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.

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Christmas present

From Lulu (publishing) My first edit copy of Smithi, and I’m pleased with the way it looks after a quick glance – cover not developed yet. There is something so totally amazing about receiving a book through the post after you have loaded up a PDF and sent it off some time back – bye, onto the next thing, almost forgotten, and then wow! a book, of mine! pages, words, paragraphs . . . mistakes, lots of, no doubt, but it’s so exciting!

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Yep . . . that point again. What to do next – which way to follow – which project to start/re-start.

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But it feels all right this limbo stage; I’m not suffering from the blank page thing, more a need to concentrate on one idea at a time. Hoxton, the novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years, is now being looked at with a regard to some possible action happening, agent -wise, and the follow-on book, Smithi, is finished up to serious editing point.

So where to go while I’m sort of . . .  waiting for the possible action. I’d quite like to spend some time putting my various blogs into book form – being someone who imagines the Net could just evaporate at any point; then there’s several follow-up book ideas beyond Smithi; a story about souls; a story about cryogenics, and my latest idea – to develop one of my short stories into a novel. So far this one is winning and I’ve started on a few chapters – an interesting exercise and perhaps good to get away from London 2070 – the place and time my mind has largely inhabited for the last few years.

 

 

 

And finally . . .

I have my style sorted for ‘Smithi’s drawings. – Following on from previous posts. I have finished (until an editor peruses it in detail) the second in my series of novels set in 2070 (amended from 2090). Each chapter will have a heading either in the form of a letter written on the main character’s travels, or a sketch depicting his surroundings or thoughts.

Below, a sketch of the ‘horse-letter-man’ who visits the pub where ‘Smithi’ temporarily resides  – the Cat and Fiddle in the Peak district – (second highest pub in the UK; the highest being in Swaledale, Yorkshire).

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And Smithi’s inky-splashed sketch of the soaked Peaks during an unproductive mushroom-gathering forage; after which he returns to the pub to encounter the sinister Reverend Christie.

 

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Visual information through other eyes

In my book Hoxton the sketches are ‘made’ by one of the characters, Jarvis. In the follow on book, Smithi, I am again using sketches, this time in the form of the main character’s diary /notebook as he travels from the Peak district to Londonia, after escaping from the Domes of Manchestershire (both stories are set in 2070).

The tricky part is making the handwriting and drawing sufficiently different from that of Jarvis. Of course I could ask someone else to do it, but in order to keep costs down and enjoy a further challenge, well . . . I’ll see how it goes.

Some try-outs of style, pen, pencil etc.

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An extract from the book when the main character, Smithi (a teacher of botany) escapes from the Domes into Out-side and encounters real and non-genetically-aided plants for the first time.

 

My shoulders tense, brain scrambling for rational thoughts: there are none. I have no idea what will happen. No idea . . . Crunch. The truck hits the photoscene material, pushing it aside. The speed has slowed with the impact. Careless now, I swipe a finger over the screen – reverse. Finger pushing up – maximum speed.

    The sudden sound of footsteps makes my stomach flip.

    “Hey. You in the C25. Stop!”

     I squint back to see one of the guys from the glass room. He’s gaining. The Camionette is perhaps a yard from the wall.

    I yell: “Go back — the gas will get you!”

    The footsteps stop. He’s shouting for security. Too late. The C25 hits the wall and the existing small crack zig-zags into a jagged gap. The motor cuts with a final-sounding grunt. God’s own shit. I look around wildly.  People are approaching, dark blue uniforms, guns out of holders. I have seconds. Leaping out from the cab, I drag the bag and stumble towards the gap. A bullet zings past my head and lodges into a loudspeaker; another rasps the white cloth of my disguise. Grabbing a metal tube, I smash at the wall. Pieces fall, the gap just big enough. I pull myself and the bag through, cloth ripping, skin burning. Bullets rebound, shouts fill my ears.

    “Get him.”

    “No crapping way – the gas!”

    “Do it!”

    “Call the engineers – get this covered – leave him – he’s a dead man. Crazy bleeder.”

    The voices diminish to a drone as I run and run, eyes to the ground, not thinking, just fearful of a bullet streaking into my flesh. Then I trip, something catching my foot. I collapse into soft greenery and lie for a long time, face down, breathing in raw plant smells, unable to turn and look at what I have escaped to.

    My lungs calm; the racing pulse slows. I am alive. I laugh crazily at my improvised words – ‘The Gas will get you.’  A sound nearby stops silences me. No gas . . . but what other dangers. Raising myself slightly I turn my head to see an ambling spiky creature; its small black eyes regard me for a moment then it carries on snuffling amongst the leaves.

    I twist round and sit still staring at the animal. The word ‘hedgehog’ appears in my mind: Grandada describing them: ‘Good f’garden they were, Smithi – ate slugs un’t like.’

