Monday, 14 December 2009

Neither am I

I'm writing a novel. To which the correct response is 'neither am I' (as per Peter Cook).

I used this rejoinder once, when I met Jake Arnott at a party. He was writing 'He Kills Coppers' at the time (neither was I - ha!). He quizzed me on the line's provenance (it must have been obvious it wasn't a product of my own wit, such as it is). Despite its obvious inadequacies in this context, he must have liked it as he used it in the novel, which appeared a few months after our encounter (I don't recall whether the character whose mouth he put it into was an irritating prick or not.)

This had been my one and only involvement in the production of fiction - a marginal one at best - that is, until now. I really am writing a novel. I've decided to make it a thriller. For those who know me this is a bizarre choice - I'm not a great reader of novels and I generally don't like thrillers.

I found myself encouraged to write a book by some of the kind comments posted in response to posts I've put up here. At first, following my interests and my perception of where my own aptitude lay, I considered writing history or biography. But nothing really gelled.

Then suddenly and totally unexpectedly I had an irresistible urge to write fiction - something I was convinced I'd never do. I'm still not taking myself particularly seriously in this task, which is probably why I'm doing a thriller, a genre which I also don't take particularly seriously (I know there are plenty of reasons to give it critical kudos, from Greene to Rankin, but there you are). Anyway, it's a Russian/UK, high finance/low terrorism, sex and lifestyle sort of book. Not too clever.

So why do it? Well the thriller format is proving tremendous fun. If it's half as much fun to read as it is to write then I'll be happy, as will others. But I wonder whether this is a good or bad sign in a novel? A danger of it being overly self-indulgent?

A more practical reason is that the thriller genre is one that insists on plotting and I'm finding my plot a very useful comfort blanket. I just negotiate my path from one plot point to the next, trying to fill in character and description as I go. I've stitched my plot together with the assistance of T who, thankfully, is a thriller reader (she's actually a compulsive reader of novels more generally and so a great help when I'm stuck).

My enjoyment is manifest in the fact that I've written 14,000 words in four days. I gather this is a fair clip (Stephen King manages about 2,000 a day and he's reckoned pretty productive). I've read it all through a couple of times and I'm not inclined to revise it much either, with one major caveat.

I'm worried that I might be using my plot up too quickly, potentially getting the whole thing finished in not much more than 30,000 words (about 70 pages) when I need to get to 80,000 (or about 200 pages) as a minimum (the genre usually demands somewhere between 90,000 to 120,000 words or 225 to 300 pages, so I gather).

However, I think it's important to get my plot out there, give myself a framework. And if the book ends first time round as too short then I'll have to do some backfilling, bulk things up with character and description, put some sawdust in my sausage (or sausage in my sawdust or, indeed, add more sawdust to my existing sawdust or...who knows?)

I may well be posting less as a consequence. However, I am wondering whether I should put some excerpts up to see whether people feel anything other than indifference towards them. We'll see how brave I'm feeling.

16 comments:

Brit said...

One of the problems of excerpts is that being able to write nice sentences is not the same as being able to write a novel, which requires pacing. Otherwise shit writers like Brown/Archer have succeeded because they have the ability to control pace.

worm said...

wow! great news indeed - and congrats on making the brave step!

I think you could make the 'sawdust' of the novel by creating a devious subplot involving history (which you are obviously very good at) thus bringing in a grand sweep of history and plenty of pages of filler (maybe a conspiracy involving some extra special religious icons or the murder of Rasputin or Anastasia, napoleonic treasure or something like that, or even something hidden in the gulags)

alternatively you could fill in the gaps with discussions on cravats and beavers

Brit said...

You could put it all on a new invitation-only blog if you only want selected people to critique it.

Gaw said...

Brit: I'm finding it pacy, as I said, perhaps too pacy. But what do I know? I'll look into that invitation only thing - that's a great idea.

Worm: All excellent ideas. The cravat and beaver motifs will certainly have to be worked in somewhere.

dearieme said...

"Otherwise shit writers like Brown/Archer": that's the cruellest thing I've ever seen said about Archer - to put him in the same caregory as Brown. Oof!

If you want a respectable writer who can't write, how about Bragg? Rubbish, he is.

Brit said...

Have you ever looked at Archer's blog, Dearieme?

dearieme said...

Not guilty, Milud.

Brit said...

Then you've missed out on one of the internet's great treats.

der elberry said...

i´ve been reading a lot of thrillers in Kiel, courtesy of the public library´s thriller-dominated English section. Generally, the only genre fiction i like are spy thrillers and good Fantasy (most Fantasy being crap). On the whole i prefer a well-written, soundly-plotted spy thriller to "literary fiction". A competent thriller is far far superior to a competent novel about some white-collar Londoner´s midlife crisis, drug use, wife problems, etc. Your blog is more interesting than most journalism so hopefully you´ll come up with the thriller goods. i wouldn´t worry too much about getting it right first time - generally, we learn to write good fiction by writing bad fiction, a lot of it.

dearieme said...

Aw, Brit, that's pretty serviceable English for, say, a slightly dim Town Clerk. It is therefore much better than you'll ever see from a Chief Executive of a Local Authority as the buggers presumably style themselves now. Address the Issues, that's wot I say. Push the Envelope Out of the Box. Develop the Outreach.
Actually, that can't be right - those fragments have verbs. Working for a Windbaggier Walsall. Attaboy.

Gaw said...

Welcome back Elberry. Your words sound wise and I take encouragement from them. Dearieme, why on earth are you defending JA? Only his brief has done that in recent years.

worm said...

you should have told Jake Arnott not to bother writing his books because they weren't very good either - almost the exact opposite of my least favourite authors, he had quite a good plot but pretty crappy writing

Gaw said...

I remember enjoying his first one, The Long Firm, very much. But then his next one He Kills Coppers not as much. I haven't read any others so perhaps HKC was more disappointing than I remember. In any event he was a nice person.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I tried to write a novel once but it was the most appaling pile of crap you could ever read - though you never will, be thankful! I met Jake Arnott in a mime class, way back in the 80s. (If I saw your sausage would I turn to dust?)

worm said...

'I met Jake Arnott in a mime class in the 80's' - quote of the week!

Gaw - will you have a nom de plume?

Gaw said...

Sorry worm, just noticed your question. I was thinking of Maxwell Thomas. Would look good in gold letters. But as I've asked around it's become clear that the life of the author is an important marketing tool. So I might have to be me. Which is a shame. I'd much rather be Maxwell Thomas.