Window Dressing

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream. Sleeping on the top bunk of a bed I shared with my brother, I faced directly opposite a window. Every night, I imagined flying out of the window using the metal girders as levers to drive my bed in whatever direction I chose. I covered huge distances all over West London and up into the night sky. It was a journey I had complete control over and gave me joy every time I closed my eyes.

But it wasn’t until I read Robert Muchamore’s ‘Cherub’ series that I realised what you dreamt and what you imagined were closely related. Before the age of 12, picking up a book came a firm second after picking up a PlayStation controller. I arrogantly told my parents “I didn’t need to read” because I kept getting decent marks in English so why bother? However, the adventures of the orphan James Adams made reading fun because it followed a character I believed in. I became hooked on the worlds and relationships that his exploits conjured up. The best thing about reading is that everyone’s experience of a book is different. Words are impressed upon people’s mind like fingerprints and each experience is unique. At school we are regularly told that there’s never a wrong answer, so long as you can justify it. It is the same in writing. There is no right or wrong interpretation of a book, and I think it is of paramount importance for the writer never to reveal when pressed their true intentions behind a character, plot, or relationship because therein lies the magic.

The more you write, the more you learn that writing is like putting flowerpots on a windowsill. There’s order and method to the beauty that people perceive. Ideas need to be watered, structured, and embedded within soil rich with character and intrigue to root the story. There is also an inherent sense of showmanship and narcissism, to out-shine what’s already been done, to attempt to be immortal. To create such a lavish display, everyone who walks past says “oh look at those beautiful flowers.” The stranger the flower the more refined the method. Why else would artists like Picasso, who could paint like a Renaissance master before his 16th birthday, spend the rest of his life doing the opposite. There’s no point recreating the past when others have done it better and their names are already known.

However, great lessons can be taken from the old masters who are undoubtedly the best teachers. In particular, the 19th Century group of Russian writers (I say group because as a collective they encapsulate everything you need to know about writing) including Chekov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, and Turgenev have a special place in my heart. Their approach to literature is one that delves into the moral conundrum that we all must face at some point in our lives. Writing for them is a spiritual necessity to explain the power and pitfalls of the human experience. Chekov once said: “Art doesn’t have to solve problems, it only has to formulate them correctly.” To write doesn’t mean to create a perfect story, it requires courage to open a window and take your mind for a walk.