Some of the ideas in mystical and avant-garde scientific texts I was reading at the time of writing The Land of Decoration found their way into the novel. I was reading these texts in the hope of finding some sort of miracle, a cure for an illness that doctors didn't have. Some of these ideas are set out below. I am not sure I believe all of them (a lot of them vaguely adhere to the concepts of Buddhism) but I was certainly interested in them at the time:

Every human has frequency and amplitude patterns that mould our individual experience.

The mind can organise outer energetic structures and extend beyond the borders of the body.

Powerful thoughts do not disintegrate.

There is an energetic connection between cause and effect.

Nothing that happens is an isolated event but only appears to be.

A scientist cannot extricate himself from a situation but is part of all research he performs and influences his own results.

The implicit value of something is equal to its manifestation.

All organisms continually move between the poles of disintegrating into chaos and dying from lack of nourishment.

There is no universe without an observer. Things do not exist until they are observed.

Everyone is dreaming (the Toltecs called it 'mitote', in India it is called 'maya'). The whole montage of space and light and time we perceive to be reality is a chimera.

Each part of an organised field is a hologram which contains the pattern of the whole.

The greatest potential power source in the world lies in the smallest amounts of matter, and it is the organisation, not the mass that constitutes power.

Things are controlled not only from below by atomic and molecular action, but from above, from mental, emotional properties or fields.

The end is prefigured in the beginning.

As above so below. As within so without.

Everything is space. The universe sprang from space, from emptiness.

When material substances are extended towards infinity the result is not a mass but a process, an event, a relationship.

If energy is introduced to matter, matter takes on a higher organisation.

Consciousness has an entropy-reducing capacity.

Fundamental change occurs in leaps, things move without following the laws of mechanical motion, jumping almost effortlessly from place to place.

These ideas fed into my writing about miracles, the idea of a gap that must be leapt over, the suspension of disbelief, and the 'space' where the miraculous can happen.

     The other ideas which found their way in TLOD were ones I had worried and turned over in my head since I was a child: the idea of substitution, a life given for a life, the idea of something standing in place of something else and all that entails: exchange, crossing or carrying over a space in-between; the cost of that, the difference between something being the thing itself and only being like it; doubling, things becoming themselves again, self-reflection ('the pieces of comet-shaped rock which are light years across and thrust out of a nebula when it explodes are heads of corn in a blue sky, if you are lying in a field, in summer, when the sky is cornflower blue, and the corn is reaching into it…')

     Then there were themes and concepts that surfaced as preoccupations in the novel that I had no idea I had been interested in before: the idea of God as the self, self-creation and self-destruction. As I began working backwards from my opening passage I also began, unconsciously at first, to create a character for whom God is a necessary invention. God- (or fiend) like protagonists (Lear, Hamlet, Prospero, Faust, Kubla Khan, Frankenstein, Kurtz) often populate works which exploit parallels between writer and character, work and reality, artist and creation. Or the godlike is portrayed directly through an artist figure, such as Sartor Resartus, Mann and Woolf's artists, Stephen Daedalus, or, in W. G. Sebald's dreamlike narratives, a speaker who appears to have some role, however mysterious, in the creation of his reality. These characters are their own makers and destroyers (the definition of true tragedy by ancient Greek standards) and do, or do not, know it. They dramatise what it is to be, as Frankenstein's creature says, 'dependent on none and related to none', 'confine[d] within a state of lonely and insuperable incommunicability'. I too was creating a character whose craving to communicate and be in relationship with another at first damns and then saves her, severing the connection with 'God', upon which she rediscovers 'god' in the form of human love rather than the supernatural when she saves herself by attempting to save another and so is spared the forces of chaos she has set in motion. Artistically, to separate oneself from God, means death however. Could my character survive such separation?

     I also found myself writing about words. The Word, or Logos, the creative first principle; Christ as facilitator of God's plan of redemption. My character Judith made things happen, at least initially, by saying them, by hearing them sound aloud in a room which was extraordinarily empty. I strove throughout the book to make words the causal point in both the reader's and Judith's minds, carefully laying them; dormant until the time came to germinate. My character did not develop language skills easily, established a fragile relationship with her care-giver by means, initially, of reading, and that, mainly scripture. She describes her attempts to communicate with God as a long-distance telephone call. 'The Word' comes to Judith in a context of radical incommunicability. In order to become aware of it at all Judith must become aware of her own emptiness. Then, from the quietness, comes a voice. She is given the choice of the book the wisest seek to read and cannot, and declines in favour of a stone that promises power, though the promise of the wings the book would have given her haunts the rest of the novel. She cannot verbally articulate her experiences so she writes them somewhere instead, but the written word incriminates more than the spoken. Her father's declaration of love at the conclusion erases the words of any other character in the novel but 'love' is a word that initially she cannot process, and the exorcism of God is the exorcism of a voice.  

Last but not least, the theme of time found its way into the novel. The mystical texts I was reading said that the human mind needs time and that when time is removed the mind stops. In The Land of Decoration my character's experience of reality was mediated by the knowledge that that reality could end at any moment. Her own identity, God's, and her father's are shattered when time runs out at the conclusion. Shattered, and then, perhaps unrealistically, partially re-built.

    Things I was Thinking About When Writing TLOD


stories and things



leaving the text alone

Beckett and mysticism

why real directors are writers

Dr Seuss and Tom McCarthy

why the novelist's job is harder than God's

the thing about autobiographical fiction

how to write a successful novel

George Herbert and Judith McPherson

the value of not doing

thoughts on TLOD

don't judge a book

things I was thinking when writing TLOD

time, words, are the enemy

the master's voice


why I didn't want to write anymore

the value of not knowing

when do you give up on a book?


what makes a book great

divine fancy


time, identity and fiction

Reading from The Land of Decoration