Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the Road Again

In North Wales tonight, in a slightly chilly waterfront hotel, poring over the latest revisions to my novel. The deadline is next Monday, and I'm almost there with the book.

Plenty of fiddly little things to attend to though before I hand over the final draft to be copy-edited. Assuming my editor doesn't ask for further changes once she's seen how I've handled her original requests, that is.

Yesterday, I gave a lively workshop on novel-writing and took ten pitches for Embrace Books at the annual Get Writing Conference at the University of Hertfordshire. Some of the pitchers went away disgruntled, having been informed that their novels were neither romance nor historical women's fiction, and therefore wouldn't fit our lines. I was later described as 'the Simon Cowell of romance writing'. Some people are so touchy ...

Met some marvellous people at Get Writing 2011 - readers, writers, editors, agents, buyers - including John Jarrold, Scott Pack, Matt Bates, the inimitable Raymond Tallis, and of course our own Jonathan Pinnock, soon to be launching 'Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens' with Proxima Books (Salt).

Tomorrow, I am giving an interview at Bangor University, followed by a poetry reading in the evening, in connection with their Creative Writing courses. I shall read from my latest book of poetry Camper Van Blues, plus one or two poems from earlier books if there's time.

The rest of this half-term week will be spent between the Midlands and the deepest, darkest reaches of rural Cornwall, where relatives will be visited and children entertained.

Then I've arranged a two-night stay at a hotel near where I live, in order to polish off the last revisions, read through the whole manuscript, and prepare my Author's Note and Acknowledgements. There may be some head-beating against the wall involved if I don't manage to tidy up my revisions before that weekend. Because Monday will be too late to change my mind about them. 

Roll on, the ides of March. By then, I plan to have started my next novel.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Dabs with the Language Sander

Revisions on my Tudor novel are almost done. I mention this because I've been blogging mainly about poetry in recent months, yet I seem to have spent most of that time writing - or fiddling about with - prose.

It's always been a secret thought with me that prose rhythms are akin to poetry, or ought to be. Certainly I take my time over sentences that don't sound 'right' to me in their context, whatever that may be.

A good sentence should flow, should be both elegant and fit for purpose - by which I mean it should communicate whatever the writer needed it to communicate, which might be nothing or everything, or any point in between.

Clumsy writing is the last thing I want to find when looking back over what I've written.

Unfortunately, it's almost unavoidable in early drafts.

This is how it happens. You need to present a thought or a situation or a mood, and the words don't want to come, but you don't have time to coax them. You're a professional writer, you have deadlines, you have bills to pay. So you bodge it. You write what is needful and make a mental note to return later - preferably after dark when no one but the night watchman's cat is there to witness your shame - and rewrite the damn thing so that it says what is needful without leaving mental splinters in your reader's head.

That's one part of the revision process. Sanding off the rough edges.

A less pleasurable part of revision is having to rejig characters who now have beards, or no longer have beards, or whose motivation is entirely changed, or who must now swim the moat instead of swinging across it with the help of trailing creepers.

I'm joking, of course. But when you change even one detail, you quickly realise that nothing happens in isolation. Everything in the novel is interconnected. This is where we get our word 'text' from, a marvellously hard-working word which is related to 'textile' and the idea of weaving.

So once you decide, at the revision stage, that a minor change needs to happen, you also need to find places where a knock-on effect will occur following that change, and to make sure everything remains consistent within the world of your novel. Once you have six or seven 'minor' changes like this to make, the process of scouring the book for places where further changes need to happen becomes quite time-consuming and fiddly.

And meanwhile, you can't help little dabs with the language sander ...

But the hardest work is more or less over. I have one key scene to entirely rewrite, and maybe a short chapter to add early on, and the rest is about style.

Then I have the next book to begin.