Friday, 29 August 2008

I should be dancing...

This morning I finished my last chapter of The Bookseller, my first completed novel, a mystery set in contemporary Edinburgh. I expected to be in celebratory mood. It has only taken something like 2 years out of my life, after all. (Admittedly, I haven't stopped doing all the other stuff and there has been a lot of other writing in the gaps - but psychologically this has been a big commitment)

So I expected to feel more than a little euphoric, but actually a feel quite sad. OK the ending was a bit poignant, maybe it's just the residue from that. But really, I feel cheated. No applause, no rush of excitement, just a weird feeling of something having finally come to a close.

Maybe it'll hit me tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Is Dame Jacqueline a Twit or a Twat?

OK, no prizes for guessing what this is about.

I'm not a bad language prude. In my time I've f***ed and b******ed with the best of them.
But as I get older I seem to get more sensitive to the use of obscenities. They are words that carry a weight of aggression and should be used with care. In the right context they can have impact. The trouble is there are too many trigger-happy f*** monkeys out there, peppering their prose with obscenities in the vain hope it will shock their readers into believing it renders their sub-standard offerings cutting edge and artistic. All they are doing is corrupting our language. They need to grow up.

One manifestation of political correctness is the determination to use obscenities in literature in spite of the sensitivities of others. This is Freedom of Speech, the f***-monkeys cry. Stop me f***ing swearing at your peril!

This is just daft. Reading and writing are a collaboration between the reader and the writer, and if writers have so little respect for their readers as to ride roughshod over their feelings in this then they don't deserve to be read. The latest hysteria when publishers withdrew a children's fiction book because it contained "twat" is just silly. How on earth can it be a Freedom of Speech issue if, as she claims, Dame Jacqueline Wilson did not even realise there was a difference between twit and twat? It is nothing to do with freedom of speech and anyone who says so is a twit (or is it twat?).

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Just a thought...

This month's target is to finish the mystery I've been working on for two years. This latest revision started out as a proofreading exercise and ended up with some major plot changes. I came unstuck last December trying to write the synopsis, I think realising that the middle section didn't have enough meat on it and more was needed. It's meant introducing two new characters so quite a major overhaul. But I'm starting to see the end, so it shouldn't be too long now.
I was intending to get cracking on the comic novel but I'm letting that cook a while longer, although I have some ideas. It might end up being a play, in fact. I haven't decided.
It's not that easy to divide your attention. For a while I was writing one book in the morning and revising another one in the afternoon but I don't know whether I'd try it again. It takes me a while to get into the mind set of a book, and switching between them is a bit of a stretch. I suppose if you're working to a deadline you have no choice.
One thing I'm planning to include in the new story is a peer review group, because I think there's lots of scope for comedy in these crits. Here is a sample:

Hi Wetwarbler, here are my thoughts about your piece. I loved it really, you have a marvellous talent although perhaps not for writing. But anyway please take or leave this crit as you see fit; it is only my opinion and I'm sure you'll find someone who'll enjoy it sooner or later.

I loved the opening sentence. I could just picture him on the chimney stack in his wife's underwear, but would it perhaps be better to make his sexuality less obvious? Keep the reader guessing? Just a thought. Your description of the bun fight was a bit long at seven pages, you could easily cut it down to a paragraph, or even a sentence, or even cut it altogether. Is it really necessary at all? Just a thought.
I got a bit confused in chapter two. I couldn't help wondering why Colonel Molotov kept asking Agnethe to dance. Is that feasible in a life raft? And didn't she die in chapter one? Or were there two Agnethes? Probably best not to have two or more characters with the same name. Just a thought.
I'm not sure most people would get the Chaucerian references in chapter three, and they do tend to confuse the issue in the rape scene. Out of interest, have you checked whether it is possible to get eight people into the boot of a mini metro?

