Lo, the novel arrived, fully formed, in Sirsasana

How bittersweet. My first book, of narrative nonfiction, is about to be published, and I should be thinking only about that.

And yet, about 2 years ago, I had a great idea for a novel. I ignored it, but the idea kept coming back. (As it happens, that is how I winnow idea wheat from idea chaff: I pay serious attention to ideas only once they reassert themselves.)

So yesterday, I was in Sirsasana (headstand) when the entire novel arrived. In my head, as though shaken down by gravity. All at once, fully formed, with idea, characters, plot and twists. Title. Beginning. End. The whole dang thing.

I like it. Love it, actually. And I reckon, now that it has presented itself, I could write the thing in a few good weekends.

But as I said: I should be talking only about Hannibal and Me. And yet, my imagination really wants to go that new place already….

51 thoughts on “Lo, the novel arrived, fully formed, in Sirsasana

  1. I’m sure you’ll have better luck than I had. When I received a serious proposal from a publisher to make a book out of my Manius blog (making it better, of course) my imagination totally froze. I felt depressed for a while because of this absurd incapability of mine, but now I am ok. I guess I want to be free from ‘work’ in this period of my life.

    • Oh no, your “imagination froze”? Look, that stuff happens. Hop back on the heater/warmer and be ready to soak in it when it thaws.

      Seriously, “this period” of your life is perfect to do this as fun, not work. No downside!

  2. As someone who has had her novel stuck in her head for about ten years this is a wonderful advertisement for yoga.

    Fantastic! If I thought I wouldn’t break my neck I’d spend my daughter’s nap in headstand…

    • Aha, …. “daughter’s nap”….
      Say no more. Children, sleep and sleeplessness: That probably has more to do with that novel idea being stuck in there so long than spending too much time right side up.

      That said, why don’t you hang upside down from a bar for a while? Can’t crash, and gravity is still working for you.

  3. Matchmaker in the poorest shtetl in Russia comes to the hut of the poorest family to propose a bridegroom for the eldest of six daughters:

    –Rivka, I have the perfect match for your daughter Rachel: It’s the Grand Duke of Russia!

    –What, are you crazy? I should let my Rachel move all the way to Moscow, so far from her home?

    –You can visit her whenever you want. Alll your expenses will be paid.

    –My eldest daughter eating treyf with the rest of the goyim?

    –No, no, she can have her own kosher cook.

    –But abandon her family? Her people?

    –Rivka, she’ll be comfortable for the rest of her life. Isn’t that what you want for your children?

    –You’re right. Why shouldn’t she be comfortable? Let Rachel marry the Grand Duke of Russia.

    The matchmaker says her good-byes, steps into the street and the door closes behind her:

    –Now I just have to convince the Grand Duke of Russia.

    • You remain, as you have been since you first turned up in this here site’s comment section, the mistress of the oblique tale that prods and tickles.

      I choose to be not Rachel but the matchmaker in this one: Chutzpah, chutzpah, chutzpah. She’ll convince the Grand Duke of Russia, and then ditch him for the Czar.

      (Rachel is the idea.)

    • Yeah, Rachel is the idea. And she’s hot. Go get’em!

      Can we talk author photos right now? Andrew, the writer of non-fiction, wears a suit. Fine.

      But, surely (surely!) Andreas the novelist is a guy in a turtleneck.

    • Oh, you’re tormenting me. I want to tell you, I want to tell you, but I’m afraid, I’m afraid. Give me time. Let me launch the other little whatshammacallit first, then I’ll get back to you.

  4. Nice looking head balance! Sounds like Mother Earth is nurturing your brain. Hannibal is new for me (can’t wait to read it) but old for you. Go for it! Maybe sarvangasana will awaken something else. (A sequel ?)

    • Sarvangasana, as you will be surprised, is less comfortable for me than sirsasana. I don’t like the neck pinch after a while, and my back slides down my hands, needing readjustments. If you’re going to dream up dialogues and action, better do it in sirsasana. You know you’ve gone too far when you crash.

  5. Hi Andreas
    Very much looking forward to reading Hannibal and Me.
    I’ll spread the word here in London.
    Nigel (your former LSE classmate)

  6. How many years of yoga practice did you spend before you could get up in that pose and hold it?

    You look strong, steady, and fit.

    Regarding the subject of this post: It would seem perfectly normal to be on to the next book now that your “baby” will enter the world on January 5. Isn’t that what parents normally do when they have one child and plan for more?
    They get busy…

    • Well, parents get busy a little while AFTER the previous baby arrives, not on the way to the delivery room, don’t they? I probably need to be slapped or something.

      I’ve been “doing” (as they say) yoga for a good decade+. But head stand, you will soon discover to your own surprise, is an easy pose. Handstand takes much more practice, but headstand is really a misnomer: You stand on your two forearms, which form a very stable triangle. You keep a subtle lift on your head so that it hovers above the ground — that way you never feel discomfort or pressure on your neck. After a while, you start doing stuff with your legs up there to stay interested — bicycling, Lotus etc. Meanwhile, the world is upside down and …. suddenly makes sense.

  7. While your upside-down illumination (inspiration) may have felt unbidden or from no-where, I’ll surmise it came out of all you’ve done and experienced in your life so far.

