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.
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s of the last century (oh that feels bad) I had a brief but rewarding period drawing cartoons for a magazine called the Freelance Informer. Sadly, that fine magazine for the IT contracting industry has long since published its final issue but it remains a treasured memory.
I drew six panel cartoons and five strip cartoons. They are dated – this was a time when desk top publishing (DTP) was a new thing, and ‘cutting and pasting’ still meant just that (I have kept my scalpel) – and, to be honest, they’re not that funny or even that good. This was never going to be a career because I can’t draw. But I was young and immortal and knew no better. And I liked them.
Looking at them now I’m struck by their innocent air and clean finish. I remember taking great pains to remove all the working lines. and simplify the outlines as much as possible. That minimalistic approach, the polishing to hide the hard work, rears its deceptive head in almost everything I do these days. Blame the 60’s and the cartoons of Hergé and Schulz and Mad magazine. I do.
Foolishly, I didn’t keep copies of the entire magazines, only the pages on which my work appeared – again, my youthful vanity – but I do know the volume and issue numbers, so if anybody is out there that knows the dates please do share them with me. Specifically, they are:
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!
My next few months are now defined – crowdfunding my new novel, An Other’s Look, which is going to be published by Unbound. The site has gone live and here it is!
I spent all last year writing it, following the Stephen King model: I wrote the first draft as fast as I could, kept it hidden and let it brew. Only after the second draft was complete did I let it out for peer review. And then a third draft before submitting it. (No doubt there will be a few more when the editors get their hands on it.) It worked. I think. Well, I’ll find out
Sager minds than mine who have been through this crowdfunding process more than once advise me that it can be even tougher the second time around. I didn’t think that was possible.
I hope I’ve learned something since I worked with Unbound on The Wrong Story. I’ve prepared my leaflets ahead of time and I’m looking forward to the windy, rainy days when I can stand on street corners handing them out. Not sure Stephen King does that, but you never know. Actually, I hope he doesn’t because he should be at home in the warm writing more novels. If he wants any leaflets handing out, I’ll do it.
Anyway, returning to topic, we’ve enhanced the reward levels so that now, pledging is as much about pre-ordering one or more paperback copies as supporting the novel’s publication. There will also be bundle options, book club rewards and aspiring writer’s workshops on the reward list.
I’ve improved the video too by keeping my face out of it for as much as possible. That was a definite plus. Of course, I show up in it towards the end – it would be rude not to, but by that time I hope the message has come across and people aren’t too distracted by what appears to be me looking into a spoon. Stephen King n
Wow. After nine months strapped to a keyboard writing The Other’s Look, when nothing much happened other than my elbow snapped (it now has a sticky-out bit, like a cartoon elbow, which I quite like), there’s been a flurry of writerly happenings.
Firstly, The Wrong Story has been entered into two prizes: The McKitterick Prize and The Golden Tentacle award. All digits are crossed, sacrifices have been made, chanting begun on a daily basis.
Two, my short story, The Beast, has been highly commended in the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition, and will be published in BFS Horizons. This has made me very happy not just because it is one of my favourite short stories, and not just because the BFS is a long-established organisation with a tremendous following – but because of the very kind and generous feedback that I received. It’s rare that editors and judges go out of their way to do so, and it’s all the more welcome in consequence.
(C) not to be outdone, my short story, Early Days, has been highly commended in the short story category of the Carers UK’s Creative Writing and Photography Competition 2017. I’m very pleased about this because it is a very personal story and written in an experimental form that I hadn’t tried before. Carer’s UK are a fabulous and worthy charity and I am proud that Early Days will be published in their forthcoming anthology, Not In The Plan, and that I have been invited to read at the celebration event in London at the end of November.
IV. Some things just make me ludicrously and unconditionally happy, and seeing writers who are friends have success is one of them. The launch of Sam Guglani‘s new novel, Histories, in London earlier this week was a true joy. Great book, great speech and great reading. The Unruly Writers were out in force and it was my pleasure to be amongst them.
Numero cinco, it’s not really a happening but it is an event for me: the second draft of The Other’s Look is complete and now ready for beta-reading and then submission. It includes three of the characters from The Wrong Story and takes place in a subsequent time period, so although it is not strictly speaking a sequel, it is related. As with Early Days, there is a chunk of emotional investment in this story that goes beyond the telling of a tale, so I will be interested to see if it all hangs together. Elbows crossed.
Six months after turning to freelance writing full-time, I’ve learned some lessons. Mostly about what not to do. Here are ten Don’ts and one Do.
Don’t blog about writing (hem) when you should be writing. You’re not fooling anyone – you’re playing for time.
Don’t get two-thirds of the way through the first draft of your novel and then decide to restructure it by spending two months creating a detailed storyboard using balsa wood, different coloured pens, colourful sticky labels and map pins. You are now a storyboard manufacturer, not a writer.
Don’t re-cut your rejected short story into a radio play just by adding columns and colons. It’s the same story, you idiot.
Don’t self-promote your novel so much that people start to block you, delete you or apply for restraining orders. Begging random passers-by to read your book is usually counter-productive – and let’s face it, it’s demeaning.
Don’t kid yourself that an experimental story in which all the characters, irrespective of gender or species, have the same name will ever be read by anyone on this entire planet. It won’t. It will be garbage.
Don’t begin an editing course unless you want to temporarily inhibit any joy you ever had in writing creatively. You can be an editor and a writer but not both in the same moment. You will implode.
Don’t study your Amazon sales rankings and compare them to those of other writers you know. It hurts.
Don’t edit your 5000 word story so that you can enter it into a 500 word Flash Fiction competition. It just doesn’t work. Also, you have lost all your critical faculties and should take a holiday.
Don’t track your progress on a spreadsheet unless you want to spend all day tracking how far behind schedule you’ve fallen.
Don’t expect to earn any money at all. Keep telling yourself it’s all about the art.
Do just write. Every day. As many words as you can. Preferably in the correct order. Occasionally in pleasing combinations. That’s what writers should do. Mostly.