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Great Genre Debate

If you trawl around some online writers' groups like me you may have encountered a strange subterranean war that is going on vis-a-vis the subject of genre. I first encountered it on a forum where someone had brought up the subject of how useful reviews were if the reviewer wasn't familiar with your particular genre. I was startled by the vitriolic response of some members on the subject. It's a publishing invention, they say. A Good Story is a Good Story, full stop. All well and good, but go into any bookshop and you won't find books arranged according to "Good Story" and "Not Good Story". So ignoring the phenomenon seems a bit naive.

According to which source you go with, there are hundreds of different fiction "genres" ranging from Chicklit to Crime and all points in between. And then of course there's Literary Fiction which seems to sweep across everything but take it to a deeper level, whatever that means. (I'm not sure you can get a Literary Chicklit novel - what do you think?) I recently enquired on one forum about what constituted literary fiction and brought down on my head accusations of snobbery. In fact I'd only wondered because while researching agents and publishers I find the term used by them, and I genuinely wondered who decides if a book is "literary" or not.

But the overall impression is that the subject of genre twangs a few writerly nerves out there. I'm not sure why. Do writers just hate to be categorised? Any thoughts, people?

Monday, 11 August 2008

The end in sight...

Today I started the last chapter of current WIP. Oh, what a great feeling! I'm so near the end now I can almost smell it. It's no wonder really, I was working it out and it's been about 6 months to get to this stage. I take back what I said before, this time will be euphoric.

And not least because my next project is very near to my heart and my funny bone. It's going to be my first attempt at a comic novel. I have tried comedy before, but only sketches and an ill-fated sitcom that is gathering dust in the vault somewhere. (One day I may resurrect it for a rewrite.) But comedy is how I started writing in the first place. Many moons ago I submitted material for various sketch shows, and even had a couple used - the only occasion I've been paid for my writing. But I've never attempted comedy in prose before, so it will be a new departure for me.

I'm very influenced by Sue Townsend who is a national treasure in my opinion. I love her ability to get to the nub of the absurdities of life. I particularly like the royal family stories, The Queen and I etc. The way she punctures pomposity is just brilliant. I hate pomposity and pretentiousness, and they will be the main targets of my story.

But as a wise man once said, laughter is a serious business, so this one might just be my undoing. Watch this space!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A bit drafty

Of course, what I should have made clear in my last post was that I was referring to the First Draft. And Phil and Tracy, you are absolutely right, it is just the beginning. But at least finishing the first draft is the End of the Beginning even if it isn't the Beginning of the End.

I know the veracity of this only too well. I am currently still editing/revising my first WIP which has to date taken up a fair chunk of the last two years. I'm starting to get heartily sick of it now and am determined to knock it into some final shape before much longer so I can start submitting. Although I want to be done with it I find it impossible to stop tinkering even with the bits I'm reasonably confident about. If it ever should make it into print I could well be sneaking into Waterstones with a bottle of Tippex to make a few "last minute adjustments".

It's very easy to get addicted to editing. A lot of writers complain about it, but I've come to love it. In some ways I do think it's the most creative part; adding colour, improving dialogue, cutting and embellishing. But I also recognize a tendency to obsess about it, and therein lies madness. Some writers I know try to perfect each chapter before moving on to the next one. There is a real danger they will never finish the book because it will never be good enough. I'd rather get the first draft down, warts and all, before worrying about how crap it is.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Getting to the end....

It's now about four months since I set out on the long arduous journey that is my latest novel, and the end is finally coming into view. I can see it, like a mirage on the horizon, a little watering hole in the desert, surrounded by leafy palms. I stagger on, feeble legs sinking into the sand, tongue hanging out. One thought in my mind. The End. The End...

And then, I come over a sand dune and it's gone. Vanished. Everything had been so clear, but now my head is a fog of indecision. Shouldn't I do this instead? Wouldn't it be better if he left his wife and went off with the mistress? What if the police were in on it all along?

It must be a recognized medical condition, the inability to finish your novel. Fictionus inconclusiva. I tell myself, two more chapters, tops - but the goalposts keep receding as I get hopelessly bogged down with putting in more unnecessary plot complications. I lie awake in the small hours, desperately wondering if "He woke up and it was all a dream" wouldn't be such a bad ending after all. Any ending starts to look like a blessed relief. But the harder I try, it feels like two repelling magnets determined to avoid each other.