    After your titanic (or herculean?) labours to get “Hannibal and Me” off the ground you are now exhaling in relief, and the seed of a novel is sown. I hope you follow through.

    • Thanks, Philippe.

      regarding those “Herculean” labors: you realize, don’t you, that the hardest part was the waiting (without any labors, Herculean or Lilliputian)? Maybe that’s why my mind started cooking up a new idea.

  8. Will you be talking about your book at the LSE during the promotional tour? If so, I look forward to that as I’m currently studying there.

    Also, I hope you managed to write down the ideas for your novel before the world turned right side up again (I remember the writer Roald Dahl saying that the moment he got an idea for a story he had to record it instantly, otherwise it would just vanish a short while later).

    • Hi Susan,

      as to 1):

      The January 5th launch is a North American launch, so I have no plans right now to come to London. But I do come to London from time to time (my bosses are all there, after all), and I’d love to return to the LSE. (I’m told it looks a bit different than I might remember it.)

      as to 2)

      I do sometimes jot ideas down. But not really with the intention of finding that written note again. It’s really as I said: I’ve learned to trust my memory. Any idea worth having is likely to come up again and again. Any idea not coming up again and again is likely not worth having.

  9. Here I’ve been standing on my head regularly since childhood, when my morbid streak drove me to Yoga in the hopes of living longer, and yet it never seems to break through my difficulties with plot construction. The only thing that ever did that was being so personally devastated (details irrelevant) that I didn’t care if I lived or died. I wrote a thriller novel in three weeks, almost immediately. I don’t think I can try that method again.

  10. The idea for my first book hatched exactly as you described. Yoga Chick emerged like Athena, fully formed and outfitted. My second book . . . three years in and all I can is that my muse is failing me. Hmmm, which Goddess/Diva did I leave out of my propitiations?

    • Ah yes, Athena, born from the head of Zeus in full armor.

      Incidentally, Zeus had mated with Metis (intelligence), then was afraid that the offspring would be more powerful so he swallowed Metis, and then, lo, Athena appeared. She became his favorite daughter.

      Works perfectly, doesn’t it? We swallow creativity and get indigestion, until, after a long time perhaps, the goddess (novel, film, poem….) is born, seemingly all at once.

      But I digress. Three years, you say? You mean, you’ve had writer’s block for three years? We gotta work on that.

  11. A friend of mine, a novelist, says that he only knows he’s satisfied with one book when he can’t stop his thoughts turning to the next.

    His insists that this often happens well before publications and that there is a strong correlation between the books that get displaced from his mind after completion and the ones that go on to succeed.

    If you need it, this may be a good sign 🙂

    • That is a good sign indeed, Tom. Very positive thinking on your part. Thanks.

      An alternative psychological hypothesis might be that the author, by visualizing his next book before the first is out, is engaging in a sort of escapism, feeling that his first book was not as good as it might have been, thus setting up redemption in the second….

      OK, let’s go with Version A — yours. 😉

  12. It may be an alternative hypothesis, but I’m sure it’s especially valid – you don’t strike me as the escapist type.

    In a novel related tangent I recently got round to reading the Economist’s live blog on the latest Republican primary debate. It was as entertaining and insightful as always. I was particularly delighted with a fleeting but fluent reference to my favourite novel – Frank Herbert’s Dune.

    • I meant, of course, that I’m *not* sure it’s especially valid.

      And while I’m on using up another comment slot, I also meant “a novel-related tangent”. Not a tangent that is in itself novel.


  13. Go for it Andreas! I think it will be pretty cool to have your novel mostly done while you are still on the H&M promotional tour! If we count the 2+ years it has been writing itself in your head, it should be almost ready by now! 🙂

    P.S. Just curious, how are you revising your novel? I ask this question because of this interesting William Gibson interview exchange I read.

    “INTERVIEWER You revise the whole manuscript every day?

    GIBSON I do, though that might consist of only a few small changes. I’ve done that since my earliest attempts at short stories. It would be really frustrating for me not to be able to do that. I would feel as though I were flying blind.

    The beginnings of my books are rewritten many times. The endings are only a draft or three, and then they’re done. But I can scan the manuscript very quickly, much more quickly than I could ever read anyone else’s prose.”

    • There is not enough of the novel to revise much yet. But Gibson does ring true: That’s how I revised Hannibal and Me.

      You do read your own manuscript at lightening speed somehow. And every time you notice something you don’t like and make changes. (That’s why it’s hard to know when to stop and call it finished.)

      And yes, the beginnings (of my articles in The Economist, too!!) are usually much more polished than the ends: You keep re-reading the beginning as the rest of the piece takes shape, whereas the end, necessarily, just gets much fewer re-reads and re-writes.

  14. I just read that the Vatican’s former excorcist “believes that practising yoga is satanic and leads to evil just like reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.” Fact checked on (quoted from) Wikipedia. What sort of novel are you expecting (fully formed)? This is not the position of the Catholic Church, is it?

    • The Catholic Church, as I recall, has never in history favored inverted positions. And yet those inversions have persisted in popular practice, with much enjoyment, widely shared.

      If you could guarantee for my novel the focused hostility of the Catholic Church, I would be much obliged. Success would be assured.

    • Of course. Inverted positions are probably covered in Leviticus along with donkeys and siblings.

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