The truth about the Da Vinci Code

Here we go again. This time it's the Archbishop of Canterbury, who really should know better, complaining about Dan Brown's novel, while DB laughs all the way to the bank (and good luck to him I say. Only wish it were me!)
Let me spell it out.
The Da Vinci Code is a novel. Fiction. Entertainment. Made up stuff.
So far as I can see, it doesn't pretend to be anything else.
Unlike all those books which consist of wild speculation masquerading as truth which lurk in sections of bookshops labelled "New Age".
But where did this inability to distinguish between fact and fiction spring from? I'll tell you where. It comes from exactly the same impulse that makes people apply for jobs in Weatherfield's Knicker Factory, or send condolence cards to relatives of deceased soap characters.
When ordinary people do this sort of thing, we snigger at them. When senior clerics do it, they make the national news.
I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code. As a piece of far fetched fiction. Sure, the slight suspicion that there might just be some vague truth at the bottom of it crossed my mind. And it did reinforce my long held belief that Mary Magdalen has had a bad press all these years. When you want to discredit a woman, you just label her as a prostitute and hey presto. All of which was interesting. But not earth shattering.
This isn't a book that stays in your mind for more than five minutes together, although it is a damn good read. But I don't really believe in it, any more than I believe that there are talking moles and water rats boating merrily along the burn that runs at the bottom of my garden, or that when I next go for a walk in the woods I will meet a bunch of elves, singing as they go, or that somewhere out there is a time travelling doctor, with powers far beyond those of ordinary mortals.
I think some of this confusion is down to reality TV. We are so often entertained by real people doing bizarre things, that we are beginning to confuse suspension of disbelief with belief in just about anything.
Of course some fiction is life changing in that it is - as novelist Bernard McLaverty calls it- "made up truth." We enjoy the story, and learn something momentous about the human condition in the process. But so far as I can see, the Da Vinci Code never pretended to be like that. It is fast, slick, honest to God entertainment. We read it to be entertained. End of story.

Rabbit Holes

I've been mulling over exactly why it's so difficult to keep going with a piece of non-fiction writing, when it seems so much easier to achieve a first draft of a novel, or a play. This is not to say that either process is really easy, just that when you are working on fiction in any form, the desire to pursue the story, to find out where it's going (even if you think you already know the ending) just carries you along, and before you know it you have this large, unwieldy thing that will eventually (you hope) turn into a novel or a play. But at least you have something to work on, and with. You don't have the blank screen and the pile of books and notes to alarm you every morning when you turn on your PC. I'd be interested to know how other writers feel about this. Do those who usually write non-fiction, I wonder, feel equally thrown by the need to keep inventing, when they first attempt a piece of fiction?
This, of course, is all about Gigha. I am writing a book about Gigha, with a deadline of the end of May and although now I really do feel that the end might just be in sight, and that I might actually manage to finish drafting out the last few chapters within the next couple of weeks, thus leaving me a whole month to (a) do final rewrites (b) find some elusive old photographs of the island (c) draft out an index and a bibliography and (d) manage a trip to the island to check final facts. But it has been a long haul, and I wouldn't willingly do it again. I'm not sure why. Mostly it's to do with the fact that my natural inclination is to write fiction. But the other problem seems to be what a friend of mine, hard at work on her thesis, calls "Rabbit Holes." It seems a wonderful description, calling to mind images of Alice, and her adventures in Wonderland. Because research of any kind is full of potential Wonderlands. Every single time you set out to research a specific topic, you find something else so fascinating that you can barely resist the urge to go tumbling down the rabbit hole after it. When I sent a first chapter to the publisher, it came back with several dismayed comments. Can you just focus on Gigha? That was what he was saying in essence. So - reluctantly - I did.
But the problem is that in fiction, drama, poetry, it is these same rabbit holes, the million interesting diversions and connections that are the very life blood of what you write. In researching Gigha, I have come across literally dozens of interesting facts, stories, observations, any one of which might provide material for a piece of fiction. Just not for this particular book. Come the end of May, I know where I'll be though. Off down a rabbit hole, that's where.

Hey Mr Tambourine Man

I was outraged late last year when a Scottish journalist declared that women don't like Bob Dylan. Well in this household at any rate it's me who worships at that particular shrine. Above all, I love the way he refused to be defined, labelled, branded. Just as soon as they thought they had pinned him down, he changed. It was as though he cared, but he was damned if he was going to be squeezed into whatever mould the media had planned for him. Instead he would simply thumb his nose at them, and reinvent himself as something else. He's a shape shifter, he's mercurial and he's magic.
I like everything he does, but if pushed, I would have to say that I like Tambourine Man best. And I like Dylan's extended, exuberant and exhilarating version better than the Byrds. No matter how many times I hear it,I'm back there, when I was young and when everything seemed possible. Love was an adventure. Words were an adventure too. What happened, I wonder? Did I just stop taking the time to daydream?
I used to write poetry in those days. Now I write plays and prose that have something of poetry in them. But the spark that seemed to make the poems themselves comes seldom, if ever. If I start again, it will be Dylan that does it for me.
Back then, I could "forget about today until tomorrow". But now that tomorrow is well and truly here, I find myself remembering. Sometimes I feel like Alice, grown cumbersome, peering through the little door into the lost garden. It's Bob Dylan who gives me that feeling, every time.

Spring Has Sprung

and this is me, trying out a photograph of my favourite flower, just to see if it works! Actually, I thought spring had sprung until tonight, when the temperature here in rural Scotland plummeted all over again. At the weekend,the garden was warm and full of daffodils, the birds were singing and next door's cat came visiting. He greets me like a long lost buddy when I visit my neighbour, but won't come near me when he's in my garden. He sits neatly by the pond, watching the newts, and occasionally glancing complacently in my direction. Whenever I talk to him (which is embarrassingly often) he twitches his ears but won't come near. I get the feeling this must be some kind of feline etiquette. I used to consider myself to be a dog lover but the older I get, the more I like cats. Dogs seem so needy while cats are so admirably self possessed. There must be material for a story somewhere in there.
All of which is a hint to those people who (a) ask me where I get my ideas from and (b) complain to me that they can't think of anything interesting to write about. Everything is interesting, if you look closely enough. It's seeing the original and the fresh in the everyday stuff of life and then trying to convey it in exactly the right words that makes you into a writer. And you don't always have to leave home to do it.