Friday, 29 March 2013

In spring . . .

In spring – or so I am advised – a young man’s fancy turns to love. Whether or not that applies in this age of touch screens and Twitter I have no real idea but I can confirm that in Marcia’s case the object of her spring fancy is the next book.

This is not unusual: Marcia gets to the end of the book she is writing. This is not to say that the book is written, far from it: she is at the stage most authors refer to as ‘the first draft’. Essentially it means that the skeleton of the book (plus, of course, a lot more) is now in place. There are unlikely to be any new characters but there will be many new scenes. Now comes the hardest part: in conjunction with her agent (who will have read that first draft) places where it is felt that the reader needs more information are identified and then ways and means of providing that have to be discovered. This sounds easy but is far from that.

First the author has to overcome the sheer misery of all this. There is no excitement left: none of the fun associated with listening to and learning new people; none of the adrenaline rush when, after hours in the car quartering the countryside and many disappointments, the locations are finally established. Now, we know the landscape as well as we do our own garden and all the characters have been living with us (and I do mean ‘us’) for over a year. We know far more about them than the readers will discover – which is not to suggest that Marcia withholds information but that she feels she needs to know what has happened ‘off the page’ in order to ensure that all characters are absolutely true to themselves at all times.

She is often asked if she keeps notes about these people and her response is very revealing. ‘Do you keep notes about you father, your siblings, your uncles and aunts? No, of course you don’t. You have no need to because you know them that well. Only when I know my characters as well as I know my sisters do I start to write about them.’

When the book is finished, one of my tasks is to add details of all the new characters and additional information on old characters to the data base I keep so as to ensure that no mistakes are made when characters reappear.

And so it is that when Dinah, Marcia’s agent, says, ‘We need to know more about So-and-so,’ together with other comments, it is time to start at the beginning yet again and thread through these requirements – and to thread them through whilst obeying the following rules:
  • the additional writing must be seamless
  • since everything is always seen only through the eyes of one character at a time, any additional flashbacks or thoughts must be seen through the eyes of that character central to that scene
  • never, ever, must one character tell another something they both know. This is a not uncommon device: ‘Oh, Mabs, I was thinking about giving this to Sandra, your daughter.’ Yes, the reader needs to know the relationship between Mabs and Sandra but this is not the way to impart that particular gem
  • the pace of the book must remain intact
  • the balance of the book must remain intact.

All this whilst wishing to move on because the ideas for the next book are just beginning to form and some of the characters for the next story are tapping on Marcia’s shoulder saying, ‘Hey, listen. This is important’. Which is what happened last Saturday. So we know a little bit about the book in waiting – not much and there will be lots of false leads and blind alleys and this may be all wrong but I will share with you where I am at the moment and, as I am sure you will agree, living with a creative writer itself creates a sense of insanity.

Last week I finished the copy editing of Postcards from the Past which meant I was with one bunch of nutters. Then I was asked to reread the first draft of novel number 24 (it does have a title but you will remember the problems we had when I gave out the working title of The Prodigal Wife so now we will stick to numbers) which meant getting into the heads of a second bunch of nutters. Then, on Saturday . . .

‘A beach. A sandy beach in a cove on the south coast. I know I did one in Second Time Round but I can’t help that and, before you ask, no: this isn’t about that cove or any of the people living there.’

‘Any idea where this sandy beach might be?’

‘Not really. Perhaps it’s somewhere between Dartmouth and Bigbury. Or down in Cornwall. Can we go and have a look? Perhaps we could start at Bantham.’

And so we did.

This is a male Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina. The female (rather like with most of mankind) is more colourful with yellowy/orange markings on her wings.

Who could resist the appeal in the eyes of Bracken, this week's blog dog?