On the weekend, I went down to Kakamigahara, in Gifu Prefecture. I was doing research for my novel, The Last Wild Thing, but while I was there, I was able to catch up with one of my host families, from my time as a high-school exchange student. In the usual spirit of Japanese hospitality, they treated me to many things, among them participation in a pottery class, a hobby my host father has recently taken an interest in.
When the class began, I was asked what I wanted to make. During the class, it was suggested that I begin working the clay only once I had a clear idea of what I was aiming for. After the class, I was asked what I had made.
Thinking about all of this later, I realised something interesting – that without thinking about it, I had approached the clay exactly as I approach the writing of a novel. That I had set out without any idea of where it was I was heading. That when I had stopped and tried to be ‘sensible’ and do some advance planning I had been completely at a loss. That there was no way I could make a plan without actually beginning the process. That what I needed to do was begin, to get my hands moving and the wheel turning and see what happened.
This is how I write. I cannot plan. I cannot form any real idea of what a novel is about until I am in the thick of writing it. As I do so, a shape slowly emerges and I realise what it is I’m heading towards. Or I don’t, but I continue to work, enjoying the feeling of the clay beneath my fingers, the words upon the page. Slowly, the work unrolls itself in front of me. I lean back every now and then to make sure it isn’t leaning too far to one side, that the cracks aren’t too large to fix up later. And once finished, I sit back and look at what I’ve done. I wet my fingertips and smooth down the ridges and dry patches and cracks that are only too visible to me now.
And when someone asks me what it is that I’ve made, I suck in air through my teeth, Japan-style and say, “Well… it’s … you know. It’s this thing. I made this.”
And I hope that my editor has room in her kiln.