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Tag: writing

Despatch from Capital Crime on what agents and publishers are looking for

I know you’re not reading this for my take on this, but I feel I should start by saying that what agents, in particular, want is not as big a mystery as some think it is. Most agents are very clear about what they are looking for and put the information out on their own websites and on posts and interviews you can find online. They want clients, they want submissions and they want writers to send in the work they want to see in the form they prefer to see it. It would be commercial insanity for them to be secretive about what they want. The problem for writers is delivering it.

Here are some of the points I noted down from the panel at Capital Crime 2019 on the craft of writing that, I hope, offer some insight into how to do this.

The writing

David Headley, an agent at DHH Literary Agency, says that he starts by looking at the writing – the first chapters submitted. He’s looking to see if the story starts in the right place and if there is a ‘voice’ – does the writer know what they’re doing.

The characters

You need characters that readers can engage with, that they care about, whether or not they like them. Vicki Mellor, publishing director at Pan Macmillan, is looking for characters that feel real. ‘The psychology of a character is key,’ she said. She suggested thinking about their back story, such as where they went to school. Adam Hamdy, author and screenwriter, advised making characters dynamic. ‘You need characters that aren’t fully formed. They’re trying to get somewhere and something happens in the book that stops them getting there.’

The synopsis

The writing carries the most weight and, David Headley said, ‘synopses are the hardest thing, so don’t get hung up about it’. In practical terms, a synopsis should be a page long, lay out the bare bones of the story and be engaging. Adam Hamdy said: ‘If you can write a good synopsis, the book is working – you should be able to articulate what your book is about.’

Authenticity

Authenticity was a word that came up multiple times as being a vital ingredient that agents and publishers are looking for. This is a depth of realness that comes from knowing your character and your story backwards.

The pitch

The pitch is not the same as the synopsis and I am hearing it mentioned as a vital ingredient in submissions more and more – perhaps reflecting the increasingly competitive and commercial nature of publishing. The pitch sums up your book in a way that pinpoints what is unique and interesting about it. It should sell your book, rather than simply describe it. Vicki Mellor said that, although it is her job to sell the book, the writer having it easily pitchable in one or two lines is really good.

Getting feedback

You need to get your manuscript to the very best level you can get it before sending it to an agent/publisher. At that point, they will offer you another pair of eyes to look at your book in a new way and identify ways to make it better. Be happy with your book when you share it – and then be open to improvements. Vicki Mellor advised that agents and editors can help you develop plot but, fundamentally, what they can’t change is the voice and the authenticity.

Good luck everybody!

Advice for writers (as garnered at Capital Crime 2019)

Ok, here’s some advice for writers that I picked up at Capital Crime 2019: don’t read while you’re writing; read while you’re writing; plan, especially for crime fiction; don’t plan, especially for crime fiction; write for 15 hours a day; write for three hours a day; get it right first time; write 25 drafts; writing is a hellish job; writing is the best job.

Alongside the readers and published writers at Capital Crime, there were a good few unpublished writers and newly published writers eager to learn from the more experienced authors on the panels. All were generous with their advice and insights into the writing life. However, although some patterns emerged, there were a good number of inconsistencies.

Anthony Horowitz told us that he never reads other people’s books when he’s writing. It’s not that he is afraid of plagiarism – ideas are free for all – but that if he sees a good idea in someone else’s story it will annoy him. Maybe he will see something that is perfect for his story that he might have come up with, but once he’s read it in someone else’s story he won’t feel able to use it.

Ann Cleeves said that she always reads, even when she’s writing.

Both Adam Hamdy and Anthony Horowitz said that they put in long writing days – up to 15 hours. Kate Atkinson, on the other hand, said that it was all about focus and that she could get as much done in three good hours as she could in much longer, less focussed hours of writing. She also isn’t one for sitting around thinking, saying that the story comes to her when she has her fingers on the keyboard. However she did say that you shouldn’t start a book until you’re absolutely ready. She was thinking about the spy story in ‘Transcription’ for three years before she started to write it.

I saw a tweet from Elly Griffiths recently saying that she wrote one draft before sending it off for structural edits. Denise Mina said that she writes multiple drafts – up to 25.

You usually hear how important it is to plan a crime novel. Ann Cleeves told us that she finds out what happened at the same time as the detective and that she writes like a reader. Denise Mina agreed, adding that she’ll find herself three quarters of the way through a novel and completely lost. Where would the fun be, she asked, if I knew how it would end? (Might this be why she does so many drafts after the first?)

