I was recently tagged in a Facebook post by Jonathan Pinnock in which he listed five things about his current work-in-progress. There was an enjoyable progression to his list, as it basically went from him saying he had no WIP (perfectly understandable seeing as he's just launched a non-fiction book, the excellent-sounding Take it Cool, which I'm planning to buy very soon (unless I manage to win a free copy from these guys)) to him deciding on an idea and planning to write it that same evening. To be honest, I'm hoping for a similar boost from taking on this challenge. Let's see...
I've been working on this novel forever. At least it seems that way. It started off as a short story somewhere around 2005/6, back when I'd never have had the confidence to send it off anywhere. A couple of years later I showed it to one of the tutors at an Arvon course I was on, and he made a chance remark that 'unlocked' the rest of the story and convinced me it could be much more than just a few pages' worth. I wrote a few chapters, lost momentum, moved from Leeds to the Midlands, joined a writing class, wrote several more chapters, lost interest, wrote lots of short stories, had some success with those, moved again (not so far this time), decided I was never going to get where I wanted to be purely through the stories, rewrote everything I'd done, got nearly to the end, and stalled. That happened in about March this year, and I've been adding a few hundred words to it every so often, but it really doesn't feel like progress.
The main problem I'm finding with this book is that there's part of me that really worries about what will happen if I get to the end and if I can stay enthusiastic enough to edit it into a publishable sort of shape and if I'm lucky enough to land an agent/publisher and get the book out into the world. You see, it's a science fiction / techno-thriller type of deal, and I'm not convinced that's the kind of writer I am, or want to be. Michael Logan's written an excellent series of blog posts about his literary journey since winning the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award. The thing that's really stood out for me is how reluctant publishers are to let a new author change course - it's all about building your 'brand', it seems. If you want to veer off-course for book four or five then, depending on how your sales have been, they might let you take that risk. I know I'm jumping the gun massively here, but it's hard to focus on a book that could lock me into a genre I don't want to commit to in the long term.
I mentioned a while ago that another obstacle to keeping up my enthusiasm for the book is that some Hollywood types are, rather unsportingly, making a film that's based on more or less the exact same concept. I haven't heard much else about the film since then, but I go from thinking it's great news because people will be interested in other ways of looking at the idea, and it being a prime opportunity to piggyback on any big-budget marketing from the movie, to being despondent that my book, which always seemed (to me at least) a unique spin on the "teleportation accident" scenario, will just seem like a lazy knock-off of someone else's idea. I feel a bit hamstrung, and I'm trying hard not to convince myself that I ought to wait to see whether the film turns out to be any good before I make my next move.
Considering a Sex Change
No, not me. But I've been looking at one of my favourite main characters - a grizzled and unpredictable agent from a European equivalent of the FBI who helps the protagonist - and wondering about making him a her. I'm wary of the work involved in this (as one of the main elements of the rewrite was changing the narrative from third- to first-person perspective and that's been hard enough), but I think it might be an interesting way to go. It would help balance out the book a little, as it's pretty bloke-y at the moment, and I can't think of many similar stories where the 'mentor' character is a older woman helping out a male protagonist. I've been imagining Kenneth Branagh or Keifer Sutherland in the role - maybe I should consider Gillian Anderson or the evergreen Helen Mirren instead (not that I'm suggesting either of them could be described as "grizzled"!)?
Keeping the Faith
Okay, this post is turning into more of a self-pitying whinge than I planned. The thing is, I really believe in this story, and I want to get it finished and out into the world in some form or another. I think people will enjoy it, and I believe it will be a success if I can just keep going with it long enough to do it justice, although exactly how that success is likely to be measured remains something of a mystery to me at the moment.
So, there you go, five things maybe not so much about the book itself as about the crumbling mental state of the guy attempting to write it. Sorry about that. I'm now supposed to nominate five people to take up the baton and although I'm always reluctant to point the finger at anyone, I'd like to invite the following people to take part, who may do as much or as little with it as they choose. All you need to do is tell everyone five things about your current work-in-progress - interpret that however you wish.