    My gaze wanders from the animal. I sit in a street, or what was a street; the road surface just visible between bushes, grass and brambles. A tree grows in a wrecked house opposite, its branches sprouting absurdly from the roof. The building next door had been a shop, the glass frontage smashed, bare bones of empty shelves pale lines in the dark interior.

    Looking up above the rows of buildings, my mind anticipates opaque curves but my eyes tell of something else: the sky. In the domes it had been the month of Seventem; just a word that meant a division of time. Out here it is colour, smells, sounds and temperature. How incredibly strange to feel a breeze on my face. The air is warm but with a tinge of freshness that hints of cold when the sun leaves the sky. I think of the bag: jumpers, scarves and the matches that the girl gave me. Why had I not asked her how she had known of my thoughts? An odd child, always apart from the others.

    I lie back into the grass and let my mind wander away from the classroom, from crowds, from the domes. Clouds are extraordinary; they grow and shrink, the edges boiling and swirling. Directly above two dragons approach each other mutating slowly, one to a dog shape the other a long-billed bird. The sky is an intense blue at the top, gradually fading to opal above the lower rooftops and golden-leaved trees.

    I feel so overwhelmingly happy. I want to shout manically but fearing what might hear me, I content myself with digging out a notebook and pen from my bag. I will write down every emotion, record everything.

    A shaky sketch of the street completed I add a note of the flora surrounding me:

    Silver Birch, Plane – vast, English Oak and Deciduous Oak; lauristinous in profusion, ivy, welsh poppy, honesty, about twenty different grasses . . . the list is endless. Stashing the book, I stand up and look around, elation ebbing a little as I consider practical issues – food. My small supply won’t last more than a couple of meals and little, or actually, no thought was given to after that.

    As I search for an apple in the bag my hand clasps around a small metal disc – my grandfather’s compass. So, amongst all the madness I had remembered something ultra-practical . . . I decide on southwards thinking of approaching winter; heave the bag onto my shoulder and set off down a once noble street.

 

Stalking the plot

Why do writers get drawn to a particular place when setting stories? Familiarity obviously, knowing your patch of earth and not writing total inaccuracies, yes, but to me its more than that. The characters have to feel alive in their placings, whether content or uneasy there; and I have to feel a connection with the environment to make the words convincing.

Not always the case totally. I’ve invented parts of deserts, the outskirts of Las Vegas, the interior of a mega-yaght, outer space and heaven; not so easy to visit as, in my case, London – my default choice.

London: place of my childhood and a large part of my adult life – I still find myself checking, (with horror-widened eyes) the price of a nine square meter box-flat in Bloomsbury every now and then . . .

I visit when I can; plan a day of galleries and museums and then find myself walking and walking, like a slightly arthritic greyhound let out from a trap in my sub-consciously chosen direction for that day.

Two nights ago I sat in my rented nine meter-squared box – (part of the wonderfully cheap and homely St Athans hotel in afore-mentioned Bloomsbury) and planned my ‘flaneur’ day. This time I had a sort of self-imposed directive: my character Smithi’s walk from Shoreditch church to the Princess of Wales pub on Lea bridge Road and back via the Hackney marshes. Although the tale is set in 2070 and everything would be no doubt somewhat different . . .  I wanted to walk the route – Google Earth is incredible but not the same thing as actually pacing the roads.

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Starting point outside the hotel

 

I left the hotel at 5.30 (insomniac writer) and walked – a lot, in the wrong direction, retraced my tracks and found all sorts of new places I’d never seen before such as St Georges gardens and a building called the Horse Hospital. I also wasted a lot of time trying to find a café that would resemble the steamy, formica interiors of my student-hood. Nope. In the hypercenter all those soul-warming places have disappeared under a tsunami of Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Sob.

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The pub, Lea Bridge Road and boats

As, these days, my legs protest at too much striding I allowed the flaneur activity to include a bus: the number 10 to Clapton pond – not quite the same process as buses tend to stick to their decreed routes and don’t veer off, distracted to then take a new and undiscovered path. There is a pond! – smallish with ducks and trees surrounded by throbbing traffic and sulking pigeons.  I walked on to the pub, which was was closed but I paced around it imagining the lama-roasting scenario I had planned – (good that works), then continued along the river lea and towards the Hackney Marshes, via an intriguing area of ancient reed beds used for filtering the water from the Lea; onwards over a metal bridge, up Millfields lane, stopped at the wonderfully-named Cooper and Wolf  café (formica and ancient stuff, great tea and buns, yes!) up Mare street, Clapton Rd, Graham Rd and onto Kingsland Rd and St Leonard’s Church where I flopped onto a pew and imagined the interior of the vestry that features largely in my series of books.

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Wilderness within London

So, the plot route was walked, photographed, sketched and is now firmly planted in my mind. Now to rewrite that section with all the colour and noise of streets and the strange tranquility of the river Lea, reed beds and the marshes.