Chapter 3 of my 2005 PhD Thesis ‘A Journey of Integration’
Overwhelming physicality 1992–1995
After Correspondence I turned my attention to a different reading of physicality and, perhaps taking direction from the damp sensualities at the end of the first book, began to imagine the body and its potential beyond flesh, in my second novel Water¹. With the inorganic substance H20 as my reference point, I constructed a conceit around water and its effect on the human imagination. Where Correspondence had focused on the inorganic via metal and plastics, Water explored its penetration into human sensibilities.
In the first novel I had set myself the technical challenge of engaging the reader in a kind of pseudo-interactive narrative, experimenting with the device of fiction, and the resulting book had attracted a positive if very specialist critical reception. But I wanted a wider readership for my second novel and it was this desire to broaden my audience which led me to embed a simple storyline into a complex set of narratives about water, undersea life, the ocean, loss, longing and desire. The themes of Water are commonplace — divorce, motherhood, isolation, reconciliation — but the real interest for me lay in the opportunity to look for new ways to write about water, a somewhat obscure ambition which, although I think I achieved it, did not sit well with the rather mundane plot-line of the book, The result was not very satisfactory — this compromise of a novel was not experimental enough for the critics who had liked Correspondence and not formulaic enough for those who had not, but looking back on it ten years later, it is clear that despite its weaknesses Water formed a very logical succession to the icy estrangement of Correspondence, and its intense imaginings were certainly forerunners to the immersion I was later to experience on the internet.
Where Correspondence posited an escape from the body, Water indulged in overwhelming physicality. Writing Correspondence had been a highly cerebral experience, supported by a great deal of reading and research, but Water came out of nowhere and literally caused me nightmares. I even stopped writing it for six months in order to retrieve my unbroken nights. My research consisted of the natural history of the ocean and…