If anybody else fancies jumping on the bandwagon, feel free! Rules are made to be broken.
That's really, interesting - thanks for sharing! I look forward to reading your novel in a couple of years :)
I guess re: the sex change you should only do it if it feels right, or if you really want the book to appeal to women particularly. When your future agent is pitching to publishers they are unlikely to say it would appeal to men AND women as publishers then wouldn't know how to categorise it. So if a female protagonist is what your heart is telling you is right, go for it (plenty of crime books for example have women as the MC without being "women's fiction"), but don't do it based on some ulterior motive!
Loved your last point - I nearly abandoned The Art of Letting Go because I just couldn't get it to work. I only kept going because I loved the MC. So if you still love something then keep going! And I know what you mean about not wanting to be categorised, but if you get an agent for this book and it gets published and you don't want to write more of the same, you can just say no. It might mean you lose out on contracts etc. but you'd still be one book better off than if you'd never written this one! Good luck!
Wise words - as ever, Chloe.
I think the main reason I'm looking at changing the sex of one of the main players in my novel is that it's a way of upping my interest in the book as a project, while addressing one of the areas in which I feel like I'm not really stretching myself as a writer.
It's not really a case of making the change in the hope of widening the appeal of the book (although that would be no bad thing!), but because it would make the dynamic between the protagonist and his 'helper' more interesting for me while I'm doing the next rewrite.
I don't know enough about the SF genre to know whether there are many books with the kind of partnership I'm imagining for the two characters - I haven't encountered any, but that doesn't mean there aren't any out there. The fear is that books with that kind of set-up aren't being published because, as you say, publishers wouldn't know how to categorise them.
It's something I don't have to worry about just yet, but it deserves some consideration.
I can definitely relate. I started writing what I suppose would be called a fantasy romance, entered the first chapter in a competition and ended up coming as runner up. Two agents approached me, it was the most surreal night of my life. Result? Stalled. I just don't want to be a fantasy romance writer. I just wanted to write that particular story and then try something else (I get bored easily). I think I have something else brewing at the moment that might be more 'me' so I'm wondering whether to abandon the thing the agents were interested in (some time has now gone by...) and try this new idea. In the meantime I write flash and short fiction so I can try and 'find' my writing self. Not sure this strategy is all that helpful!
Firstly, congratulations on being a runner-up in the competition - it was obviously an impressive achievement if it caught the attention of two agents. But I can understand why it put the brakes on your book if you suddenly had to think of it as a career-defining book (in the short-term, at least).
I too thought short stories and flash would help me home in on what type of writing I want to do - but all it's taught me so far is that I love the variety possible with short fiction! I'm sure my niche is out there, somewhere...
Good luck with your various projects and thanks for your comment.
Thanks for the tag. I'm not sure yet if I'll take the challenge on my blog but I might try it just for myself - seems quite therapeutic.
Thanks too for sharing your thought process about this novel. It seems you've put all these barriers between yourself and it. All those 'ifs' are and all that thinking is enough to stall anyone. I do it sometimes, with project B in particular, and it's such a drain. Try to shut out the outside voices and write the novel as you want it to be. Everything else (publishing it, people liking it, writing good reviews etc) is a bonus.
"Try to shut out the outside voices and write the novel as you want it to be."
That's the tricky bit - I don't think I actually know how I want it to be. Half the time I'm thinking I just want something that slots squarely into the genre. The other half, I want it to be something more meaningful, more 'literary' (whatever that means).
Realistically I think I've been hammering away at it too long for it to work as a showcase for my writing - I don't think I'd start on something like this if I hadn't already had the idea and came up with it today.
But it's all good practice, and if nothing else, getting to the end will prove I've done something I've never been entirely sure I'm capable of.
An interesting and honest read, Dan. Your comment about it being a self-pitying whinge made me laugh! It is great to get an insight into how a novelist thinks, as I've still not made that leap from short stories.
Best of luck with it.
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