There was agreement about location. You need to know the location for your story well. Ann Cleves said, ‘it’s the small details that bring a place to life’. She said that she liked to get under the skin of places people think they know. Kate Atkinson said that she likes writing about places she knows well, so that she doesn’t have to do a lot of research.

Publisher Vicki Mellor and agent David Headley explained the importance of getting good feedback from people you trust. Then, in the bar, a writer I shall keep anonymous told me very firmly that it was important to ignore all advice and follow your own instincts. I suspect the answer lies somewhere between the two – listen and then decide for yourself. Someone – I can’t remember who – told me that if someone gives you editorial feedback, you should believe them if they tell you that something isn’t working, but not if they tell you how to fix it.

Although I heard it said that writing could be hell and that it’s very tough to make a career as a published author, especially in today’s market, there was a clear consensus that the writing life is a joy. ‘For people who love to write, it’s the best life in the world,’ Adam Hamdy said. For Denise Mina the joy was centred around ‘sitting at your desk making up lies’, but included the added bonuses of not having to commute, or get dressed to go to work.

Neither Denise Mina nor Ann Cleeves were immediate commercial successes and, realistically, some of us never will be. This means that the writing itself has to be the primary source of enjoyment and satisfaction. You don’t have to be making millions to have this. You do have to write. As Don Winslow said, ‘writers write; it’s a verb before it’s a noun’.

Adam Hamdy suggested thinking hard about what you wanted from your writing – a published book or a writing career. The first is easily achieved through self publishing; the second is much, much harder and you need to be prepared to work at it like a business, because publishing is a business, a very demanding one. There are long waits and strict deadlines (covers for novels are briefed 13 months in advance of publication), it is highly competitive (more and more people are writing and David Headley alone receives 400 manuscripts a month), you are constantly exposed to criticism and maintaining profile is almost like having another job.

So, whatever you want from your writing, do the writing, do the best work you can and enjoy it.

Kate Atkinson – sharing some tidbits from Capital Crime

One of the highlights of the Capital Crime festival for me was the conversation between Kate Atkinson and Jake Kerridge. I have been a fan of Kate Atkinson since ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. I loved her literary fiction and was thrilled when she took a turn towards crime with the Jackson Brodie books. It was such a treat to have one of each this year, with ‘Transcription’ and the latest Jackson book, ‘Big Sky’. In case anyone would like the inside scoop on Ms Atkinson’s writing practice (I can’t seem to call her Kate) and what comes next, I made some notes…

Why the gap?

There’s been a few years between the first four Jackson Brodie books and this new one. Asked about this, Kate (I have to make myself use it because it’s shorter) said, ‘I never thought he’d gone; I’d just run out of steam’. She later referred to a concern about getting into ‘a Jackson rut’. She also suggested that she needed a gap after the TV series was made, so that she didn’t have the actor who played Brodie in her head when she wrote him.

So will there be more?

The first 30,000 words of the next Jackson Brodie is written, but the book is on the backburner, so we are going to have to wait. Apparently, it’s probably going to be the book after next. She talked about writing an homage to Agatha Christie’s ‘The Death at the Sign of the Rook’. She also said she’d thought Brodie would come back in Paris, so maybe that will come later – and that she really wanted to send him on a cruise ship. Lots to look forward to then.

What about Jackson?

‘If Jackson was a dog, he’d be a German Shepherd – or a Collie.’ Although it seems that lots of women tell Kate that they want to marry Jackson, she can’t imagine Jackson settled down – ‘he has to have that gunslinger attitude’.

Readers aren’t falling for Jackson’s looks, though. She pointed out that Jackson doesn’t have a physical persona in the books because she doesn’t tend to describe characters physically.

What about her move into the crime genre?

Kate said that she’d been wary of putting a detective into a novel because then it would be a detective novel. She said, ‘I try not to put myself into a genre because it effects how I write’. However, she says that she now embraces the crime genre quite happily.

What about coincidence?

I’ll just give you what she said about using coincidence in her plots: ‘a novel isn’t real life. You’re constructing something; it’s an artificial construct. There is something very satisfying about coincidence’.

What about the way she writes?

Apparently, Kate was trained as a secretary and learned to touch type when she was 18. She said, ‘I can’t think about a novel until I’m typing. Everything changes when I touch those keys’. She said that she doesn’t have much of a routine, although she is very self-disciplined.

