Monday, August 18, 2008


From: Robin

Could you describe a transcendent experience you've had, or possibly, created? I thought of this because I was listening to Olympic Michael Phelps hype talk on ESPN - and then they talked about how he's transcended the sport. It got me to thinking about authors, artists in general and how/when/if transcendence is considered. I admire your work and thought to ask you what you thought about it!

Good luck with Hild...

My first two novels were science fiction. I got gratifying reviews from many mainstream publications (the Los Angeles Times, New York Times Book Review, New Statesman and Society etc.) lesbian gay journals, and genre magazines. It was brilliant. I was manic with glee. One nagging annoyance was the insistence by many of the non-genre reviewers that my work 'transcended' science fiction. I'm sure most of them meant it as a compliment to me, but it's actually an insult to science fiction. Ammonite and Slow River are squarely science fictional. They're also, in my opinion, damn good novels. They don't have to transcend SF to do that. Really good SF is still SF.

So I wonder what the Olympics commentators meant. That swimming is normally boring but winning lots of medals reduces the boredom factor? That niches, like, y'know, swimming, needs transcending because hoi polloi won't take any notice? It's this notion of 'trancendence' when it comes to achievement that gets my goat.

But it occurs to me you might be asking about feeling transcendent. I feel ecstatic often when my writing is going well, when I have a direct connection to my creative well, when my conscious critical cortex is offline. I feel like god, but also like just a small part of a marvellous whole. It's how I know I've found the true line in my work. It's lovely.

I've also had non-writing moments of pure joy: once (strangely enough--because I hated and resented the whole Catholic thing growing up) as a teenager in church, as the sun was going down, streaming through stained glass windows and the organist played Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Beautiful. Once a few miles north of Whitby, on a gorgeous day, walking an old (ancient) cliff path high above the sea, surrounded by gorse and heather, when I flushed a pheasant by mistake and it did the trail-a-broken-wing thing to distract me from its chicks. Once at Whitby itself when I crossed the threshold to the abbey and felt history just fist through me.

For me the ecstatic/transcendent moment is an elevation, a thrill, and a moment of distilled calm all at once. It feels like magic. I feel privileged to have experienced it so often.

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