Thursday, December 06, 2007

Weird fiction, writing methods, and radio plays

The novelist China Miéville has just joined the Creative Writing faculty team at Warwick University and was reading from some work-in-progress tonight at Warwick Arts Centre.

I went along to hear him with my husband, who's a big CM fan and massively well-read in the fields of sci-fi, fantasy and weird fiction. Which is more than I am, unfortunately. I have my compulsive favourites from which I rarely deviate, like most people who read fiction of those kinds, but my general understanding of 'fantastic' fiction is nowhere near comprehensive. So it was good to have him along with me, to answer my occasional whispered questions and to fill me in on China's background and development as a writer.

Yet even though China Miéville isn't the kind of writer whose work I would normally read, I did find the extract from his current ms draft interesting and challenging, and the Q&A at the end particularly useful to me as a writer.

I asked about his basic writing methods during the Q&A. CM explained that he doesn't follow any set pattern or routine as a writer. During some novels, he may write 1000 words a day; with others, as much as 4-5000. And that daily word tally doesn't seem to have any discernible connection with quality. Often, he told us, the steaming 5000 word session has produced excellent writing, whilst the slower 1000 word effort has ended up being scrapped!

Apparently, his methods of revision are equally changeable from novel to novel. Some books have been revised only after finishing the first draft. With others, revisions have been necessary during the initial writing. With some of his earlier books he resisted the advice of editors; later on, he learnt to accept the editorial process and now feels it can be a good thing for writers.

He later revealed that he works with a flow-chart of the novel, preferring to plot his books down to the last detail. The chart is pinned up on the wall beside him as he writes, and if he deviates from the scheme in any way, he marks the deviation on the chart and re-jigs the whole schema to make sure he still knows how the book is going to end.

But the only certain thing he could say about the actual writing of a novel - for the benefit of those in the room who might be struggling with first novels in draft - was that every word you manage to write is one less that has to be written.

So it was a fascinating Q&A session, during which he also spoke at length about the increased focus on politics in children's writing in general, and the background to the writing of several of his novels. He also said that 'Iron Council' was his personal favourite amongst his books to date.

As I didn't take notes verbatim, I hope I haven't misrepresented China Miéville's views and comments here.

I took great heart from his description of varying writing methods, knowing how impossible it is for me to stick to any one way of writing anything. I've always considered it one of my great weaknesses as a writer, but if I can just keep pushing the words out, I suppose it doesn't need to be.

I also met someone who works in radio script development for the BBC, over drinks in the bar afterwards, and spoke to her briefly about a radio play of mine that has been languishing for several years on my - rather over-crowded! - back burner of ongoing projects. It would be good to work on that again, hard graft though it was; a particularly demanding medium, radio, coming close to poetry in its need for accuracy and a fearless grasp of the 'less is more' school of writing.

Plenty of work to keep me busy this winter, then. So much choice, so little time. But as China Miéville said, every word you write ...

2 comments:

jason evans said...

Hi Jane! I'm stopping by at Julie's suggestion.

Writing processes are fascinating, aren't they? I have a little theory that what feels most comfortable to us is exactly what we should not do. It's in our comfort that we fail to tighten down on our weakenesses. For me, I like to write naturally and let the scenes and characters create themselves. I have to watch out for wandering, however. I need to force myself to build a tight narrative structure and hold to it.

JANE HOLLAND said...

My weakness is writing TOO naturally - which usually ends up with too many instances of cliché and poor phrasing.

Good to see you here, Jason.