I loved what she had to say about a metaphor for the way she writes. She rejected mosaic and said instead: ‘I think of writing as like a tapestry’. There’s a lot of interweaving and going back and mending. She likes to achieve a sense of texture and thinks that you have to do a lot of reworking to achieve that. ‘Transcription’, she said, was very, very character based, whereas ‘Life after Life’ was more about structure. (She considers ‘God in Ruins’ to be her best book ‘by miles’. She referred to it as ‘a very emotional book’.)

What does she enjoy most about writing?

Her immediate answer to this was: ‘I enjoy finishing a book’. (Hallelujah to that!) She said that she felt a sense of triumph.

She talked about good days being those when she felt like she’d written a good sentence – adding later that these came about every third day.

Taking a slightly broader perspective, she said that she really enjoyed creating characters and having that slightly God-like control over them. Earlier she’d referred to authors as being ‘the arch manipulator of everyone’s fate’, saying that this meant that you needed to keep your characters at arm’s length to enable you to do this.

I find it comforting that she finds it hard to get started again if she stops writing. Although this meant that she started ‘Big Sky’ the day after she finished ‘Transcription’, so then I felt like a pathetic failure. She’s currently writing short stories ‘to keep her hand in’.

What next?

Plans include a novel set in the sixties and another set in the 18th century. She said that she enjoyed bringing the past to life so that people could see that it was just the same as the present. ‘I have a lot of novels I want to write; I’m going to have to live for a long time,’ she said. I’d call that very good news.

My publication story

If you’ve looked at this blog before, or you look back at the dates on previous posts, you will see that there are major gaps and there has been a long hiatus when I’ve posted nothing. Stuff happened – and didn’t happen.

I started the blog because I wanted to get into the habit of writing and sharing what I had written. Even when you know you want to be published, putting your words out in front of people can be difficult and scary. However, consistency, in good habits at least, is not one of my strengths. I’d get into whatever fiction I was working on and stop writing blog posts. I’d get despondent about writing and stop. I started another, secret, blog. Life would get good or bad and the blogging would be abandoned. I’m back to it now because I’m excited that my book is being published and not yet back into writing the work in progress – I find it difficult during school holidays.

So, although you can see some of the journey through the blog, I thought I should share an overview of how I got to this – exciting – place.

Like most people who write as adults, I loved writing, and reading, as a child. There were reasons I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my forties, and I might share those another day. For now, we’ll skip forwards…

I was the mother of a difficult young child, work as a freelance communication consultant and business writer was difficult, I was stressed and needed to do something creative. Unable to find an appropriate creative writing evening class, I signed myself up to do a part-time Masters course in the evening at my local university. I tried different writing forms, started to find my voice and found a novel I wanted to write. I finished the course with an MA, some lovely writing pals, a half-written novel and writing as part of my daily life.

I finished the novel and entered it into a competition, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. It was shortlisted and one of the judges, Allison Pearson, said some very encouraging things about it. I submitted it to agents and found no takers.

I wrote two more novels, was shortlisted in the Good Housekeeping novel competition, got an agent, broke up, amicably, with the agent, and did some more work on my first novel (and it’s pitch) before sending it to a publisher inviting open submissions for a new digital imprint. Ta-dah! (That sounds much easier and quicker and less soul destroying than it was.)

The editor, Victoria Oundjian, loved Beverley from the outset and was amazingly positive. I couldn’t believe it when I received her email saying she was interested in my book and I couldn’t believe how lovely she was. I was used to rejection (that’s a lie, I don’t think you ever get used to rejection) and re-read the email many, many times looking for the ‘but’. With Victoria’s gentle encouragement, I made some more edits and came up with a new title. (I am terrible at titles. I use obscure cultural references that mean something to me and about 12 other people in the world. I fear it reflects the fact that I am not naturally aligned with commercial realities and, you know, other people. I think I got there in the end with ‘The Busy Mum’s Guide to Murder’.)

The thing with digital publishing is that the turnaround is incredibly quick. I signed the contract about a month ago, did my copy edits last week and the book is published in 30 days’ time. I haven’t met any of the people involved in person and I even signed the contract electronically. It took years to get to this point and now it’s all happening in weeks!

