La Rochelle: Michael Nath – What Does Writing Mean to You?

Following on from two earlier vod-posts on the launch of La Rochelle by Michael Nath (Route), I set out to ask him one simple question: what does writing mean to you? His response is below and a short review of La Rochelle will appear later in the month.

Let’s have a few definitions:

1)    Writing is a fine excuse for dodging real work, and duties such as cutting the lawn. [1]  

2)    Writing is dreaming plus technique.

3)    Writing is a holiday of the mind.[2]

4)    Writing is impure philosophy (it has this in its favour).

5)    Writing is your compensation …

Compensation? For what?

Well some writers write from a sense of fullness (maybe they’re the greater ones).   The rest write because there’s something missing … Put it this way, your experience of the world has seldom been the adventure it’s supposed to be. Do you know what I mean? You may have noticed this on holidays when you were a kid, a feeling like the mildest car sickness, a small sensation of paralysis: you weren’t quite having the holiday; it was going on inches from your heart. As the years pass, the feeling increases. It’s something like that caused by the sound of church bells, or the clouding over of the sun. The spirit isn’t with you. You can’t get stuck in. You do not shine at sports or dancing. You have trouble with the spoken word. When you try and tell an anecdote, it sticks in your mouth like one of those perforated bags of sucking tobacco that were sold[3] as a cigarette alternative and released a bitter brown juice. Instead of adventures, you have memories. You seem to remember everything. So you start writing. Perhaps you think it will burn off some of the memories, like the top gas in a blast furnace, or barnacles on a ship of wood. Then you can begin producing iron; then you can set sail …

Cheer up!

I’m happy enough.

You could have fooled us.

No, really I am; and this is because …

6)    Writing is the truth

Above all, writing is the making of a true world, a world that convinces.

We’re already convinced  thank you. Look out the window! 1st September 2010. Everything’s cool. Look in the papers! It’s all there!

Yes. It’s all there in general. It’s officially  there.  Agreed.

Thanks! We knew you’d see sense.

Not so fast. Because what’s really there is different. It’s like the difference between the weather and the forecast on the BBC.

Hold on! What’s up with the weather forecast? You’d better not be calling our fine people from the Met Office liars, Jimmy!

It’s worse than that. They reckon they’re telling the truth. But when you do look out of your window, do you see what they said?


You need the truth about the weather, and a good many other things too. And if you believe the papers and Richard Dawkins and the BBC, you aren’t getting it. Writing tells it how it really is.

But how can it, if the writer just makes things up?

Because he has house rules.

Like pubs?

Yes. And if you’re happy drinking in his, then you accept them. If you aren’t, you can always go next door.                                                                           

So what are your rules?

They’re on the wall over there.[4] – That’s TIME, ladies and gentlemen!

[1] This is a sordid idea, put about by philistines who should be repelled  with a sharp blow from a ‘Millwall brick’.

[2] This is a beautiful image, put about by Paul Valéry.

[3] Actually, they soon started giving them away.

[4] Nath must be using ‘wall’ as a metaphor for the novel La Rochelle here.

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