Thursday, September 30, 2010

Worksheet #40, including September Reading in Review

I rode the Sistine Chapel bus again on Wednesday morning. Talk about diminishing marginal returns.


September Reading #3

I went to the library hoping to get Ian Wedde's Good Business, but there was no copy available. I settled for a copy of Wedde's Commonplace Odes (poetry, NZ), which was okay but wasn't really what I was after. Maybe in October...
Good BusinessThe Commonplace Odes


I sat on my first two interview panels this past week. I'm looking forward to applying the lessons learned next time I'm the intervewee (like talking about lessons you've learnt and how you've applied them -- interviewers lap that up).


All the Poems of Muriel SparkSeptember Reading #4

All The Poems by Muriel Spark. I'm a bit fan of Spark's fiction, so thought I'd check out her life's poetic output. Again, okay, but nothing to make my tongue tingle with excitement. I think I'll read another of her novels soon though.


The deadline for submissions to Turbine is 22 October. I've had a range of things in Turbine over the years (novel extract, short story, poem, reading journal extract), but the well looks dry at the moment. If I find a spare three hours (ha!) I'll write a list-poem called: '10 places I could be when the big one hits'.


Lucky Jim (Penguin Decades)September Reading #5

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. I rather liked this book. At times I felt pulled in two directions: was this a PG Wodehouse 'romatic romp with manners' or was this the sort of serious E.M. Forster 'tea-table tet-a-tet' novel? In the end I'd say this is comic writing (example of a phrase) first, campus satire with a deep moral core second and there's nothing wrong with that.


Three columns in (2 published, one more submitted and will appear Saturday 9 Oct) and I'm starting to get my head around the form. The challenge at the moment is dealing with the two week lead time between submission and publication, which nixes writing about anything 'in the news' which will be overdone by the media in two week's time (e.g. Chch earthquake) or something like seeing the first pohutokawa blossoms (unless I write about last year's and time it before this year's arrive…)


My idling bus this morning sounded like the start of 'Pinball Wizard' by The Who. I wish I was better at putting sounds into type. The best I can do is: Brrrrrrrr-ditta-ditta, brrrrrrrr-ditta-ditta.


September Reading #1 and #2

Haven't you been paying attend? I've already mentioned The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris and Legend of a Suicide by David Vann. One will be in my 'Top ten books I read in 2010', one will not.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Novel B Playlist #1

Twelve songs that have rung my bell while working on my novel this last fortnight. This may become a regular feature. We'll see.  Links are to YouTube unless otherwise stated...

  1. 'Running out of angels' - Elvis Costello (not on YouTube, general info here)
  2. 'I couldn't say it to your face' - Arthur Russell
  3. 'Ahead by a century' - The Tragically Hip
  4. 'Strangers' - The Kinks
  5. 'Winter song' - Screaming Trees
  6. 'Rene' - The Small Faces
  7. 'For you' - Bruce Springsteen
  8. 'Weighty ghost' - Wintersleep
  9. 'Fashion show' - Eels
  10. 'Taster' - Grandaddy
  11. 'Sleeping sickness' - City and Colour
  12. 'Studebaker' - Warren Zevon (Jordon Zevon's cover here)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Forecast: grey with occasional cloud-bursts

Back in February I wrote about those cloud-bursting moments writers have every so often that show you the way forward and give you an energy boost to push on with a story or novel. At the time I’d had a small revelation in relation to the novel I'm working on (a.k.a. Novel B).

Well, it was a long time between drinks, but I had my next cloud-burst today. That's seven months between revelations for those of you playing along at home, which partially explains my snail's progress on Novel B.

Status report, Dr Spock

I'm still mired in Chapter Three. I've had problems with how to make the transition from the first two chapters which take the narrator down to the bottom of the well (so to speak; this isn't another Wind-up Bird), to the more positive, more active section that follows. I did my best Sisyphus impression, pushing and pushing the narrative up hill each evening, only for it to roll back down overnight so that I felt as if I was always sitting down to write with my toes crushed.

But like I said, the clouds cleared momentarily today and I will take this chance to examine once more this cerebro-meteorological phenomenon.

Conditions for a Cloud-burst

You need three things for a cloud-bursting moment.

One: A problem.

Two: A build up.

Three: An idea.