I don’t know how it’s going to go from here. I fear everyone will hate my book – well, the three people outside of my friends who read it. I want to publish more novels, but am concerned that I won’t be able to deliver what the market wants. (And now I feel like I have to be funny. I’ve never tried to be funny before. I think life and politics may have sucked me dry of humour.) I’d like an agent who has the time to help me develop a career. None of this might happen. I have to keep the insecurities at bay, enjoy this moment of success and hold on to my love of writing, whatever comes next. So, for now, cheers!If you’ve looked at this blog before, or you look back at the dates on previous posts, you will see that there are major gaps and there has been a long hiatus when I’ve posted nothing. Stuff happened – and didn’t happen.

I started the blog because I wanted to get into the habit of writing and sharing what I had written. Even when you know you want to be published, putting your words out in front of people can be difficult and scary. However, consistency, in good habits at least, is not one of my strengths. I’d get into whatever fiction I was working on and stop writing blog posts. I’d get despondent about writing and stop. I started another, secret, blog. Life would get good or bad and the blogging would be abandoned. I’m back to it now because I’m excited that my book is being published and not yet back into writing the work in progress – I find it difficult during school holidays.

So, although you can see some of the journey through the blog, I thought I should share an overview of how I got to this – exciting – place.

Like most people who write as adults, I loved writing, and reading, as a child. There were reasons I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my forties, and I might share those another day. For now, we’ll skip forwards…

I was the mother of a difficult young child, work as a freelance communication consultant and business writer was difficult, I was stressed and needed to do something creative. Unable to find an appropriate creative writing evening class, I signed myself up to do a part-time Masters course in the evening at my local university. I tried different writing forms, started to find my voice and found a novel I wanted to write. I finished the course with an MA, some lovely writing pals, a half-written novel and writing as part of my daily life.

I finished the novel and entered it into a competition, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. It was shortlisted and one of the judges, Allison Pearson, said some very encouraging things about it. I submitted it to agents and found no takers.

I wrote two more novels, was shortlisted in the Good Housekeeping novel competition, got an agent, broke up, amicably, with the agent, and did some more work on my first novel (and it’s pitch) before sending it to a publisher inviting open submissions for a new digital imprint. Ta-dah! (That sounds much easier and quicker and less soul destroying than it was.)

The editor, Victoria Oundjian, loved Beverley from the outset and was amazingly positive. I couldn’t believe it when I received her email saying she was interested in my book and I couldn’t believe how lovely she was. I was used to rejection (that’s a lie, I don’t think you ever get used to rejection) and re-read the email many, many times looking for the ‘but’. With Victoria’s gentle encouragement, I made some more edits and came up with a new title. (I am terrible at titles. I use obscure cultural references that mean something to me and about 12 other people in the world. I fear it reflects the fact that I am not naturally aligned with commercial realities and, you know, other people. I think I got there in the end with ‘The Busy Mum’s Guide to Murder’.)

The thing with digital publishing is that the turnaround is incredibly quick. I signed the contract about a month ago, did my copy edits last week and the book is published in 30 days’ time. I haven’t met any of the people involved in person and I even signed the contract electronically. It took years to get to this point and now it’s all happening in weeks!

I don’t know how it’s going to go from here. I fear everyone will hate my book – well, the three people outside of my friends who read it. I want to publish more novels, but am concerned that I won’t be able to deliver what the market wants. (And now I feel like I have to be funny. I’ve never tried to be funny before. I think life and politics may have sucked me dry of humour.) I’d like an agent who has the time to help me develop a career. None of this might happen. I have to keep the insecurities at bay, enjoy this moment of success and hold on to my love of writing, whatever comes next. So, for now, cheers!

A rage against Ratners fiction

11220095_10153209597673333_1041411994538382439_nI do not believe that real people think about moves to the country in the form of extended metaphors involving concrete floors slippery with fear. Not unless they are certain types of poet. So when a character in a novel is clearly not this type of poet, or any type of poet, why do I have to endure close third person accounts of such thoughts, page after fucking page? I find it a tiny bit annoying.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good metaphor, but they have to know their place. I have very slightly had it with self-indulgent pseudo literary crap being peddled as quality fiction. I love the sea as much as the next person. And, yep, I’ve been writing about it for years. But I don’t really expect anyone to want to read it, not on and off for a whole 60,000 words! Does the world really need another extended sea metaphor as novel? And the scent of lemons. More? Really? And don’t get me started on dust motes. It’s the same brand of crap Ratners offered. But they got found out.
I know what you’re thinking, sour grapes. Fuck, yes! I may not be George Eliot, but I can write something direct and authentic – I think (I write therefore I insecure). I’m sure I could do better. But where is my model, my inspiration, where do I look for the standard to meet if I aspire to publication. I want to get published. It is objective, ambition, dream. But there are places to which I will not go in pursuit of this. If this crap is where it’s at, I cannot and will not go there.
Let me give you an example. When I eat a croissant, flakes of soft, buttery pastry do not melt on my tongue reminding me of some fuckwit’s kiss or my childhood breakfasts with mother. My croissant gets dunked in hot chocolate that drips down my t-shirt leaving crumb-stuck stains that look a bit too much like dried breast milk. My croissant is from Pret and is eaten at the bus stop. (There is a bus stop theme in these posts. I’ll explain why one day, when I know you better.) My croissant contains calories that come to rest on my over plump belly. My croissant eating is just not… twinkly.

