneh starts to isolate herself, becoming obsessed and embroiled in her mysterious connection with the moon.
N is forced to reappraise everything he knows, searching for meaning and identity while he violently collides with the limits of intimacy and love.
‘Matt Wilven’s Farzaneh and the Moon captures all the frantic rhythms and passions of student life in its lively narrative, and adds a dark twist with its inflection of the obsessional and mystical’ Professor Philip Tew
Order your copy online here.