In practice, you identify the build up first. You have to be writing (or at least sitting down with the intention to write but giving up soon after because it's all too hard) for the build up to occur. You then have to spend several days mooching around feeling lost and frustrated and blaming things like your day job and your new keyboard for your inability to finish the chapter. (If I could figure out how to skip this mooching period it would make several people's lives easier, but alas.)

You can then either:

A) identify the problem and the idea follows instantaneously and voila, the clouds have split.


B) on occasion, you'll have an idea and then find out that in order for it to work, you'll have to change something, and in figuring out the changes you realise what the problem was that was causing the build up in the first place.

A Worked Example

You're writing a story about a boy who wants to go sky diving. In your current draft he dreams and dreams of sky diving, then one day wins a free sky dive. Ugh. You know there's something wrong. Think. Think.

Aha! You realise the problem is that the boy gets what he wants with too little effort. People don't believe life works this way. This means readers may view your story as unrealistic, which is another way of saying they see can see the writer at work in the story. So you have the idea that the boy pesters people who can help him achieve his aim of sky diving. His parents, his grandparents, a family friend who works at the airport… Not only does this make the boy getting to sky dive more realist (he's earnt it, at least in story-logic terms), but it makes him an active participant in the narrative rather than a passive one.
This is scenario A above.

Under scenario B it would be more like this: You think, 'What if the person who offers the boy the chance to sky dive knew the boy somehow?' Then, 'What if, the father past away or was in a wheelchair or something, so the man felt sorry for the boy.' So you begin to formulate a reason, or a set of reasons, why the boy gets his wish, based on this first idea. In playing around with things in your head, you can tell straight away this makes the story more compelling, and realise that the problem that had plagued your story was that the boy got what he wanted too easily.

You'll notice that both solutions started with the same problem, but in option A, the boy earns his reward through action, and in option B he earns his reward through suffering.

More action. More suffering. These are two pretty standard ways of fixing stories.

You'll also notice that neither of these solutions sew up the end of the story. In fact, for me, the heart of this story (which I just made up on the fly here) is the experience the boy has when he actually goes sky diving. That would be the idea that makes you think: I want to write this story. The image of the boy falling through the sky (either loving it or hating it, you decide) would always be in your mind as you sat down to work on the story. But you hit the road block while trying to write yourself to this point. Cue mooching. Cue cloud burst. Cue finish the story, submit it to a literary magazine your read, respect and subscribe to. Cue literary success.

One final point for those of you wondering how you could get stuck with such a silly conceit as the boy winning a sky dive in some competition in the first place. It is often the case that you’re in such a hurry to get to the heart of the story – the boy falling through the air – that you take an expedient route to get there. Prizes are won. Offers are made out of the blue. Dei ex machina swoop in from the wings.

The more I write, the more I find the expedient route is the surest path to a rooted story.


Bonus FAQ

Why do you call it a cloud-burst? It sounds like a rain event. Surely you see blue skies and sunshine when you have your revelation?

Sometimes. Other times it feels like a bucket of ice cold water has been tipped over you. Other times you feel as if you’ve been caught in a sudden, unpredicted storm – that moment just after the two minute downpour stops is as magical as any sudden burst of sun. And you can’t forget the feeling that comes right after the eureka moment when you realise the foolish assumptions you’ve been labouring under. It feels very much like being caught in a downpour without a coat.

When is your ‘sky diving boy’ story coming out?

I told you, I just came up with the idea on the spot to help illustrate my point. I wouldn’t be surprised it someone has already written it. It seems like a good idea. Very traditional structure. If I were to write it (I’ve said these words before) I’d be mindful of making it too perfect.

This was all very interesting, but shouldn’t you be capitalising on the boost of energy that came with your latest cloud-burst and actually work on your novel?

Uh, true. Excuse me for a moment...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Struggling writer blues, or Worksheet #39

I’m back from Christchurch. I’d post my photos of the carnage but you’ve already seen the buildings online, in print or on tele.

Seriously, I was surprised how few and far between the total write-offs were. Far less than the coverage might lead a North Islander to believe.

There’s a reason Simon Dallow was standing in front of the same demolition site each night.


I’m not loving my new keyboard.

It has little plastic nodules on the F and J keys, presumably to help me orientate my fingers without having to look down. But I can touch type just fine without these nodules. And what’s wrong with a wee peek every now and then?

