I have an idea, elusive and shadowy, but definitely there. The shape of something. The right something. It needs to be pushed and prodded (gently), given substance by being handled. Coaxed into the light so I can see it more clearly. A story. A novel. A something…
I am not a plotter. At least, not yet. Let the characters talk. Get a flavour of their voices; the tone of their behaviour. For now leave the ‘plot’ up to them – the sequence of events and the order in which those events unfold.
The crafting and honing and structuring and arcing and three-act-versus-fiveing, and the sanding and polishing and waxing and editing and proofreading and welding and cutting and turning and trimming and changing and sewing and betareading and previewing and wrapping-up-and-tying-in-a-bowing and serving-up-on-a-dish-for-your-delectationing, all can wait.
The things I want to write down, to capture wholly, comprehensively, exhaustively and to my satisfaction, are caught up in that twisting tumbling shape. They are the shape. They are to do with being and not being; the little things and the big things; things I’ve seen and known and things I wish I had; moments and continuums.
As part of its pre-launch marketing process, Unbound have arranged for Happy Family to be serialised on The Pigeonhole. This is a great way to get reviews and build a buzz before its publication early next year. You can check it out and get early sight of the text here: https://thepigeonhole.com/books/happy-family. If you do, please a leave a review.
This is both exciting and daunting because even though it’s pre-publication, it’s now ‘out there’.
So, where are we in the overall publication process? Well, all of the editing and final proofreading is complete which is why The Pigeonhole can use the text. In the next two or three weeks I will see the roughs of the cover design – I can’t wait for that – and shortly before Christmas, pre-publication digital versions will be sent to formal reviewers to get cover quotes – perhaps some of The Pigeonhole reviews will be used too.
After that, around February, it’s the full launch of the actual book and distribution to bookshops. Hooray!
As the old joke goes: ‘There are three rules to writing novels. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.’ I like that. Recently, I was a guest speaker at a writers’ workshop and I was asked what rules I follow. I paraphrased Elmore Leonard and said never start with the weather. It wasn’t a satisfactory answer.
The same questioner then asked me if I could recommend a good book that taught fiction writing. I quoted the old saw: ‘You can’t teach someone to be a good writer but they can learn.’ Again I sensed my reply had gone down badly. Specifics were needed. Well then, my questioner demanded, what have you learned?
I looked around. What had I learned? “Don’t force it,” I said.
“Don’t force it – if it’s not working, move on. And be thoughtful. Write thoughtfully. And don’t butt in when your characters are talking. Keep out of it and let them get on with it. And trust your readers. They’ll get it, they really will. Read it out loud all the time and when you’ve written it, whatever it is, put it away and let it brew. And most importantly, be you. Don’t be any other writer. Write like you write.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Any other questions?” I said. Fortunately, there weren’t.
This is my incomplete but sometimes useful list for when I am down in the weeds of editing. I’m sure you will have your own lists but these are the words, phrases and elements of punctuation that regularly get the secateurs treatment.
- appeared to
- by (unwanted passive writing alert)
- in fact
- less (vs fewer)
- seemed to
- with (see ‘by’)
- any adverb
- American spelling or not (depending on where you’re standing)
- too many commas (or too few) – I, over-comma
- hyphens – I over–hyphen
- semi-colons – I love semi-colons; too much;
- double full stop at the end of a sentence or paragraph..
- double space following a full stop
- missing full stop at the end of a paragraph
- “” vs ‘
Feel free to add your own items in the comments box below.
I’d like to tell you why I’m so excited by An Other’s Look that I can override my natural awkwardness and ask people to help me; why I am willing to thump the drum and rattle the cup and toot the whistle for pledges.
An Other’s Look is my second novel and builds on all that I thought I had learned when writing The Wrong Story. In this book I wanted to write about journeys and change and transitions, and I wanted to exorcise a few personal demons. I wanted the writing (and the reading) to be fun and I also had some unfinished business with three of the characters from The Wrong Story – Germaine, Tom and Gerard.
But two months into its writing I realised I hadn’t learned as much as I thought, and I had to go back to basics – and I mean basics: what the hell is a story anyway? I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn’t know how I’d get there. As part of this reboot I thought I’d just let my characters talk and butt out while they did so. I’d let them chat to each other while I tried to figure out what to do.
But what happened was that their dialogue and interactions took over and drove the story forwards faster than I could type it. I’d found a working method that just flew. What emerged six months later was a story with plot lines that all converge on a lonely and isolated Spanish peninsula town called Las Sombras, in north-west Spain.
Hence the thumping and rattling and tooting. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters – the damaged academic, Germaine Kiecke; the bereaved artist Tom Hannah and his new young muse, Alta; the Machiavellian Gerard Borkmann; the ageing voice-over artist Charles Cubberley, his Belgian wife Margot and his fellow actor and nemesis, Roger Pendleton; the sinister hotelier Rodolfo whose wife and father-in-law have both gone missing; his avenging sister-in-law, Luisa, and his wan, ghost-like son, Claudio. I even want you to meet the characters in Germaine’s parallel, augmented reality world of the Happy Family game.
After all, I wrote it for you to read.
(An Other’s Look is currently being crowdfunded by Unbound Books. You can pre-order a copy and support its publication by following this link.)
If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.
I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!