Absolutely, you’re right. I never expected it would be this long. But, you know, stuff happens.
So a big thank-you to Caren Werlinger http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com/ for thinking of me. A helpful kick up the bum!
As coincidence would have it, I have just written a new, unprompted blog (on reading in public), because it recently hit me that I was letting time slip away and nothing was getting done – not the novel, no short fiction, no blogs, no competitions, nu’hin. The dreaded DRIFT had set in, and I had been floating ever closer to the great goodnight while trying to keep up with loads of stuff which shrieked and jostled for priority over writing, most (but not all) unavoidable – scary! Not that I intend popping off any time soon, you understand; but I’ve been taking writing time, future, for granted. And that’s a terrible sin. So I’ll put up my tip-top-tips on doing readings (“Swatting the Butterflies”) blog as well. And I’ve got back into the novel – Halleluia! Managed only 1250 words on this week’s Writing Day, which is less than half my ideal rate, but the old novelising muscles have become flabby with lack of use. It will get better.
And now, friends, The Writing Process.
1. What am I working on?
The WIP has the dull working title of “House Advantage”, which I must change at some stage – well, I certainly hope I can come up with something a bit more stimulating!
The story begins in the London of 1970. The sixties have swung their last, and Britain is struggling with seismic political and cultural change. Sex has become commonplace with the pill now well-established, and there is plenty of experimentation going on. London still buzzes with the excesses of the fashion and entertainment worlds, but amongst its police corruption is rife, and in some boroughs nattily-dressed gang leaders rule their fiefdoms with oddly skewed but sternly enforced moral codes.
But at heart, this is still a conservative, buttoned-up country. The central characters are two young women, Nina and Georgie, who apply for jobs as trainee croupiers in a casino company. Nina is initially shy and has been brought up to assume that her husband knows best. She is still grieving for the baby she miscarried. Georgie is a fun, flirty girl who would love to have swung through the sixties, but she is sole carer and provider for her mother, an ailing ex-actress with whom she lives in a grim, draughty flat; there is never enough money.
The lives of Nina and Georgie change utterly when they start work at the casino; its tawdry glamour has a transformative effect. Plenty happens as the girls experience a new sense of freedom, enjoy friendships, party, mix and match, and see a darker side of Swinging London.
My own ten years of experiences as a croupier and later a pit boss have been a huge source of inspiration, but I see the book as having a feminist undertow. Although the movement had its formative years in the seventies, with Grier, Friedan and Steinem amongst its heralds, the sexism which women still faced daily was deeply ingrained, and by today’s standards, mind-boggling. We may not be 100% there yet, but by God, we’ve come a helluva way.
2. How does my work differ from others in the same genre?
Hmm, now what genre would that be? It isn’t just me; some of my predecessors on the Writing Process Tour have had similar issues with this question. “The market” (Agents? Publishers? Readers? Amazon? Waterstones?) loves these arbitrary confines, probably because it makes life easier for its arrangers, not to mention its accountants! (See my blog “A Plague on All Your Genres!”)
However, to the task: I suppose if I must cite distinguishing features, I think I write in a particularly English way. Not that I’m unique in that, of course. But I have been surprised and delighted to attract any attention at all in the US, let alone sales, let alone some benevolent reviews. My humour tends to be dry and occasionally a little whimsical. I don’t always couple-up the obvious candidates. I like characters to have less fashionable flaws than hot tempers, rebelliousness, addictive behaviour and so on; often awkwardness, vanity, carelessness and repression rather better suit who they are.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Naturally stories spring from subjects which interest me: domestic abuse and control issues, the sexuality spectrum, personality disorders, feminism, the adaptability of people faced with radical change, and the psychology of relationships, for example. And although I used to regret not having been to University, I now see the breadth of experience I have (not always!) enjoyed as being hugely beneficial for material.
Besides working in the gaming industry I have spent time running a business, becoming knowledgeable about gemstones and jewellery and their care and repair; I have spent many a late hour labouring over an engraving machine, inscribing sports trophies, or tokens of love; I have cleaned toilets, worked in a factory, sold door-to-door. I have committed crime. A great education for a writer.
And like most writers, I collect people. In crowds, on the bus, across the counter. I watch, hoovering up their quirks and mannerisms, their magnificent story-faces, their humour, their style, their humanity. A few long-lost people have been transferred almost complete to the page; I need to express my love and regret by bringing them back. Others are composites. But they all live, and have full lives outside my story. Writing makes Frankensteins of us all.
4. How does my writing process work?
As Stephen King, author of the essential “On Writing” points out, a story can start with a mundane, maybe static scene, and a “what if”. This can work particularly well for a short story, and has done for me. But for books, I want to recycle reality.
In both “Out Late with Friends and Regrets” and “House Advantage”, situations and incidents are based on experience, but the story is a story. It’s quite a job convincing people at times that although the book may have autobiographical foundations, the architechture above ground level is a construct of the imagination!
Scenes from the rough head-draft tend to play out like film clips in front of my inner eye, and when characters talk and interact I need to catch them in the moment. So I often end up with a file full of scenes and dialogues which may require some shuffling before finding their proper place. It doesn’t sound very organised, does it? And I like to be organised (OCD, some might say) in other spheres – see my lists! But book writing is a strange and individual process.
Logging the writing accomplished on Writing Day is a habit. Word count, cumulative total, a sentence on content and sometimes plot notes are useful, and these are recorded in an A4 spiral-bound notebook.
I admire writers with a brisk workrate, especially those who can write evenings and nights, sometimes with a family and/or breadwinning job to contend with too. My process is exasperatingly slow, with one day per week (more if possible) set aside for the task. Creative Writing lore usually advises the writer to blast through the first draft (“The first draft is always shite” as one of my open studies course tutors, an engaging Irishman, used to say) and do a heroic job of slash and burn second time round. Why can’t I do that? Because not, that’s why. Writing even half a page compels me do tweaks and edits, and I have to go over and over it till it reaches its initial, but far from final, stage of rightness. And that’s not the end; the perfect word or phrase can offer itself when I’m teaching a fitness class, or in bed asleep, or on the loo. My writing brain is the workaholic that I am not.
I gather that I am unusual in that I like the radio on, pop and rock, when I write. I’ve got to be able to see out (desk facing a blank wall? Are you mad?) and I like the door open to the rest of the house. Alone is good, but isolated is not.
So like the wheels of God, the writing process grinds exceeding slow. It would be good to have the first draft of House Advantage done by the end of the year. Really good. Wish me luck.
Next on the tag list: Andrea Bramhall, http://andreabramhall.wordpress.com/ – Keep it going!