But now the tip of my left index finger is especially sore (no surprise that I hit the F key more than the J).
It seems nine months of guitar lessons fifteen years ago weren’t enough to harden up my fingers.
If I’m not careful I might develop an averse to F words...

Time to use the only tool I have sharpened in the intervening years to fashion a solution.


My first column appeared in the Your Weekend magazine in Saturday’s Dominion Post.

It was difficult to find a copy in Chch on Saturday for all the stacks of special Earthquake editions of the weekend The Press (to go with the collector’s edition on Mon, Tues, Weds, Thurs and Fri, not to mention the $5 charity issue of the Star).

But I got one in the end.

And joy of joys when I turned to the back page (the section titled, ahem, “Craig Cliff”) the photo they choose is not half bad. Phew.

They did change “Ministry of Education” to “Education Ministry” in my first sentence, which annoys me immensely for some reason. Probably the fact it’s called the Ministry of Education. No one says Education Ministry. It sounds like some high and mighty evangelical church.

At least I’m paid by the column and not by the word, otherwise I’d me doubly miffed by the missing “of”.


Plan A: swap F and J keys with those on my brother’s computer.


Most of the liquefaction in Chch has been cleaned up, the serious urban road disturbances paved over, and the teetering chimneys gently dismantled. The structural damage to houses and the lasting psychological effects are much harder to discern from the roadside.


Legend of a SuicideI finished David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide today. Twas fantastic. Hard to classify, but its essentially three short stories, followed by a novella in two parts, and two more short stories to close out the book. Wasn’t so taken with the final two stories, but was gripped by the rest.

Similarities to my short story, ‘Copies’. Not just the stories, but the relationship between author, autobiography and fiction.

Vann’s back in NZ later in the year to teach a short fiction course at the IIML. Would be great if our paths crossed and we got to have a chat...


Plan B: melt the nodules.


One more piece of miffage regarding my first column. The by-line, which I didn’t write:

“By day he’s a civil servant, by night a struggling author. Craig Cliff introduces the two sides of his double life”
Struggling author? I prefer the term ‘talented new author’ ( or ‘aspiring young New Zealand writer’ (Nelson Mail). Heck, even Owen Marshall’s somewhat confusing ‘absurdly youthful’.

It’s true, I may have a ways to go before I dine with the Prime Minister, but I thought I was doing okay to this point.


“Memories are infinitely richer than their origins.”
-David Vann


I only felt three aftershocks in my first 18 hours in Chch, and nothing in the next 48.

Despite this, I had Carole King’s ‘I feel the earth move’ stuck in my head for six hours. AC/DC’s ‘You shook me all night long’ for two hours, and Elvis’s ‘All Shook Up’ for about 20 minutes.

#inappropriate earworms.


Plan C: Admit defeat and buy a new keyboard.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Worksheet #32

So the aftershocks have done the Christchurch Writers Festival in. It's cancelled.

Such a shame for the organisers. All that planning. They're only every two years, y'know.

But totally understandable given the circumstances. The Town Hall may still be standing but getting from one place to another looks complicated. Then there's the risk posed by the aftershocks predicted for another week or more.


I should be working on my novel but.


Work today was interesting. Lot's of stuff to do coz of the earthquake. Among other things I rang around South Island schools to see what relocatable classrooms were available to send to Chch if the need arises. I found it tiring. I don't know how call centre operators do it.


Yesterday I realised halfway home that the ceiling of the bus was a bus-ceiling-shaped replica of the Sistine Chapel. Has anyone else been on this bus? 

I wanted to take a photo but it was dark and I didn't want to unnerve fellow commuters / draw undue attention to myself with my phone's flash.

Maybe next time.


My flights down to Christchurch for the Writers Festival were booked for Thursday evening, coming back Sunday evening. Random House booked (and paid), and they gave me a call today to see what I wanted to do. M. bought her own tickets so she could come on the same flights as me. This was before her brother died in August. There's still a lot of reasons for us to go to Chch.

So we're going -- so long as the airport is open (it was closed for a bit this morning after some bigger aftershocks).

I'm waiting to hear back if the Ministry people in Chch need help on Friday. I might get to wear a hard hat, or I might just plug numbers into a spreadsheet. I'll even make more phone calls if they ask. It all helps.

