Thursday, 28 April 2011

Writing A Novel Longhand

People are often surprised to find there are any professional writers still working in longhand, at least at novel length. There's me and Neil Ayres - anyone else? Let me know if you're aware of any others, or if you are still a devotee to the pen and page.

For me, the words come out differently if I write them down rather than type them. It adds another stage of deliberation to the process that I just can't manage on the screen. And it also provides a first draft that has to be looked over extremely carefully, as I strain to translate my scribblings from the page to the screen. So by the time it hits the screen it's a second draft, and beginning to look like a novel (she said hopefully).

My written first draft uses only the right hand side of the page - the left side is given over to notes, scribbles, character and plot points. These might be about what needs to happen at that moment in the story, or it might be about changes I need to make to earlier moments, or where the story is going next. And there's always a lot of crossing out and doodling.

For those who are interested in the working methods of writers, I've included a picture of one page of my WIP. I already know that this page is now obsolete. The story doesn't use this section any more. Please forgive my handwriting. See the notes on the left and the actual writing on the right? There's lot of space to write cryptic messages that my future self probably won't understand, but hey, it seemed important at the time.

And, for those who can read my writing: yes, that is the word 'tomato'. There was a tomato in my WIP. But now it's been s-quashed. Heh.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Veggie Books: The Scarlet Plague

I love the idea behind Hesperus Press; forgotten works by great writers, made accessible to a new audience. Titles from literary gods such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Graham Greene, DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf have been published in these very smart books, with thick creamy pages and forewords. The Scarlet Plague is by Jack London.

I wouldn't say I'm a huge London fan to begin with. I'm not really converted by The Scarlet Plague, but I think that has to do with the amount of dystopian novels I've read. It's become a familiar genre, but I can imagine that when The Scarlet Plague was first published in 1912 it was a horrifying picture of a terrible future, where the few remaining humans in the year 2013 have regressed into ignorance and superstition, and the one survivor of the plague, 60 years earlier, can see all the advances of science being lost. He tells the savage children who ask him of tales of the past to remember that steam can be harnessed to do the work of a hundred men, but he knows nobody believes him.

The old man relates the story of his life after the plague. He describes travelling through a world that is returning to nature:

Again I crossed the San Joaquin valley, the mountains beyond, and came down into Livermore valley. The change in those three years was amazing. All the land had been splendidly tilled, and now I could scarcely recognize it, such was the sea of rank vegetation that had overrun the agricultural handiwork of man. You see, the wheat, the vegetables, and the orchard trees had always been cared for and nursed by man, so that they were soft and tender. The weeds and wild bushes and such things, on the contrary, had always been fought by man, so that they were tough and resistant. As a result, when the hand of man was removed, the wild vegetation smothered and destroyed practically all the domesticated vegetation.

I know, I'm grizzled when it comes to enormous disaster on the page. I do wish that wasn't the case, and that the ideas in The Scarlet Plague didn't feel familiar to me. But there we have it; this isn't 1912, and so many brilliant, terrible books came after this one. Still, this is a good one, and if you're a London fan I think you would enjoy this.

I am sick and tired of being so jaded, though.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Writing is Like... #2

A few days ago Maggie Dana tweeted that writing fiction is like peeling an onion, whereas editing fiction is like slicing it. Both can result in tears.

This is very true. And it appeals to me because I'm all about the veggies, as you probably already know. So let's do some more veggie similes for writing:

Writing is like...

1. ...planting potatoes. You have to wait for the basic idea to start sprouting before you can stick it underground and let it work its way up to the surface. And when it gets to the surface and starts flowering you should put more earth around the base for a better yield. So that when you finally dig it up and start writing that novel, there are so many ideas under the surface that it's potato salad all round. Metaphorically speaking.

2. ....a broad bean. You don't want to overcook that baby or it's going to end up leathery.

3. ...making coleslaw. Make sure you shred the prose cabbage so finely that by the time you add the mayonnaise of the finishing touches the whole novel slips down nice and easy. Bleurgh. I hate coleslaw.

4. ...preparing a celeriac. Face it. At first it's going to look ugly, and you're going to have to put time and effort into sawing off all the knobbly bits. There'll be dirt and you might even slice your finger a little bit, but the pain is good. It means you're getting somewhere. Then you braise that celeriac with red onion and button mushrooms and serve it with a lovely piece of fresh salmon on the top. I mean, you serve up the finished novel. Obviously.

5. ...kohlrabi. The initial idea keeps turning up in your mental veggie box and you have no idea what you're going to do with it. So you chop it and dice it and mash it and squelch it and pound it and serve it up a million different ways until eventually one of the Masterchef judges/publishers says - actually, this is okay. Yeah. I can eat this. And then you rejoice for thirty seconds before picking up your knife, reaching for a fresh kohlrabi, and trying all over again.

Now I'm sad and hungry. Bad combination.