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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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 . . .

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Finished? Nah . . .

Well, possibly, or at least certainly moving in the right direction.

 

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Latest version of the manuscript being sent off with its own aged map of the East End and foreword by Jake the Prophet.

I found what I think was ‘draft six’ this morning while having a shelf clear-out – a slim-ish volume of about two hundred pages. I can just about remember thinking when I unwrapped it, fresh from ‘Aunty Lulu’, ‘Yup, reckon this is the one’ . . . then ten minutes later finding about fifteen faults and knowing the whole process will have to start again. It usually takes about a day to settle in, this realisation; a slight gloom drifting over me until the ‘sorting it out’ urge kicks in and I’m away again, happily typo-hunting and adding/subtracting needed and un-needed chunks of prose.

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  Not sure where 1,2,3,4,5 are . . . 

It’s an odd (and some would say lonely) thing, writing, not just the actual pen to paper, digit to keyboard but all the other stages: rounding up a rampaging idea, rough drafts, fairly solid-looking spiral bound manuscripts, a trial copy, re-writes, BIG edits, small edits, typo edits, adding chapters, etc. But in the later stages when people really start reading and commenting, adding useful thoughts and sometimes suggesting vast deforestation (a tad disturbing at the time but usually 99% invaluable)  it becomes less of a lonely occupation and more of a team effort. Recently I’ve had some excellent help; suggestions that made me wince a little at the thought of the amount of manuscript archaeology that would be involved, but it’s all good stuff, brain-flexing, writer-muscle building and laying down work practices for the next tome . . .

On the same dust-ridden shelf, I also found my first ever (or at least one that Mum kept) story book. Written in pencil (and coloured pencil!) in a khaki-green school exercise book, this particular tale describes a crocodile eating a small boy – with a correction by Mrs War (I still remember her, with fear) for not using the past tense of eat.

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Words brought to life

Following on from last post.

Two photos by Nick Lockett of Paddy and Debbie Turner performing extracts from Hoxton, featuring Mark Lockett on suitably ropey accordion.

A few props, excellent acting and some well-honed accents brought the Londonia 2070 streets to Wirksworth Town Hall.

Thanks all of you!

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