Otherwise, I'm sure there are plenty of other things I can do to help out down there. Silt to clear. Bookshelves to restack. Curfews to enforce.


Note to self: Write a story about a vigilante curfew enforcer.


I would like very much to know how Chile is getting on after their big earthquake in February. It was bigger than the Christchurch one (8.8 on the Richter scale) and 521 people died.

Haiti's quake was a lot closer in terms of the Richter scale, but having been around Chile in 2009 (that is, pre-quake), I can say that Chilean infrastructure is closer to New Zealand's than Haiti's, and would make for a better comparison. A This is what you can and can't expect to achieve in six months.

I'd like to see what Chillan, Temuco, Santiago, Valparaiso look like six months after a massive quake.

Wouldn't it be better if John Campbell or Mark Sainsbury went there for a couple of days rather than giving us the same programme on two channels at 7pm?

If they don't wanna go, I'm willing to if someone will spot me the flights and some money for completos.


I'm a little bit peeved from a personal, head-up-my-own backside, perspective re: CWF. Will I get another invite to a writer's festival in the next year or two and get the chance to appear at my first festival again?  Or will I have to wait until my next book comes out?

When will my next book come out? About 12-24 months after I finish it!!


I should be working on my novel but.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Worksheet #31

I bought a new computer on Saturday. It's a PC. Nothing flash spec wise, but it does have a 24" widescreen monitor. Apart from the massive increase in size (when viewing a doc in 100%, Word insists on showing two pages side by side), the colour is the big difference. When I was transferring files, I noticed how yellow the 'white' was on the laptop's screen compared to the Simon Cowell's teeth white of my new monitor. I have yet to decide whether this makes the Great White Page of a new document even more intimidating.


I have a serious head cold. (Aside: Serious headcolds are only serious for the sufferer and always a little bit hilarious to on-lookers). I had the man flu about a month ago and the cough stuck pretty much till this cold started, so I feel a bit hard done by at the moment. Especially since I got the flu jab (though I really just fancied half an hour off work and a lolly pop).


I went along to the first of the 'Next Page' sessions at Te Papa today. Four poets, three short story writers, one novelist, one memoirist and one Patrick (Patrick Fitzsimon's read from a piece called 'Patrick and the Men', which -- apart from stealing the show -- consisted of brief retellings of other Patricks and Patricios). Always interesting to hear what the next wave are working on and be there for one of their first forays into the public life of writing.




The things I will use my new computer for over the next six months, in order of time spent:
1. Finish Novel B
2. Watch the Sacramento Kings (gonna buy NBA league pass when season starts in October, so excited)
3. Manage my social media fifedom
4. Writing my fortnightly column for the Dominion Post (the income from which I used to justify buying a new computer)
5. Procrastinating from item 1 by writing brilliant short stories, poems and essays which actually help advance my career as a writer.
6. Typing 'Hahahahahahahahahahaha,' etc in response to overly optimistic goals.


Is it just me or are their very few characters in novels with head colds?


All Christchurch whanau are relatively unscathed after Saturday's earthquake. One cousin's house may need to be demolished. I'm playing a waiting game to hear whether the Christchurch Writers Festival is still on (opening night is supposed to be this Thursday; my session is scheduled for Friday morning). Not sure what'll happen with my flights if it's cancelled or postponed (Random House booked and paid for my travel). Would like to go down and see people regardless. Might be good fodder for a column. I'll certainly use that excuse while rubbernecking amid the rubble. I think I'll have to print my own Press Pass...


Things I do when I'm working seriously on a novel - #8 - Realise I've been in the shower for quite a while, but can't recall if I've used the body wash yet. Err on the side of being overly clean, go back to thinking about the scene I will write when I get home from work.


The UnnamedI just finished reading The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. I loved Then We Came To The End but had heard nothing about this book, which apparently came out in January, until I saw it on a library shelf. Reading the inside cover, I thought it may enter similar territory to the novel I'm working on (both have characters whose minds and bodies aren't always in agreement).

