Friday, April 18, 2014


A little over twenty years ago, on April 5th 1994, Channel 4 broadcast the last interview given by the playwright and novelist Dennis Potter, then in the terminal stage of pancreatic cancer. He famously described how the immediate prospect of death heightened his awareness of the world:
'At this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west, early. . .  Last week looking at it through the window when I'm writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both much more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know . . . The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.'
Anyone rudely confronted by their own mortality can attest to the absolute truth of this. Three years ago I was finishing a long course of chemotherapy, unsure whether or not I would survive, and the blossom then was, yes, whiter and frothier and blossomier than any blossom there ever had been. It wasn't the immediacy of childlike wonder, or the ecstatic visions of William Blake, or the intensity celebrated by the Romantic Poets. It was the understanding that there was only the moment of seeing, and the nowness of that moment. Of seeing the world as it was, not as you expected it to be be. Seeing it afresh.

I was more or less unable to write then, but something of that immediacy is what all fiction writers aspire to, of course. To make the world new; to see it afresh. To find the detail that makes a particular moment spark in the reader's mind. In genre fiction, by definition mostly furnished secondhand, it's especially important to make things new. To see them again as they really are. That spaceship. That world. That fat orange sun fixed just above the flat horizon. Those ruins. That clear-eyed person, her giant shadow preceding her as she picks her way through tumbled stones, seeing them as they really are, in that moment of discovery.
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