Nick Green: A great philosopher once wrote...
"Naughty, naughty, very naughty!"
|MWA HA HA HAAAAAAAA!|
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?’
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