My thoughts are still percolating, but it struck me as the sort of novel Ferris might have written prior to Then We Came To The End, and revised it after his first published book was such a success. As the review from the Washington Post put it:
"Unfortunately, though, "The Unnamed" is almost as schizophrenic as its central character. The first third, which has such irresistible drive and coherency, gives way to a scattered, largely impressionistic narrative that darts and skips through scenes spread across many years. Alternately moving and redundant and unrelentingly sad, the story frustrates our expectations: What exactly is it -- a medical thriller, a domestic drama, a murder mystery, a survivalist tale, a metaphysical fable?"
Pure speculation on my part, but The Unnamed is so inconsistent structurally (one of the difficult things to fix when returning to a 'completed' manuscript) and the writing so uneven that it feels like one of those paintings by Verrochio that would be long forgotten if it weren't for the cameo of a da Vinci angel.


Note to self: read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Man of the Crowd."


Cough. Splutter.


On Thursday M. and I went to a talk by Professor Richard Faull entitled, 'The Challenge of the Human Brain.' It was part of the Royal Society of NZ's Distinguished Speaker Series, and RSNZ need to be commended for the job they do putting science and scientists out there for hoi polloi like me.

Faull's speech was far more engaging than the one Martin Lord Rees gave to a packed Town Hall in March, and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone in the Soundings Theatre at Te Papa and the overflow watching on a live feed in the marae on level 4.

I came away with a better, but still cursory, understanding of the brain and the way diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's work. For the purposes of my research for Novel B I would have loved a discussion on brain trauma, but I'll just have to find the right neurologist for that discussion.


Woo-hoo! Just got an email from Chch Writers Fest:
"Following widespread consultation, the Board have decided to proceed with the Festival."
Hopefully we invading writers aren't a strain on the city's infrastructure and we can help lift spirits with our own brands of escapism...

Question: What do you read to a crowd six days after a multi-billion dollar disaster rips through town?

Watch this space.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Posing for a portrait... Posing a threat!

I had another photo shoot today. It really is the part of writing (specifically: the publicity side) I enjoy the least.

This shoot was slightly different in that it was for my Dominion Post column which will run fortnightly from September 11 (I only just realised the inauspicious date upon typing it).

I went along to the Dom during my lunch hour today expecting just to have head shots taken, the sort you see in the paper at present for people like David Burton or Mark Amery. But seems this revamped Saturday supplement they're launching (first one is Craigless, Sept 4) will feature full body photos of the contributors. Which means of course I'll be wearing what I wore to work on Wednesday 1 September (black shirt, grey trousers, black shoes) every time I pop up in the supplement until a) my column gets dropped or b) they revamp the design and need new photos. Who knows, maybe it'll run so long people will look at me funny when I'm dressed differently, like seeing Kyle Broflovski with his hat off, or Lisa Simpson without her pearls.

From the outside it might seem like I'm cultivating this writer with a day job image. The Christchurch City Library's blog got very excited yesterday about the line in my bio that ends, "he lives in Wellington and works for the government." I wasn't trying to be mysterious. I simply didn't want to a) bore people with the fact I'm a policy analyst and b) single out which department I worked for.

Of course, I've made a rod for my own back with the first column I've filed, which is about 'coming out' to people at work as a writer of fiction.

Oh, and I guess I did post the story they did on me for the Ministry of Education's intranet on this blog for the rest of the world to see.

Perhaps I am cultivating an image? It is difficult to talk about my creative writing without acknowledging the other demands on my time. Perhaps that's interesting to people. Hopefully it is, as it seems I'll be writing about it regularly for the next howeverlong.

So by all means, judge me on the writing, and the image I portray. But please, when my column comes out, go easy on my photo!

To help soften your expectations, here are some of the outtakes from last year's photo shoot for my author's photo for A Man Melting...

The sun was bright, okay.
Um. Time to head inside.
Yes, that is milk.
Sprucing the do.
Ah, that's better.

August Reading in Review

In the short story, ‘More Than Human’, from Michael Chabon’s collection, A Model World and Other Stories, a boy reads a list of his father’s old resolutions which have since been broken, including:
4. I will not claim to have read books that I have not read, or to have been borne out in preductuiobs that I never made.
This scene bought to my mind the young Jay Gatz’s list of daily activities in The Great Gatsby (I saw Ken Duncum’s theatrical adaptation at Circa last month, though in hindsight would have enjoyed re-reading the novel more). But it also brought to mind these monthly reading summary posts.

