Nick Green: A great philosopher once wrote...

"Naughty, naughty, very naughty!"

But enough of The Shamen’s moving 90s ballad Ebeneezer Goode. Today I speak not of The Shamen but of shamans (which, Mr C., is the correct plural form), specifically those of the Ghost World sequence by Susan Price. If you haven’t read The Ghost Drum and its sequels, then shaman you. Go and do so!

Okay? Right, you’d better get some sleep now and eat something and, I don’t know, maybe use the loo - the last thing I want to do is cause you discomfort. Assuming you’re suitably refreshed, welcome back.

There’s something about the shamans of Susan Price that I find eerily familiar. Something about the way they see things that others don’t. The way their spirits can travel to many different worlds. The way they weave magic by using words, and can hold people spellbound with just a story. Also the way that shamans must be trained in their art, but also must be born to it – you need years of hard work to become one, but even that’s no good if you’re not a shaman in your soul. What’s more, this cuts both ways: if you’re born to be a shaman, then you’ll never be fulfilled until you become one. And even then, maybe not…

Soon the similarities become too clear to ignore. The conjuring with words, the intensive training, the working in isolation, the living in a house on hen's legs, the professional jealousies – the list goes on and on. Being a shaman is like being a writer.

(It's in the Beak District.)

In the third book, Ghost Dance, there’s a pivotal exchange (don’t worry, this post is spoiler-free; would I do that to you?) – in which the tremendous heroine, Shingebiss, pleads with her shaman mentor to help some people in need. Or else, the apprentice demands, what’s the point of having these powers? What’s the point of being a shaman at all?

It’s a very good question. Of all the shamans we meet in the trilogy, few have obvious motives for what they do. Even the nicest ones seem largely wrapped up in themselves, helping others only when responsibility tugs at them – while the nastiest are driven more by spite than any grand plans of world domination. If shamans have a common purpose at all, then it would seem to be just that: being a shaman. The study of their magic is an end in itself.

Picture me slowly sitting up straighter as I realised this. Like (I imagine) a great many writers, when the rejections come back or the tax return is due, or the school visit goes badly or the Editor isn’t returning my emails, or simply when I’m stuck halfway through a paragraph that’s the most boring that I’ve ever committed, I am prone to ask myself ‘Why do I do this?’

I used to know. Long ago I wanted to be like Stephen King or Terry Pratchett (rich and famous). Then later, when I realised that rich authors are as rare as funny politicians, I just wanted to be revered. (Yeah, right – when I was 12 I wanted gerbils. NEVER get gerbils.)

But we're so cuuuuute!

It’s not that you should be careful what you wish for – but do measure it first to see if it’s a good fit. The reality is, if someone asks me about my books I usually change the subject, and my biggest extravagance is high-quality cat food (you need the kind that’s good for their teeth). No, if I’d wanted money I’ve have become a banker, like most of the scumbags I went to school with, and if I wanted attention I’d play electric guitar and drums like my extravert younger brother. 

So, it’s not fame, acclaim or money. Eventually I worked it out. I write because I want to. Because I have to. Because, like the spirit-plagued Ambrosi in Ghost Song, I’d be haunted every moment of the day and night by the thing I wasn’t doing. Or because I’d have ended up living a life that wasn’t really mine, as Chingis would have done if her real mother had kept her.

What writers or shamans do with their powers is up to them. But in the end, they do it simply because they can. Because they must.

That’s my reason for writing. What’s yours?
I tweet at @nickgreen90125


Anonymous said…
Honestly, you'd probably find a bit more success if you could write a ~500 word post without several spelling/grammar mistakes riddling your lines. "Extravert"? "I've have"? My god. I would be embarrassed.
Lee said…
@Anon, FYI 'extravert' is a perfectly acceptable variant spelling. And you must have better eyesight than I (likely since I'm facing yet another eye op soon), since I can't find your 'I've have'.

Why are you posting anonymously? Of course, this does avoid embarrassment.

(And any typos of my own are due to the fact that I can hardly read numbers and letters at the moment. It's called a macular hole.)
Susan Price said…
Good writing is entirely about schoolmarm correctness in punctuation and spelling? - An interesting concept, which would rule out virtually every writer before about 1890. But thank you, Anon, for your input.
Lee - good luck for the operation, and may it be successful!
Lydia Bennet said…
Lee, good luck with your op. Nick has selflessly chosen to use his blog post to hymn the well-deserved praises of Susan Price, and his reward is to be lambasted on grammar and spelling by someone who is unaware that 'extravert' is perfectly correct. 'I've have' is the only typo in the whole piece, so Anon's use of 'riddled' is itself inaccurate. This is the first comment of its kind I've seen on AE.
julia jones said…
Not sure I've ever managed as much as a couple of sentences in a comment box without my fingers tangling themselves in knots and I never could do spelling and grammar. Thank heavens for the red wiggly lines, I say. So, phsaw to all that and huzzah for Nick Green for admiring the Ghost World trilogy as much as I do. I think one mark of excellence in fiction is when a story is susceptible to different symbolic interpretations whilst still remaining itself. I read the Ghost Drum as a parable of corrupting power: Nick reads it as analagous to the writer's ife. It remains a v fine book
CallyPhillips said…
'Shaman' you troll!

And Nick, I'm very interested to know why you don't recommend gerbils as pets? We had gerbils. They ate each other. That would be my reason. I wonder if yours is the same or if there's some other horror the critters get up to. I recommend Guinea pigs every time.

Keeping a spelling troll as a pet, now that would be even worse than Gerbils right?
Dan Holloway said…
For some reason I've never felt the draw of gerbils. Love guinea pigs but for me it's rats all day long when it comes to perfect pets
Lee said…
Thanks, Susan & Lydia, for the good wishes.

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

The Year of Just Being There: Dipika Mukherjee looks back at 2016

A Week of Three Libraries -- Julia Jones

Close Reading | Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose | Karen Kao

Rules is Rules, discovers Griselda Heppel, Even When They're Not.