Why is so hard to finish? Is it the emotional attachment to the project? Is it the fear of failure? I don't know really, but in my case I think it's to do with lost opportunity. When your novel is in your head, anything is possible. Once it's on the page, that's it for better or worse. OK, you can tweak it till the cows come home, but that's more or less the story. And I don't like that. I want everything to still be possible.

But I do eventually get a grip and force myself to get to the end. It's never as much of a climax as I expected, more of a weary relief. But it's a good feeling - and this time round I've got another project I'm itching to start so that's added incentive.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Peer Review Sites - good or bad?

The voice in my head - you know the one that constantly nags and nags - tells me it is time I added another post. I hear and obey, oh Master! (Right you can cut that out for a start.)

So following on from the last entry, I was wondering about peer review sites and whether they are a good or bad thing. I've experienced a few in the last five years and I have mixed feelings about them. Like any writer's group, they seem to attract a peculiar species who want to set the Rules of Writing in stone, but really it's just a way of formalising the rules of belonging to the group. If you disagree you will find yourself sidelined pretty quick, and it's not a nice feeling however much you pretend you don't care.

Support groups are great, don't get me wrong. The trouble is when it goes further and becomes an exclusive clique. I've witness some particularly nasty bullying and playground behaviour on some sites, and the price I paid for objecting to it was being kicked out. Ah well. I suppose some individuals never grow out of this behaviour the way the majority do. In the words of the seventies icon but now disgraced pop-star, Gary Glitter: "Dyou wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang..."

Sunday, 3 August 2008

When to stop flogging...?

There comes a point when every writer wonders why they've done all they can to make something work and it just won't.

You write a scene or chapter, you know it lacks something but you're not sure what. You show it to a few people, or post it for review on one of the many peer review sites available. You get some lukewarm responses, usually contradictory on the finer points, but agreeing that IT LACKS SOMETHING. One reviewer says the pace is too slow, another there is too much description, another the characters are one dimensional, another the situation is unconvincing.

After a lot of soul searching and gnashing of teeth you get to work slashing and burning your beautiful prose and rewrite. You post it again, and guess what. The reviewers, though contradictory on the finer points, agree IT LACKS SOMETHING.

So now you have a choice. You can continue this process until:

a. You get so sick of it you give up writing and become a Trappist.
b. You get so sick of it you become beligerent and eventually get thrown out of the group.
c. You go mad.
d. All of the above.

But don't despair. There is another option. Sometimes a scene/chapter will not work. There are many possible reasons for this; you might be approaching it from the wrong angle, you might be too close to the subject matter, your story may not be worth telling after all. Whatever the reason, you have the choice to just walk away. Stop flogging this dead horse and get on with something else. It's a very important lesson to learn, and you'll never make it as a writer without digesting the important fact that not all the outpourings from your pen are worth giving the time of day.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Hi All!

Yes, I have finally succumbed to the temptation of posting my own blog despite my firm belief that the internet is the root of all evil and all blogs should be burned. So if you're daft enough to be reading this, don't say you weren't warned!
Now all I have to do is think up something to write, which isn't as easy as it looks. Especially when you have a brain as addled as mine. Years of parenthood and self-abuse have taken care of that.
Anyway, enough of that rubbish. Still reading? God, you should get a life. No really, this is pure rubbish, don't you think? I'm going off this business already and I haven't even posted it yet.

Seriously though, the internet is wonderful isn't it? I know, I know, I just finished saying it was evil but it does have its uses. Take google - it's great. In days gone by you had to learn stuff at school, pay attention to boring teachers and waste years of your youth getting an education. Now you just type a word or two into google and you're away. Do we need schools any more? You've got to wonder. I mean, they cost a lot of money and is it worth it? Next time you need some delicate open heart surgery you don't need to fork out for an expensive operation just get one of your mates to look up the relevant procedures on wikipedia and bob's your uncle.