Blank page banishment

So, follow-up book to my latest – The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book. Where to go, what to do and which characters to involve.

I spent a couple of days performing usual tasks – turning a dollar, putting washing on, walking dogs, making lists, and, feeling ill at ease with myself. I like that grounding feeling of the on-going project even though there’s editing to be done, maybe chunky re-writes and agents to try and beguile. I need the early morning fix of the big idea; the lines and paragraphs that will gradually meld into another 90,000 odd words to be tweaked, sworn over, possibly abandoned or hopefully read and enjoyed by others.

So, in my writing studio this morning, (bed with many pillows, cushions, tea, etc) I just wrote stuff, quite a lot of stuff; my brain soon became engaged (mostly) and I was enjoying the process, whatever the outcome. That seems , for me anyway, the way to work when faced with the scary empty screen page with pulsing cursor at the top – a clock marking time, or the notebook and chewed pencil.

I like this quote by David Mitchell on the subject:

A blank page is also a door – it contains infinity, like a night sky with a supermoon really close to the Earth, with all the stars and galaxies, where you can see very, very clearly . . . You know how that can make your heart beat faster?

 

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Sevens into sevens

I sat back after pressing the ‘make yourself an edit copy’ on Lulu publishing yesterday and realised it was the seventh time I’ve done this – (well, not ordering copies – that would have to be well into the forties or so, counting all the edit copies in total I’ve requested) – the seventh time as in the seventh book. Seven novels in seven years . . . quite a lot of ink, paper, worn computer keys and brain-space in all . . .

Now along-side the agent-hunting, social-media and the rest of real life, I need the next rolling project – the thing that keeps me on track with writing. So far it’s a follow up to the book I’ve just finished (at least to edit trawl) – The Hundred and Eighty-Fifth book; a novel-version of an odd little short story called The Katbells Fishing Community; the third in the Londonia/Hoxton series, or perhaps something else that hasn’t occurred to me yet apart from odd tweaks of thoughts and ideas.

If it is the follow up to the 158th it’ll be futuristic, set in London – or what’s left of it – possibly a large domed commune atop Hampstead Heath where the inhabitants spend quite a lot of their lives playing vast jigsaws. Anyway, I’m off back to the city soon, so I’ll indulge in much walking, thinking and plotting and hopefully the idea will become entrenched enough to start off my new daily writing workout.

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Website

I think I do need one – mainly to grab together all the loose bits of ‘me’ information out there. My brother has promised to help ‘build me’ one but in the meantime here’s a mock up of the opening page I would imagine to exist out there in web-land – sort of.

If he’s really clever, and I think he is, You, the public, will be able to click on a photo of me and find a short biography; click on various books – Hoxton, Dog, and other tales, Going out in the midday sun, The hundred and fifty-eighth book . . . and a notebook perhaps which will then reveal a page of my sketches and musings over characters/places/overheard conversations, etc. Oh, and a few links to this blog and the another one, Goodreads reviews, and so on. Simple.

He said it’s a bit like writing a book only easier . . . for someone who has just about mastered turning the computer on and off, the idea of ‘building’ something like his own wonderful website is utterly beyond me. Watch this space, as they say . . .

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Editing and re-write time

This morning I typed in a sentence, checked the word count and clopped the lid of the laptop down – end of the first draft of The hundred and fifty-eighth book. There’s a vast plain stretching out ahead of corrections, continuity problems, dates to check, characters to complete, people to beguile into reading, etc etc, but it’s always an interesting feeling – to step back from making up a world in your head and re-join normal life without the ‘so what might happen when Hamish meets so and so’ stuff going on, at least quite so much.

I’ve started imagining a follow-on story, as is often the case when I’ve grown fond of a character and it seems odd to wave goodbye as if from a train disappearing around a bend – ‘wait, no! let’s get together again – soon, a chat, tell me how it’s going . . . we could work on something else perhaps . . .

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One of the photos I will make into pen and ink drawings for the book, taken on a frigid January day 2017

 

To state or not to state

I don’t really set out to write with any particular age group in mind – well, perhaps not ‘kids’ as the language and occasional scenes might not be appropriate – mind you after being told to fuck off by a three year old when I had stopped to tie a shoe-lace outside his gate when I was last in the UK – maybe not . . .

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Anyway, I’ve just been told by someone in the ‘industry’ that it must be stated, categorised, pigeon-holed, marked out and carved in stone – what is the age of the reader? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve had readers of twenty through to eighty-five and many in between who all seem to chomp their way through the book and give hearty feedback.

I was greatly pleased to find this wonderful Will Self talking to Will Self ‘interview’ where, amongst other subjects he discusses this very thing and concludes that it is probably a mistake to alienate possible audiences though stating ‘reader age’.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/video/2014/sep/03/will-self-interviews-will-self-video

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I remember my mother raising an eyebrow when I was in the middle of reading Papillon when I was twelve and then notching the brow a tad higher when I came back with a copy of Sexus, ‘borrowed’ from the shelves where I used to babysit as a fourteen year-old. I don’t think it did me any harm, and how many ‘Oldies’ have I seen on trains reading Harry Potter and teen vampire stuff? I don’t suppose anyone envisaged such a readership crossover at the time of the initial editorial meetings.

Mobile writing room

I have a lot of train journeys coming up.  I could have hired a car for but why? What luxury to be seated on a train with ever-changing landscape and fascinating tail-ends of cities to observe – all those gardens, kitchens, sheds and conservatories to look out on; all those other lives to imagine. The comfort of a rattling tea trolly or bar to visit, and conversations to listen into and jot down, AND you can write, think, muse and not have to steer anything except yourself occasionally to the loo.

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Apart from walking and swimming, I’ve probably had more writing ideas on trains than anywhere else – something about the movement and the gentle hum of voices and ready material all around.

I can still recall London train journeys from my childhood: sitting on bumbling old trains with that particular itchy seat cloth, looking out on stringy suburban gardens as we took an overground to Kew, or got off at Mortlake – or some other such marvellously bizarre named station. Clapham junction, Blackhorse Road, Wapping, Gospel Oak, Turkey Street, Seven sisters, Hatch End, Bushy . . . poetry in motion.

New approaches

I’ve tried approaching agents before but a tad half-heartedly – bang off the required pages and a quick fairly standard letter but after reading some generously – ‘put out there’ stuff by established authors about their own missions I thought, yep, the way to attack this is like any other styling or art project I’ve ever done: like a brief and thoroughly.

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I’m sleuthing now, not idly flipping through a few web-site pages. I need to find out what each person really wants: friendly warm approach or to the point information; potted life history or just facts about the proposed novel, or all of that or none of that. And above all will they cast an eye over the genre I am proposing and think, ‘God, no’. No point then. Move on.

So. What to do?

I gathered things I like: an old hardback book of music that husband never plays – now my sleuthing book to be filled with agent info, letters sent, dates etc; fountain pens, ink, nice paper et al, and made a special place where everything is ready to go anytime I have the time to work up another ‘dossier’ to send off.

They take time these compilations. Every submission requires a separate and different approach, different numbers of pages/chapters, short synopsis, detailed synopsis, reference to similar books, or not, etc. But it can be viewed as a challenge, each book submission something to be sure of and confident of. I need to be ready, after all, for when I receive that computer email ‘ping’ announcing We-like-the idea-of-your-book associates’s interest in seeing the whole manuscript . . .