I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for what feels like an eternity. They’re big books but it didn’t help that I cut costs and bought an e-book edition that combines four titles into one massive anthology, a collection so huge that contemplating the page numbers is like gazing up at the Himalayas. To give you a sense of scale, I recently reduced the font size and happily discovered I only had 1000 pages to go. It felt like the end was in sight. At least until the next book is published.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thoroughly enjoying the GRRM universe. It is epic in scale and sumptuously detailed. It’s an astonishing feat of imagination. I also admire the unsentimental way the author terminates key characters and introduces new voices whenever he feels like it. The reader can take nothing for granted.
In an interview with Fairfax, Mr Martin said: “When the writing is going really well, I do get lost in it. I almost live in it. It occupies the back of my head. I’m thinking about it constantly. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. I cross the street thinking about it – my office is across the street from my house.
“On good days, I vanish into Westeros and the real world goes away and I spend the day dealing with my characters… There are bad days, too, when there are a lot of distractions. The real world is always a threat to the imaginary world.
“I still love the world. I still love the characters. I still want to go back and spend time with them.
“To my mind (character) is one of the most crucial things, but the writing, the prose, how you evoke a scene, is something you spend a lot of time on. How to bring it alive and put your reader there and evoke all the right sounds, smells and sights, so that they don’t feel they are just reading it, they are living it. That is always the goal, the struggle.”
I’m encouraged by these comments. I have writing days when the distractions dive bomb me like mosquitos and very few words get written. On the good days, I’m living with my characters and barely notice time passing.
I’m unlikely to ever write anything as lengthy as A Song of Ice and Fire but am currently deep into the longest story I’ve ever tackled. It’s speculative fiction, set in the near future. It has been percolating in my head for several years but only now are characters emerging from the mist. The scope of the story might even demand a series of novels but time will tell.
My experiences with writing this year have reminded me of another quote I stumbled across from Mr Martin. He had been working in television where he was continually told to scale down his ideas due to budget limitations. Frustrated, he left television to work on a book, “as big as my imagination”. A Game of Thrones was published two years later. More than 27 million books have been sold in the Ice and Fire series and the TV series has been a smash hit.
Comparing sales figures with other authors is a speedway to insanity so let’s not go there. I mainly wanted to show that writing brings inevitable challenges, no matter who you are. We all have to quell the real world to let the imaginary shine through.
My big, ocasionally rampant, imagination can be a blessing and a curse. But I’d rather live with it than without it.