Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guest Article by Christopher Yates

I was lucky enough to receive this guest post from the author of Black Chalk, which I reviewed yesterday.  Christopher Yates writes about alcohol, which plays a large role in the story.  Here's his post:

Boozing and Musings, One Writer’s View

My debut novel, Black Chalk, features an unreliable narrator—unreliable for several reasons, which I hope you’ll want to unearth for yourselves. But one of the major reasons for the narrator’s unreliability is whisky. 

Whisky is the drink of choice of my apparent narrator who, being a hermit, orders all his liquor online. 

And of course there has long been much made of writers and their not infrequent reliance on addictive substances, with alcohol being by far the most popular choice. 

In Black Chalk, one of my characters lends a book of Raymond Carver short stories to a friend and then proceeds to say: “He was an alcoholic. All of the best American writers were. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck. Hemingway, obviously. Hemingway was king of the writer drunks. Cheever and Carver. Truman Capote. You go back a bit further and you’ve got Poe and Melville.”

Why is this? Well, speaking from my own perspective (I am a writer and British, which gives me two reasons to enjoy a drink), I consider alcohol my reset button at the end of the day. And the boozing patterns of most drinking writers tend to be remarkably similar— 

You don’t drink while you write. Never drink while you write. (Hemingway refuted the idea that he drank while he wrote. He said Faulkner drank sometimes while he wrote: “I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one”.) But you wake up early, sometimes a little foggy, you slide into the new day, your dreams still half-alive in your head, the previous night’s alcohol still jiggling the ideas in your head, and that’s when you start to write. 

And I find writing mentally quite exhausting. I start at around 10 in the morning and only very rarely can I keep going beyond 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Does that sometimes feel indulgent or lazy? Of course—because this is writing, it’s not coal-mining or construction work. But the truth is, once I’ve written about 500 words, the drop-off in quality is rapid and extreme. 

So once I’m done writing, I run errands—walking the dog, laundry, grocery shopping, emailing my editor/agent/publicity people/mother, writing blog pieces like this one, washing last night’s dishes, compiling puzzles (my other job, but that’s another story)… 

And then comes the evening. The evening is for cooking (something I love), accompanied by my first beer, and then eating, drinking some wine, chatting with my wife, maybe a night-cap. All of this helps me relax after the arduous mental strain of 500 words, that peculiarly strange task of making stuff up. As I said, alcohol is my reset button at the end of the day. 

None of this is to say that you have to drink to be a writer. Often I wish I didn’t. Am I going to stop? No. Writing is something exceptionally fragile, you can lose your ability to do it so easily that I intend to stick to my routine. And alcohol is part of my groove, for better or worse. (For better.) 

I will leave you with another line from the “king of the writer drunks”, Hemingway. It’s something he wrote in a letter to a Russian translator and critic, Ivan Kashkin, that makes complete sense to me. 

“When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?”
Cheers, Papa.



1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for featuring Christopher for the tour!