I started out this year with a similar resolution: to be open about what I’m reading such that it might illuminate in some way my own writing (fiction and bloggy/columny non-fiction). The problem is, I’m too close to make the call about which books will turn out to be ‘overstayers’, as Anna Taylor put it last week, and which will weasel their way into my writing. So, for the rest of 2010 at least, I’ll keep up with these summary posts, despite the temptation to claim to have read classics long ago and to breeze over some of the less-than-classic books.

The Red Tram by CK Stead (NZ)
Like Cities, Like Storms by August Kleinzahler

The Red TramI’d only ever read a poem here, a poem there by CK Stead until the beginning of August. The Red Tram from 2004 (chosen from the selection available at the library on the day of my visit) presented a different poet to the one I expected. Playful, colloquial – at times scatological. The poems were barer and briefer, too, without being trivial. What had I expected? Something similar to Kleinzahler’s poetry, actually. Which did I prefer? As a collection, The Red Tram took me more places. Most of Kleinzahler’s poems are one pagers (not less, not more) about the weather/seasons/nature. But when Kleinzahler’s poems were good, they were really good (‘Song 2’ is the title of one I recall).

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk (novel)
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame (novel, NZ)

PygmyI rode the bus a lot more than usual this month (and will continue to from here on out), which allowed me to get through two audiobooks in August. I’ve blogged about the last Palahniuk novel I read (Snuff) back in 2008 and I’m not quite sure why I read/listened to another one. My complaints are still the same. Characters are sketchy, the action herky-jerky, the repetition too heavy handed, blah blah blah. I guess I wanted to see how the unusual narration worked as an audiobook. And it did take some adjusting to (representative sentence: “Operative me, am agitating vast fist of cow father, while free hand of this agent reach to acquire security badge.”), but good heavens, it must have been a difficult week at the office for the voice actor, Paul Michael Garcia. And he didn’t even get nominated for an Audie!

Owls Do CryOwls Do Cry also had its quirks as an audiobook. The recording was from Bolinda Audio, a fantastic Australian company through whom I’ve listened to at least two Tim Winton novels and I’m sure there was another, but exactly what escapes me right now. But being a Bolinda production means the reader, Heather Bolton, is Australian. Her accent was almost imperceptible for the most part, but sometimes when she did dialogue, especially males’, I was suddenly transported from Waimaru (or ‘WAI-ma-ROO’) to Woollongong.

But the book, oh the book. What a gem.

Prose in Paper Form a.k.a. Chabon’s Corner
A Model World and Other Stories by Michael Chabon (short stories)
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (novel)

A Model World: And Other StoriesI actually went to the library with the intention of getting out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but left with these two books instead. The first I tried very hard not to like. The stories were too much like SHORT STORIES. The jacket blurb trumpets how most were previously published in the New Yorker, and they are very much in that mold.

In the Afterword for Gentlemen of the Road, Chabon describes his two story collections from the nineties (of which this was the first) as featuring, “unarmed Americans undergoing the eternal fates of contemporary short-story characters — disappointment, misfortune, loss, hard enlightenment, moments of bleak grace”. Indeed, this is what the short story form is well suited to, but it can do more than that, and I kept thinking I wanted more as I began each story in A Model World. By the end of the book, however, I had to concede that I could have asked nothing more. And I wasn’t even in the mood for hard enlightenment or moments of bleak grace!

Gentlemen of the RoadGentlemen of the Road, however, was what I thought I wanted to read. In his Afterword (again; it was the best part of the book) Chabon notes that his working title for this short novel was Jews with Swords. The blurb claims the story summons “the spirit of Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers”, and (as my reading last month will attest) that’s a style of story I’m quite interested in at the moment. Specifically how to take aspects of swash and buckle but make a story fast-paced and emotionally engaging enough for a modern reader. Well, I was disappointed by Gentlemen of the Road. Profoundly. I found the language of the novel baffling. I wasn’t baffled by the meaning of the words (though the ‘rheumy jargon’ often read like a ‘contumelous’ ‘orgy of interpenetrating runes’ ) as the style. It appears to ape the epic register of a Dumas or a Cervantes, but Cervantes was already aping (and gibing at) the epic register of his forebears (and Dumas oscillates between aping Cervantes and more straightforward epics like Arabian Nights). Most contemporary readers associate the kind of rambunctious adventure played out in Gentlemen of the Road with younger readers, but the style and vocab pitch the novel at a different level to the subject matter.