The challenge to exceed reality and immerse oneself totally in fiction is faced by all aspiring novelists.
This month, UEA’s own Booker Prize winning ex-master’s student, Ian McEwan, returned to LT1 during the 2012 Literary Festival to give an insight into a top writer’s creative escape.
The crowd of old spectacles and moulting grey hair laced occasionally with faces of young hopefuls buzzed excitedly before the spotlighted stage of squishy blue synthetic chairs.
The static tension before the presence of someone distinguished shook the water inside unopened Evian bottles. McEwan emerged and after a round of applause it began.
“For me hiking,” says McEwan squinting hard through his spectacles, “either alone or with a friend in some remote high place – to find an extended ridge and walk slowly, as ridges don’t last forever, is pure heaven.
“It feels to me that the point of this is to be in the moment itself. To avoid getting lost, trapped in dismal weather or making a terrible mistake with a compass. Just be there.”
The importance of allowing the creative consciousness to be taken by the present: the need to live life actively before reflection is a point that is impressed by McEwan, “We exist for the absorption in which you forget you exist.”
“Doing something difficult is often the way. The very best half hours of writing when you get a sense of the self-dissolving.
“It doesn’t have to be an intellectual pursuit. Other people can get it by cooking, in a game of tennis or squash. An escape out of time, out of the narrative of your life.”
McEwan’s conviction of the necessity of finding pursuits that take us out of ourselves identifies this area of consciousness as central to the creative mind. The need to transcend from habitual perspective and allow the self to be taken by the “moment”. To experience a sharp sense of living beyond everyday experience.
Shuffling in his chair, McEwan describes the feeling he gets from these pursuits as, “not quite happiness,” and after a long pause where he grapples for the right terms he said, “The word doesn’t exist to describe that level of absorption. The energy created [by losing oneself] that gives you the energy to later, upon reflection, start something. For me hiking is that: in the supreme.”
Perhaps the reason there is no word for this absorption is that the mysticism that surrounds this space of creative experience is delicate and essential to its existence. Its purity is sustained by its own in-definability.
Interestingly McEwan himself admits, “I haven’t written much about walking because it is a little space that I don’t want to invade in any other way.”
This desire for privacy from oneself to access that lucid physical and mental connection with the world exposes the importance of creative escape to the novelist.
McEwan’s hiking can be compared in its purpose to Darwin’s “thinking path” or Wordsworth’s walks between London and the Lake District.
Allowing the legs to move and the mind to wander. The sense of release in “pursuits,” as McEwan put it, that generates creative energy leaves us students with a clarification of how distinguished creative professionals regularly access inspiration.
The lecture leaves us the moderate challenge of finding our own booker prize winning “extended ridges”. Fingers crossed.