Guest post by Joanna Walsh
I gave myself far too short a time to write Hotel.
I’d been working on an 85k-word manuscript over the preceding two years, and I’d promised myself I’d finish it by May, then June, then July. I’d signed the Hotel contract much earlier in the year, but I didn’t start work on Hotel ’til August had already begun. By September I knew that finishing the book for the end-of-the-month deadline was not a stunt I was going to pull, so I asked for an extension. I think I got a month, and it was enough.
Hotel is about to hit the shelves of bookshops, and where is the 85k-word manuscript? Still in the metaphorical (laptop) drawer.
A writer can be too careful with words, can handle them too cautiously. As at least a part-time Freudian, with a strong interest in Surrealism and it’s psychoanalytically-inspired games of automatic writing and exquisite corps, I’m attuned to the idea of welcoming what happens when you put words on the page, in any order you can: everything is DADA1.
When I started writing Hotel I put everything I had on the table: not only all the material–my notes, my recollections of those Hotel years–but everything I thought I could do with structure, with voice, as well as every form I thought I’d like to write in, plus a few more I’d not considered before. The series editors didn’t blink when I put fictional characters beside real people, and mixed them up again with real people playing fictional characters (without saying which got priority). They didn’t bat an eye when I trod a line between essay, memoir, and storytelling, or when I used postcards, or screenplay. They let me quote, misquote, and use as much wordplay as I like. Which is a lot. All these devices allowed me to talk about the subjects of Hotel—marriage, desire, psychology, luxury, illness—as truthfully, and straightforwardly as I could.
Do I regret writing Hotel over a few intense months? Not at all. I couldn’t be happier with the book if I’d written it over years—and to tell the truth it did take years: years of thinking, of reading, of remembering, years of keeping silent like Freud's Dora, and finally years of learning how to write it down.
In the big, as-yet-unpublished book (which I’m revising right now) I taught myself how to write. When I came to Hotel, everything was waiting for me, and I wrote.
1 Tristan Tzara, 1918 Dada Manifesto.
Joanna Walsh is a writer based in England. Her work has been published by Granta, Dalkey (Best European Fiction 2015), Salt (Best British Short Stories 2014 and 2015), Tate, and others. Her books include Fractals (2013), and Vertigo (2015). Her latest book, Hotel, is now available in Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series.