It's funny to think about what generates an emotional reaction. It could be a face, a voice, even just the thought of a person. A smell (of biscuity cakes), or Baz Luhrmann dispensing advice (The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday - the first time I had come across the idea so well expressed by Auden). It could be that quotation from Philippians 4 (verse 8), or Catullus 101. In my case today, it's the little 'Iggle Piggle' tune from In the Night Garden, as sung with terrific gusto and almost no sense of rhythm by Derek Jacobi. Yes, him. Clavidivs. One of the forms of The Master. Him out of Last Tango in Halifax (no, I've never seen it). That tune is, to my ears, sleep deprivation, frustration, the echoing ring of a night-time spent awake and trying to comfort a small and unreasonable human being. I've spent a lot of time and effort trying to capture that effect (not specifically the Night Garden on me, the effect more generally when something gets you) in writing, and very occasionally I manage to convince myself that I've done it. As it happens, I sometimes play that tune on the guitar, and when I do that, it doesn't have the same effect. It has to be on the TV, accompanied by Jacobi's soothing voice. Then it works. Then I am transported.
It's hard to get that into the books. And I mean in both senses, of the characters having experiences of that quality, and of the book inducing experiences of that type in its readers. I don't have the benefit of a rousing or sorrowful musical score, and because of the style in which I write, I don't allow myself access to the inner processes of the characters except through their actions and speech. That's an attempt at a kind of rigour: you don't know what's going on inside another person, so you have to work it out. Sometimes, you get a sense of it, or you might even know someone well enough to have an insight into their thoughts and feelings directly. But more often, it's more-or-less impenetrable, and you just have what the person does to go on. Some writing gives chapter-and-verse on the thoughts and feelings of its characters, and that can be right for the context. For me, I can only really get into it when writing in the first person. But that's a limitation of me as a writer, more than anything. I don't experience any problems with the characters refusing to tell me their next line, but I couldn't always make it clear why they speak as they do. Sometimes, they just do stuff, and sometimes they don't do the stuff I want them to. I hope at some level that's a positive reflection on what I'm doing, because it's not just plot and no depth. But book IV is tough, because the historical plot is quite rigid, with a bit less in the way of gaps for my fiction to exploit than in the previous ones. We shall see how it pans out...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought