Saturday, 23 August 2008


Well, the Bassist is celebrating his clean sweep of As at the Reading Festival and the Ultimate Frisbee Freak has gone to London for the Notting Hill Carnival so I should be getting down to work. But I've done something to my shoulder and sitting at the laptop isn't much fun, so I think it's going to have to wait a couple of days. V. frustrating. Still, nice to be back in the South East after the incessant rain and cloud we always seem to take with us to West Wales. Of which visit, more when muscles aren't complaining...

Thursday, 14 August 2008


Well, it's clearly the Ultimate Frisbee Freak's summer. Three days back from playing in the world ultimate championships in Vancouver where his team (GB under 19s) got to the semi-finals, he has now made a clean sweep of A-grades in his four A levels. What a star! Takes his proud mother's mind of the wip that's for certain!

Next week, the Bassist's GCSE results...

Meanwhile we're away for a few days playing frisbee and seeing grandparents variously. I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Notes and the first person plural

My notes for whatever I happen to be working on usually take the form of spider diagrams done in pencil (love the flow of a propelling pencil on paper...) in lined spiral bound A4 notebooks(difficult to get unlined, I would if I could, but don't want to pay lots) . These gobbets of thought generally discuss what happens, why and how in any given scene (or even conversation) but, occasionally, I have discussions with myself, in pencil, about where or how the scene should go. In these discussions, I address myself in the first person plural, as in 'do we think it's a good idea to...?, 'shall we get x to do y..?'

This has only recently struck me as odd, despite the fact that I know I've been doing it for two decades or so. Does anybody else address themselves this way, or am I alone in this particular kind of personal identity instability?

Friday, 8 August 2008

Hearing voices

Narrative voice. Authors are preoccupied by it but it seems hardly to be mentioned by critics/reviewers. Or maybe I’m just not reading the right reviews.
Reviews seem to concentrate on two, or maybe three things:
1. do the characters strike the reader as ‘real’ and their actions convincing given the personality which has been built up?
2. is the plot credible?
3. (depending on the type of book) is the pace of the book right?

OK, fair enough, if you can’t get those things right, why are you bothering? But why are we all struggling with narrative voice and structure if these things are never given a look-in at the critical table?

There are writers who have ‘a voice’ which doesn’t vary from book to book, one could hear their voice from any of their novels. Hemingway springs to mind, as does Austen, Dickens and Hardy.
But there are others of us – you can tell I’m indluding myself here as I’ve used the first person plural – whose voice depends on whose point of view we’re writing in. Which means that our ‘voice’ may feel different in each book or at different points in each individual book.

The trouble is, it’s possible to get a bit carried away with voice/s.

In the previous version of the work in progress, events were narrated by three different voices (three in the present day, anyway, there’s also - surprise surprise - a historical voice which has changed a lot less in the rewrite). A problem ensued - each character had so much of their own stuff going on (to ensure that 1 above was taken care of) that the central events of the book had a tendency to get lost in the noise (leaving 3 above very definitely not taken care of). The book was about too many things, too many people. It rambled.

Don’t get me wrong - I liked each of the characters, I’d spent a lot of time and effort in developing each of their individual voices and I’d become fond of them. It was hard to give them up. But the structure of the book suffered because of the extent to which each of the voices belonged to a fully-developed person with ideas of their own about what was happening and lives of their own which were going on against the backdrop of the central events. What didn’t work was the relative weight I’d allowed each character to give to their own lives in relation to the novel’s central events.

The current version of the story has only one viewpoint character in the present day and one in the nineteenth century. It’s a lot easier. And 1, 2 and 3 above are falling into line nicely.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Things are looking better

It’s been a good week. When I decided that the work in progress needed to stop progressing and go into reverse in order to sort out characters and movement at the beginning of the action, I had racked up almost 106,000 words (353 pages). As of yesterday, I have re-written the first 44,000 words (155 pages) to my much greater satisfaction. So, despite the fact that I have enjoyed a minimal amount of the fantastic weather we’ve been having this week, I feel that the week has been well spent and the work is back on track. The character who had so concerned me has now assumed more of the space she should occupy in the book and events have fallen into a better rhythm around her. And, because relationships in the book are now better defined, other plotlines have assumed a greater degree of clarity as motivations come to the fore and I have been able to foreshadow things which (I know because I’ve already written them, now) come later in the book.

I’ve gone from knowing that something was wrong and almost being afraid to look in case more was wrong than I thought (don’t forget I’ve already put a previous version based on the same idea, which ran to 120 000 words, on a shelf somewhere with ‘OK but not good enough’ mentally stamped on to it) to facing up to the structural inadequacies of the narrative, setting about it, getting it right (or right enough for now) and now facing the rewriting of the middle section of the book with far more equanimity.
Which is a considerable relief.
Stephen King says you need to write a first draft to find out what your book is about. Not only is that true in my case but I’ve discovered that sometimes I need to write the first draft to find out how best to tell the story too. Emma Darwin’s current blog has this quote from a ‘how-to’ book: Shitty First Drafts: "All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts."

Here’s hoping!