These ‘Under the Glass bits have somehow become one of the most personal elements on this site. Todays one may be the most personal of them all.
It comes from the (brilliant) introduction to ‘The Essay of Humane Understanding’ by John Locke.
When I say the introduction is brilliant, I mean it. There are some wonderfully tuned phrases about the intrinsic joy of knowledge which I will probably look at another time. Todays quote is the following;
‘If mine prove a castle in the air, I will endeavour it shall be all of a piece and hang together.’
Within the context of the introduction, it serves to make a point found in many early modern prologues, that the work about to be presented may have its flaws but is presented with all the best possible intentions.
I was instantly struck by the image, not of the castle in the sky, but of it being of a piece and hanging together. That mental picture of a huge, solid edifice, detailed and carved with time and effort and love with an internal cohesion that defies its possibly shaky foundations.
But like most of these quotes, it’s what it means outside of context and into the context of my own life that gives it such meaning to me - and like many of these quotes, it serves as a way of cheering me up and encouraging me to go on. It’s a personal rallying cry.
A rallying cry for what? Here’s where it gets a little personal.
It was at university, while avoiding a course I detested, that I began and completed my first novel. I had made my first scratchings at it in my lonely room in the first term of the first year and finished it in the lonely room in the easter break of the third. By the end of this year, I knew what I wanted to be for the first time in my life. I wanted to write novels that other people would read.
With this being my only real goal, I left university, not into a job or placement but to carry on working my student job in York, live in a shared house with some classmates, write and wait for my literary ship to sail triumphantly in. What really happened was that the shared house fell through and I ended up moving back to my parents in a city that all my friends had left.
I found it hard to get work and ended up getting the same job I had during sixth form when I was saving up to go to university, but due to new laws, for a lesser wage. At the same time, swathes of my extended family died and the house was deep in mourning for a few months. What’s more, despite a few positive notes, it was clear my ship was not sailing in any time soon. I was lost.
To give myself some momentum, I decided to go back into education and take a part time MA in writing. I took simple jobs that would be flexible around my university and writing time. Sometimes those simple jobs did not come through and I found myself unemployed for eight months, and for a couple of months I lived off £5 a week, borrowing money off friends and family and even having to beg on the street for travel money to get to interviews.
Since then I have come into a steady job with a reliable (if unspectacular) wage and an unprecedentedly good deal on my rent. In June, the house will return to its private owners and I will need to rent a normal priced room again. I’m not sure I can. Even for a pus-ridden scum-hole, the monthly rent leaves me with almost nothing for food, travel and books - it looks like I might have to go to the bad old days.
To remedy this, I went on an urgent and focussed job hunt. It would appear that my CV, a combination of relative academic achievement, dead-end jobs and mediocre writing success are not the employer catnip I was hoping for. I can’t even get a job selling books at the Museum of London bookshop - despite the fact that I’ve read almost all their stock, and can use a till.
The fact is, the choices I have made, whether good or bad, all stemmed from my wish to become a novelist. Whether I went about this realistically or sensibly (almost certainly not) they were made with that goal in mind. It is my castle and although the foundations still seem to be in thin air, at least the edifice itself is all of a piece and hangs together.
Plus, this new draft of ‘Dreamonger’ is turning out brilliantly…