Sea of Hooks, the product of 20 years of work, is Lindsay Hill’s first novel after six poetry collections. Told entirely in fragments, it explores the troubled childhood and wandering adulthood of Christopher Westall.
Why did the novel take you 20 years to finish?
In 1994, I took a notebook with me to Bhutan and I actually had the idea of writing the novel there when I learned about Terma [a key Tibetan Buddhist teaching]. I thought, “Wow, there’s an incredible story to be built out of this.” And I came back, quit my job in banking, and I kept writing in journals, until 2001. Roughly from 2001 to 2003 I knocked out about 750 typed pages. In 2003, I actually wrote the first section of the book, “Glass,” and I basically had to say goodbye to the whole 750 pages I had just written.
So in 2003, you started writing Sea of Hooks as it appears now?
That’s right. From 2003 to 2009 I was writing thousands of sections, over 5,000 total [just over 1,000 appear in the finished book]. I was being driven from my bed; these titled sections—they were just erupting. I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to go write because I had to transcribe these things. And sometimes in the morning I would go back to transcribing more of them and I wouldn’t even look at these sections I did until months later. It felt like a deluge, and it was, of course, extremely exciting, but I certainly didn’t know where it was going to lead. After a number years of rigorous editing, it ended up in the book that now exists, but at the time I wasn’t certain that it would ever turn into something coherent.
How did you know when the book was done?
That’s really two questions. After that 5,000th section, everything just stopped. It was like there was a turning. All of a sudden all I wanted to do was eliminate stuff and get down to the essence of what was there. And then at some point along the way—and I have to say Bruce McPherson [the editor and publisher at McPherson & Co.] was helpful with this—I really started to hone.
How does writing a novel differ from writing poetry?
I think narrative has its own kinds of demands. I have to confess that, like Christopher [the protagonist], I have a great deal of difficulty reading. I have a kind of dyslexia that makes it very hard for me to read a 300-page novel. I only mention that because I can’t speak as a person who has read voluminous numbers of novels. But I will say this: when lyricism can be coupled with the power of a story, it’s an absolutely irresistible combination.
Is there a book that you think nails the combination of lyricism and narrative you were striving for in Sea of Hooks?
I would have to point to McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I would also mention, though it’s not on that book’s level of intensity, Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. And in a very funny and different way, Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Those three books have impacted the way I think about what’s possible in narrative.