Thursday, 31 December 2009
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Monday, 28 December 2009
Sunday, 27 December 2009
Saturday, 26 December 2009
Friday, 25 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Monday, 21 December 2009
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Friday, 18 December 2009
Thursday, 17 December 2009
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Monday, 14 December 2009
Heart sink moments are plenty in a writer’s life, but one of my least favourite has to be the dinner party where the bloke sitting next to me, on hearing I’m a novelist, launches into a detailed description of the novel he’s going to write. I listen attentively, because my mother brought me up to be polite, but what I really want to do is screech and tell him to stop because a) I don’t want to know and b) he’s ruining his chances of ever getting the novel written.
Writing a novel requires a lot of energy. 100,000 words or so takes a lot of typing even without the concentration on the story telling. Somehow you have to sustain your energy and enthusiasm for at least several months, if not several years. Story telling is in part a desire to communicate. If you’re doing that communication to all and sundry at dinner parties you’re dissipating the energy you need to keep going with your story. Worse, with frequent telling, you may become bored with your own story before you’ve got it written down.
So don’t tell anyone what it’s about. Keep that desire to yourself, communicate with the page, not chance met strangers. Because I’ve recently had a book out (A Single to Rome, absolutely brilliant, do go out and buy a copy - pleeeeease) I’m frequently being asked about what I’m working on at the moment. In response I mumble something about how I’ve started a novel. And what is it about? More mumbling and staring at the floor until they go away. I’m not being rude (honest, Mum), I’m guarding an essential part of my writing life.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Before I was published I went to writing groups and talks about writing. I found writing friends and set up workshopping groups. I devoured every article or book I could read on How to Get Published. I researched agents. It was a happy time, endlessly absorbing with, at the end of it, at some unspecified date, the prospect of publication.
It was a bit like being pregnant. Suddenly anything and everything to do with pregnancy – a subject which I had previously avoided – became endlessly interesting. Every twinge was fascinating, every new development to be pored over and discussed with my NCT group. Then, finally, the great day came and at the end of it I had a baby. After the euphoria had died down and I was left alone with my vulnerable little son I was suddenly struck with the awful thought: I’ve got to look after him for the next twenty years or so.
When you get published you’re taken over by the wonderfulness of what has just happened to you. You sidle round bookshops rearranging the shelves so your novel faces out, and have your picture taken in Sainsburys against the book section. You start a scrap book with every press cutting, every scrap of promotional material you can find lovingly stuck in with Pritt stick. Enjoy it. It will never be like this again.
I’m not being cynical, it’s just that once you’ve got published, it’s like holding the baby in your arms and realising you’ve hardly thought about what was going to happen next. Because what happens next in writing is you’ve got to produce another book, and then another. One a year for commercial fiction, longer for literary fiction. It becomes a job. A fascinating job complete with an adrenaline rush – closer to a high wire act than the checkout – but it’s still a job. So, even if you’re desperate for publication, take time to enjoy the process. Believe it or not, one day you may be looking back wistfully at those happier, simpler times before you got published.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
‘I can’t do it,’ Abigail said, doing that stupid soppy thing with her eyes that makes her look like a pug about to be sick. Pathetic.
‘Give it to me,’ I said, grabbing the jam jar from her. I’d show her.
‘I can’t do it,’ Abigail said, looking at me with big eyes shining like stars, so fragile, so helpless, for a moment I could hardly speak.
‘Give it to me,’ I finally managed, gently taking the jam jar from her delicate fingers, hoping that this time I’d get the lid off.
The dialogue is the same, the actions are the same. The only difference is the narrator’s attitude. When I read I like to know how the characters are feeling about the situation, otherwise I might as well be reading a script. I want to feel I am in the scene, experiencing it through their eyes. Their attitudes to life might not be mine, but this is how I’m going to understand them and, in understanding, get involved with their story.
As a writer I find attitude is a useful tool, especially if I’m finding a scene difficult to write. I stop for a minute and ask What is my viewpoint character’s attitude to this situation or these people? How do they feel about what they can see? Then I write the scene using character attitude to drive it, and the scene almost writes itself.
Some people advise that you spend hours and weeks preparing detailed character backgrounds before you start writing but that's not how I work. I don't need to know where a character went to school or what his first pet was. All I need to know is my character's attitude to life.