A girl can dream

Being mentored through my first draft is proving hugely beneficial. I’m learning faster than I expect I could through any other route I could follow whilst maintaining a full-time working life. I’m also convinced that my draft is already tighter and more compelling by a considerable margin, than I could ever make it without my mentor’s guidance.

The downside – and it’s not a downside as such – is the more I learn, the more I realise how much my earlier writing (perhaps the first third or more of the draft) will have to change. I have a good grasp of what I need to do. When I come to edit I’ll be discarding great chunks of that first third (including one or two of those hard-to-murder darlings), rewriting scenes, re-engineering characters, checking and double-checking the integrity of my POVs, verifying research, modifying language and probably crying myself to sleep every night. But even now, almost finished with my first draft and anticipating the rout, I’m excited about how it’s all coming together.

I wonder, am I optimistic or naive when I permit myself to think I may just have the makings of a good read on my hands? When I allow myself to dream that I can smell the freshly printed pages; that I can hear myself reading to a room full of people and answering questions on why I chose this or that setting, or what prompted me to bring such-and-such a character to the story; that I can feel the weight of the pen in my hand as I sign copies of my debut novel at a fashionable literary festival; that I can see my Facebook page packed with likes as I update fans on when my second novel is due; that I can feel the chill of the air-conditioned room, with fresh fruit and Danish pastries on the table, where I’m discussing my forthcoming TV mini-series with media executives… (OK, maybe that’s a bit far-fetched, but this is a dream, right?).

But for now it’s another day and another 1,000 words before breakfast. Oh yes, and it’s about time I set up that Facebook page.

“As you know…”

I’m around 25% of the way through possibly the most poorly written novel I’ve ever read.  I was off on a short break and was seeking Kindle-based reading matter; this particular story cost me less than £2 to download.  I know, I know, that should have been a clue.   But it had a ton of 5-star reviews, so even though it hadn’t been recommended by anybody I know (that’s my usual lead-in to a new author) I figured it was worth a look.

It started well, but as I read, my astonishment grew.  How come there were so many solid 5-star reviews praising the quality of the writing, plotting and so on, when to me it felt clunky and characterless?  Worst still, it was swamped with the sort of sudden-death contrivances which cause editors to throw manuscripts across the room in despair – the as-you-knows and all that.

In theory, anybody can publish a novel on Kindle.  So, in a world where the overwhelming majority of manuscripts get rejected by traditional publishers, should we novice authors be excited by the possibility that we can get our books out there without the support of agents, editors and publishing houses?  Or should we dread the tsunami of self-indulgent, shoddily written, unedited narratives that will be the inevitable result of such freedom?  Might they not overwhelm the traditional printed book and dumb-down the reading experience?

To have and to hold

I love audiobooks – as my earlier post proclaims.  I love being read to, especially when a narrator’s voice perfectly complements a story.  I love the way they enable me to cover more literary (and even not-so-literary) ground than I would otherwise have time for.

At Christmas I was given a Kindle and I find I love this too.  Now I can have 4 or 5 books in my handbag wherever I go.  I don’t have to second-guess myself; I can pick and choose what to read according to my mood or the segment of time I want to fill.  Will it be a racy plot-driven thriller or an oh-so-clever prizewinning literary masterpiece?  Perhaps a treatise on the existence of God or an analysis of high-fat, low carb versus calorie-counting?

But I’ve always loved real, actual, physical books most of all.  I love the feel of them when they’re new; that crisp-cut brick of pages, virgin spine, pristine and unsullied.  And I love them too, when they’ve been read to bits, when the spine is bent back and creased a dozen times, the pages have gone a bit curly; there’s evidence of lunch or suntan lotion, corners turned down to mark favourite sections.  That’s when they take up residence in my bookshelves – betraying all evidence of my pleasure in the reading.  My books – the ones I’ve enjoyed and valued – are a little piece of ‘me’.  I cannot throw a book out, nor even give one away, that has enthralled or entertained me. I want to be near it.

But now I find I have a dilemma.  I read a book on Kindle and I love it.  But where’s the evidence of this?  ‘Soft’ just doesn’t do it.  I listen to a novel, exquisitely read on an audiobook, and the only place it resides is in my iTunes library.  That’s not good enough.

So I’ve taken to purchasing that lovely brick of pristine pages each time I enjoy an audiobook or a Kindle title.  And I make room on my bookshelves for the pages that surprised, entertained or delighted me in their more contemporary formats.

I wonder if I’m alone in this?  If I’m not, and there are hundreds or even thousands of audiobookers and Kindlers out there buying second copies in physical paperback, just to possess them, the book trade perhaps has less to worry about than it sometimes fears.

Reading and learning

I’m soaking up everything I can find on writing fiction at the moment. OK, that’s not strictly true. There is far more written than I can possibly find the time or energy to read, especially if I want to find some time and energy for… writing. Apparently, much of it is of questionable quality too, so I’m told. But here are a few books I’ve already found helpful:

  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M Bickham. Good advice, practical and entertaining at the same time.
  • Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I’m glad I waded through the impenetrable first half of this much recommended book, because the second half turned out to have some very sound advice.
  • Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff. Easy to digest and good advice from the perspective of a writers’ coach.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Advice on technique from a Master, combined with fascinating biographical insights. A must-read, whatever your preferred genre.
  • Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Very usable advice, particularly on two major stumbling-blocks for new authors – showing-not-telling and choosing your POVs wisely.

I’m also now reading fiction that doesn’t immediately appeal to me as being “my sort of book”, watching for technique and writerly skills as well as the pleasure of a good story, well told. And on a cold and soggy Sunday and I can think of no better way to pass a few hours than to make a comfortable nest on my sofa, line up a mug of coffee and a biscuit and stick my head in a book.