Saturday, 22 December 2007

Reading and writing over Christmas

Firstly, sorry about the abrupt change back to this 'look' for the blog but I was being driven mad by the font difficulties on the other one. Think of it as a new year's resolution, only early.
Anyway, on with the post.
Will I get any writing done over the Christmas holidays? Extremely unlikely – I find it really difficult to work with anybody else in the house, never mind in the same room as me. So, as the Other Half has all of next week off (hooray!) and the Ultimate Frisbee Freak and the Bassist will both be here work on the book will probably go out of the window.
Having said that, there is stuff I can do, editing being a completely different animal to creating something - the difference between washing up and having created the meal in the first place, I reckon – so I may do some of that.

Stephen King, in On Writing, which I had occasion to mention here a while ago says that one of the things you need a first draft for is to see what your book is really about. Not the story, but what preoccupations and themes lie beneath the story. When he comes to read the first draft of a book, about six weeks after finishing it (during which time, he says, it will be ‘aging, and (one hopes) mellowing’) he says he is

‘..looking for what I meant, because in the second draft I’ll want to add scenes and incidents that reinforce that meaning. I’ll also want to delete stuff that goes in other directions.’

I found that an incredibly helpful comment. How, I wondered, have I written four books - one about to be published, for goodness sake! - without knowing that that was what I was supposed to be doing on my read-through of the first draft? Maybe that’s why Testament had to go through so many revisions, because I didn’t really know what it was about until I finally got to grips with my story and got the contemporary narrative to really resonate with the historical thread.

It had always been my intention to have the dual narratives in Testament act as glosses on each other, each informing the reader’s understanding of the other, rather than just have a plot-driven book where the modern-day characters simply needed to solve the mystery of Kineton and Dacre College’s foundation in order to sort out their own, twenty-first century problems. (Though they do that as well.) But I don’t think I’d really worked out what my book was about at a deeper level. Where was it all coming from? Once I’d realised that it was about picking yourself up after disappointments and shattered expectations and living your life with what you had rather than what you wished you had, I was away.

With the work in progress, since reading that piece of advice from Stephen King, I’ve been consciously reflecting on the story every now and again and working out what it is about; what the story means for each of my characters and for the shape and flavour of the book as a whole. I think that’s going to be especially important for the climax – that scene towards which everything should be tending, where tensions are released and disparate strands are brought together made.

I think I might have a go at doing some of that kind of reflection over the holidays rather than trying to move the book forward by producing new stuff. It will probably help when I come to re-start in the New Year as I’ll have an even clearer idea of where the book is going and why. That’s if I can tear myself away from the stack of books I’m hoping to get for Christmas…

Having said that, I’m still working my way through my birthday haul with Karin Slaughter’s Skin Privilege, Joanne Harris’s The Lollipop Shoes, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Peter Ho Davies’s The Welsh Girl and Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance still to read and David Baldacci’s The Camel Club only just started. The joys of being a slow reader!

So, hopefully, it’s going to be a fab book-filled Christmas. Instead of writing, I shall indulge my other passion and read incessantly. But I am slightly worried aobut when I am going to find time to learn how to use the breadmaker I know the Other Half and I are getting from her family. Any tips for machine- breadmaking from book-blog-readers?


Akasha Savage said...

Hi Alis. Relax and enjoy your Christmas. I too am taking a break from writing...although someone needs to inform my characters, they keep taking over my thoughts!

Glad On Writing came in useful! x

Leigh Russell said...

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year

David Isaak said...

Tip on breadmakers:

They usually works just fine, but even when they fail they make your house smell wonderful. So think of it as an incense machine--and if edible bread results, count that as an unexpected benefit.

And, oh, yeah--it's amazing how much junk (double the number of cranberries, for example) you can add if you toss in more yeast than the recipe recommends. Although sometimes this results in really TALL bread...