The Virus

I’ve just written a short story called ‘The Virus’. I won’t give away the plot, but it was influenced by seeing so many surfers at Carcavelos beach. The beach is very close to the small apartment where I live, and I often walk along it. My friend, Bill Young, had lent me a book, called ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, by Yuval Noah Harrari. Some elements of the story were in response to Harrari’s writing.

I read that unknown writers, like myself, should try and get something in print before trying to get a novel published. The idea for this story popped into mind, unbidden, and within a day I had written it, although I kept polishing it for longer. I wanted to try and limit myself to 2,000 words, and it exactly tipped the scales at that wordcount.

There is a question, though, which I ask myself. Does playing improvised music develop your ability to intuit form and duration? I feel that it does, but I am interested in the opinion of other musicians. Of course, I have sat through many concerts of improvised music, where countless opportunities to reach a satisfying conclusion were passed over, only to end limply after an excruciatingly long coda on the road to nowhere. Nevertheless, I have been both a participant and an audience member at events which, magically, concluded with jewel-like perfection. Sometimes, concerts have ended abruptly, mid-sentence, guided by a strange collective logic that is impossible to fathom, but which makes absolute sense at the time.

What causes a group of improvisers to stop in complete synchronicity like this? One element, I think, is a sense of what the group expresses in the moments leading up to such an abrupt truncation. It also requires a shared sensibility, not just to duration or form, but to collectively intuiting that an odd fragmented resolution, at that precise moment, provides the more complete musical statement.

I can’t help asking myself, does this sensibility transfer to writing? When I was writing each episode or chapter of ‘Mirror Trick’ I had a similar sense of appropriate duration. This active feeling, however, was much harder to retain throughout the course of a whole book, written over many months. In contrast, the shorter form of ‘The Virus’ felt more like a melody, sustained over several pages, and ending with a twist. It was not like the ‘mid-sentence’ endings that you sometimes hear in free improvisation, but something oblique, with a retrospective logic, closer to the kind of resolution that you find in conventional music.

Of course, you can easily point out that I am comparing ‘apples’ and ‘pears’: that the one is a collective experience and writing, whether it be music or literature, is usually a solitary one. My question is, though, can the sensibility developed and nurtured by group improvisation be transferred and applied in a similar way, when working on one’s own, writing stories?