Rage against the grey

IMG_2598Trees are bloody lucky. Far from fading as they get old, they blaze. Streaks of yellow, patches of orange, tendrils of red. All the heat of the summer chucked back at yer with attitude.
But us, we fade til we disappear. And the hair is only the start. Mine’s going white. The hair thing matters to me because I’m a red head. People don’t even believe me when I say that now. ‘Oh, no, more strawberry blonde, I’d say’. ‘It’s not really that bright, is it?’ No, that’s because I am fucking old, alright! But it was orange and bright and loud. And I was characterised by my ginger-ness. It was what made me different, made me me. People assumed I had passion and a temper because I had fiery hair. Now, they assume that I am fading, like my hair.
But inside I have stored up fire, burning coals of thoughts and feelings, opinions and insights, and stories.
I’ll never be a bright, young debut. I’ll never be one to look out for in the future. I’ll never make one of those up and coming lists of writers under 30. I had neither the time nor the resources to write properly formed things when I was young. I was too busy being fucked up and insecure and in love with the wrong men and trying to make a living and learning to fit in. It took til now for me to be ready.
But why should that make me lesser? We oldies used to be the storytellers. And not just tellers of soft and dismal tales that drop like ash from the end of a forgotten fag. I don’t want to tell stories about middle-aged ladies pondering their pasts on the shores of an Italian lake. I don’t have racy tales from a war torn youth to tickle the fancy of babyboomers agog to discover that they didn’t invent sexual intercourse. In my head there are many different ages and many different selves.
I’m not a late bloomer. They haven’t bloomed yet. They’re lovely buds but they’re still green. I don’t want to be a ‘mature’ writer, equally indulged and ignored like some feeble-minded hobbyist. Cheese matures! Fruit ripens. I am ripe and I want to tell ripe stories. Despite my fading hair, I can still blaze.

The time machine on the corner of Suez Road

12039703_10153181053393333_8749187284471477436_nThere are time machines everywhere. There’s one on the corner of Suez Road and Radegund Road. (If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you will know that I’m not much of a sci-fi girl so you’ll be prepared for the trip into metaphorland that’s coming. Buckle up.)
My time machine for today is a horse chestnut tree, its leaves shriveling and turning autumn brown. Just a glance and – whoosh – I’m back to the September my son started school. There’s a back way into school that is only open in the morning and at the end of school. At the start of Reception, the kids did only half a day, so they’d leave at lunchtime when the back entrance was closed. This meant walking out of the front and back home via the horse chestnut – the conker tree. We’d pick up conkers, glossy and red-brown, sticky from their prickly shells. My boy seemed so small in his new school uniform and we’d talk about the grown up playground games that could be played with these big seeds.
Now I’m further back to the trees in the park where we first collected conkers. There were so many and always just one more that could be fitted into the bottom of the pushchair. We talked about the seasons and how summer turned through autumn to winter and living things died, and then how in spring they grew back. We were a long way still from the conversations about the type of dying that is more than a season.
Off again, this time to my own childhood. My father showing me how to play conkers, but just once. Would it have been different if I’d been a boy? Would we have pickled the nuts in vinegar, baked them and competed for the ‘best conker’? Who knows? Soon came all the Septembers when he wasn’t there.
Autumn is late this year. The horse chestnut is one of the first of the trees to turn, but the conkers are still hidden in their green jackets up among the browning leaves. This is my son’s last year at primary school. Next year he will be walking the opposite way, to a new school, on his own. Conkers will be for kids. The turning of the leaves will be part of some biology homework that he probably won’t even want my help with. He’ll be growing up and away from me.
So you see, here is the now and then and tomorrow, all accessible from one place. From my place on the corner of this road, I can rollercoaster back and forth in time without care for a beginning, a middle or an end. I am simultaneously here and there and linearity is irrelevant. But that’s not true of writing. It makes you choose. What comes first and next? What line do I follow? Where lies the cause and consequence? But I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Today I’ll just take a breakneck ride through the thread veins of a tree on the corner near school.

