Monday, 24 September 2007

G K Chesterton

'A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.'

This quote is from G K Chesterton, a favourite of mine. He is best known for the Father Brown stories (with which, it is said, he incidentally converted himself to Roman Catholicism). But my favourite book of his is The Man Who Was Thursday, worth reading if you haven't.

He wrote poetry too. One I like so much that I have learned it (no easy task for me, it took weeks) is The Last Hero.

It is a poem full of wild romance, about a hero who is having a truly terrible day. His enemies have taken over his ancestral home, and are hunting him down. He has walked twenty miles through pouring rain, knowing they will overtake him. The woman he loves hated him. But he remains cheerful and full of appetite for life.

I recite it to myself when feeling hard done by, or when caught in a downpour. Great stuff.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Inspiration, re-drafting, rewriting...

What would you do if you lost your manuscript?

This actually happened to Jilly Cooper, who left the one copy of her just-finished novel on a bus after a good lunch with her agent. One can only imagine the weeks of hope and despair before the poor woman sat down to write the whole thing over again...

But without the excitement and discovery of a first draft. Flipping between trying to recall the old version, and just writing it anew. Thinking it still possible that the original might turn up...and being completely certain that the first rendition was better.

I have experienced this in a minor way, when I suffered a series of computer crashes over a period of months. I bought a second computer (belt and braces) then, come the next failure, discovered that they had not been programmed to back each other up at night as I'd thought. In the end, after a week of nail biting, it transpired I'd only lost one scene. But, do you know, I still think it lacks something the original had.

Now, in case the workshop burns down, I print out the books every two thousand words or so, and take them home, where I add them to a wobbly stack; geological layers of Rising Fire and Trav Zander, going back through time to my earliest efforts.

Friday, 7 September 2007

An egg or a nest?

The difference between a short story and a novel...

A short story is an egg, a novel is a bird's nest. For me, a short story pops into my head in one piece, and by the time I've written it down, it's finished, complete, and I'm unlikely to make any but the most minor changes. This process takes four to six hours.

A novel is quite different, and takes much longer. I start with an idea of what it will be like, then as I write I go back, make alterations, add scenes, and incorporate things I observe day to day. Like the blackbird who built a nest in my balcony bay tree; string, cellophane and the odd bit of wire she came across in the urban landscape were all woven into the construction, and the earth below was littered with discarded twigs and leaves.

As I queued for fish in Waitrose, a man pushed in front of me. I remonstrated, he was rude, and another man took my side. The instant aggression that sprung up between the two men was startling. It seemed they might hit each other.

My one thought was, I've underwritten the altercation with Farren and Edric...must change it.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Says it all...

"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public."

Sir Winston Churchill