The first story I ever wrote for my creative writing degree was about a character who tragically threw herself in the sea for love, then the character decided that they didn’t like that their author had made them die, so decided to rewrite the story so it had a happy ending. My teacher told me that I had written a meta-fictive story. I had never heard of this term before then. ‘Metafiction is a piece of work that self-consciously addresses the act of writing fiction,’ he said, ‘it exposes the fact that it is a story, and tries to explain what it is to be a story.’
Authors are consciously getting asked where their ideas come from. Some come up with very quirky answers, like they go to the ideas shop, or someone comes into their brain during the night and deposits stories into them. No one really has a satisfying answer to this question. This is why I find metafiction quite fascinating. It is a way for an author, even if they do it in the most fantastical or metaphorical way possible, to explain the act of writing a story in their eyes. Because every author sees it differently – every author writes differently.
Salman Rushdie tackles this age old question of ‘where do stories come from’ in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. His hero, Haroun, travels by mechanical bird to the Sea of Stories, located on the Earth’s second moon (which no one on Earth has ever noticed because it travels too fast for us to ever see it) in order to ask for his father’s storytelling gifts to be restored. His father’s storytelling tap, that is connected to the sea of stories, has been disconnected, you see.
Haroun describes the sea when he first sees it:
‘He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff [the water genie who takes him to the sea of story on his mechanical bird called Butt] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that war will in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Stream of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe.’
I love this idea of stories interweaving, being blown along by the currents so that Paddington Bear might be swimming along next to King Lear. Wouldn’t it be amazing to float in a pool of your favourite stories? There are many versions of a place where stories live, where they all belong, where they come from or where they are made, but this one is one of the most beautiful, I think.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, purely for the fact that it was written by Salman Rushdie, intimidated me a bit, until I started reading it. I think it is a wonderful story, full of beauty, and laughter, and adventure, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek. It is a book for all ages, as everyone wants to know, in the back of their minds, where the stories they love come from.