PS The conkers are appearing now.
12046772_10153181054128333_2844726917475391243_n

Feeling the love, baby

Heartstone I love writing. Yeah, I know, that seems obvious given the nature of this blog. But I forget sometimes, a lot of times recently. I get tangled up in all the associated ‘shoulds’ and they suffocate the wants, the love.

Language is a brilliant thing. Firstly you’ve got the words, millions of them, all with formal meanings and implied meanings and the depth of meaning that comes from usage – and sounds and rhythms and shapes on the page. And then you get to join them together in some many different ways to express every shade of thought and feeling. Love it, love it, love it.

I’ve been preoccupied with ‘works in progress’, or rather not in progress or creeping along slowly emitting that damp smell of… what? What is the right word? Failure? No, too hopeless, too easy. What’s it like? Like a mustiness that attaches to something that’s been in a cupboard for too long. You know it’s there. It’s whining quietly, like a dying puppy. Yes, really, that pathetic. I think it’s probably guilt. Yes, the damp smell of guilt. I’m picking that word from the box because if I keep looking I could be here for hours. I’ll pencil it in, like you do when you’re trying something in a crossword.

So, proper writing is not getting done and, when I pick up a pen or stroke a keyboard, a big wall of ‘you should be doing something proper’ rises up before me. I don’t have headspace right now for the sweep of my stories, so my shoulders droop and I move away. But that’s madness! Does a painter stop sketching, doodling, playing with colour because he can’t fit a canvas in his caravan? (I could muck about with lots more whimsical examples here, but that would be self indulgent because I think you get the idea.)

What have got done are a couple of Incandescent-of-Cambridge letters, some birthday messages to lovely friends and a couple of articles for the parish magazine. All fun and satisfying – how I imagine a gardener feeling when they talk about getting their hands in the earth. I’m feeling the love and I’m going to open the cupboard, feed the puppy, knock down the wall and generally frolic in a sandbox of mixed metaphors.

Colouring between the lines

11698522_10153006448063333_4658290866483854477_nI’ve been sucked in by the new craze for adult colouring. It’s so soothing. Someone else has drawn all the patterns, created neatness and order, left pretty spaces for me to fill with colour. Some of the books even colour in some of the picture for you, providing clodhopping hints as to how you should proceed. Mindfulness they call it, though it is, of course, utterly mindless.
And while I’ve been colouring in between someone else’s lines, I’ve created nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. And – when I’m not soothed by the de-stressing activity of colouring in – I’m quite angry about this. I’m angry with myself and I’m angry with all the tossers who drew the lines.
We spend our whole childhood and, maybe, most of our lives, being commended for being Good. We agonise over the Right Thing to do, the Right Thing to wear, The Right Thing to say… Not being Good is Bad. Where’s the space to just be?
I don’t draw my own pictures because I’m no good at drawing. It doesn’t come out right. It looks bad. And I’ve not been writing because I’ve been busy being neat and good and colouring between the lines.
If you’re reading this then you will have noticed the huge gap between this post and the last. There have been other starts and mis-starts. This might be another. The only thing I can tell you is that what follows may not be neat. I’m going off piste.

My head is full of pre-fiction

In my head right now is a crowd of people clamoring for attention. No, I am not going public about some kind of personality disorder, well not a medically documented one anyway. What I mean is that my mind has presented a number of character outlines to me, some have names and some don’t, all are ghostly in their half-formed state, drifting and hard to bring properly into focus. All seem to be trying to say something. All have their own point of view on the world. Most are holding on to an unresolved pain that seeks expression and resolution. Not one has properly defined physical features.

This last point seems to chime with an idea that has been suggested to me: they are not fictional characters – not yet at least – they are parts of me.my mind is not a tangle of fictional story lines. These strands that I am struggling to unknot are not plots. It’s the raw material for fiction, but not yet fiction.

What difference does it make? It means that I’ve been handling things all wrong. I’ve been thinking about how to tell the story, how to find the right words, the right structure. All wrong. Too early. That’s why it’s been sending me mad. I’m still digging out the clay, shearing the sheep, whatever metaphor for pre-art that suits you. I need to slow down. I can’t finish before I start. I’m lucky; this is one piece of pre-writing research for which I don’t need to travel too far.