I’ve been asked to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, by Caroline Davies*.
This is a sort of chain letter for writers who blog. We’re each given the same four questions to answer. Do we all do it the same way? Almost certainly not. There are those who plan meticulously before getting started, and there are those who plunge in with a bit that particularly interests them, and there are those who talk about it a lot and don’t do much of it. I’m a bit of all three. If I could ever stop beating myself up about not writing enough, fast enough I might take a crack at NaNoWriMo. I plan each novel on index cards – then never look at them again. By the time I’ve written a couple of chapters the Opus has usually skipped off in a different direction. However, I do remember what was on the cards, and they do make a sort of spine to what emerges. Until finally the book is about something else entirely and then I can forget all about them. So that’s my answer to question 1 ‘how does your writing process work?’.
The next question is ‘what are you working on?’. To which the answer is, as usual, far too many things at once. There are short stories, in various draft stages, backing up; a novel, which I’m 70,000 words into, burning a hole in the back of my mind; then there is the novel after that set in Cornwall in the Seventies and the one after that set in Cornwall during WWII, and the Roman novel I started years ago which keeps going in and out of fashion, and my first novel which might possibly be saleable if I could find the time to give it a major overhaul. There is also a collection of short stories and a novella peeking out of the wings, waiting to step onto the stage. Covers are done – but can I make myself sit down and do the final revisions … ? If I could prioritise I could probably get more done, but I just plunge in to whatever’s on top of the pile, or what I’ve just had a new idea for. When I used to work for other people, back in the day, it was as a crisis manager; so I quickly got used to dealing with the crisis currently presenting itself – and that is my prioritising system. The whole of it. I’m a bit old for new tricks now, so please don’t feel obliged to send me remedies for my failings. I have become, even, fond of them.
The novella is about Jews in Edinburgh after WWII; the short stories are mainly about women doing things which surprise them. My last novel was SF. But, as you can see above, I’m finding myself more drawn to historical fiction, preferably with a conspiratorial or thriller element (or both). History informs everything we do. And it certainly informs everything I write – including science fiction. It provides the trajectory. I’m constantly trawling through The Week for current affairs (tomorrow’s history) which seem seminal.
The third question is ‘what makes your work differ from others of its genre?’. Well, if I stuck to one genre that would be easier to answer. I write genre fiction, there’s no doubt about that. I have written quite a lot of SF (my novel Is Death Really Necessary?, short stories, poetry), now I seem to be moving into what a friend of mine calls the ‘history and mystery’ subgenre. That novel which is burning a hole involves an ancient riddle which is solved in the present day. I don’t claim to be a writer of ‘literary’ fiction. I’m too fond of plot for that: stuff has to happen in what I write. Although I do claim to have elements of the ‘literary’ within my genre(s): strong characterisation, strands exploring human nature, society and culture. My historical research is rigorous. I identify and avoid genre cliches. And only I will ever put the ingredients I use in my work together in the same way. Every writer can say that with perfect truth. You only have to look at the variety of work produced in response to the same exercise at any writing workshop to know that what is in every writer’s head is unique.
The final question is ‘why do you write what you do?’. I write about anything that interests me. For example, I once saw a picture of Aileen Getty as a young, troubled woman – just a picture. Something in the photograph demanded to be explored, and quite quickly became Teddy Goldstein in Is Death Really Necessary?. Of course there are a lot of other influences on that character as well – my father and myself to name but two. The book isn’t about Aileen Getty. I know nothing else about Aileen Getty and consciously did not seek to learn more about her. But had I not seen that picture I would never have thought about writing a book about a self-destructive woman who find a mate as dysfunctional as herself and a reason to live. So I write what I do because of serendipity. Things come together. Planets conjoin. A stew is made. And the beginning can be something very small. I was listening to Lucy Atkins (author of The Missing One) the other evening and she said something remarkably similar about the catalyst character for her book – so I am obviously not the only writer whose writing follows their curiosity in this way. The downside to it is, of course, that you want to write about this character who has inspired you, and the book grows and grows, and along the way it changes shape, and then parts of it don’t work any more, and then you find you’ve reinvented it umpteen times in order to give your character the voice that you heard in your head in the first place, and then no-one wants to publish it. So then you need a protracted lie down.
Here’s a link to Caroline’s blog: http://advancingpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/his-last-letter.html It might be interesting to track back through the blogs of those who’ve taken part in this.
*Caroline’s first collection of poetry, Convoy, is now available, published by Cinnamon.