and how does that make you feel?

Of all the books people have raved to me about recently, the only one I really enjoyed was The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. What a great book that is! I like it a lot. A few years ago I wote a story called ‘Fucking Narnia’ that was pretty much based on the same idea, of adults from this world somehow accessing Narnia, and having to deal with it, as adults. My story really didn’t work (shame, because obviously it had a great title), but The Magicians would have blown it out of the water anyway, because it has such a well-realised setting, with proper characters and insane plotlines, which are nonetheless completely plausible within the logic of the world(s). I think the real genius of it was the way Grossman did the Harry Potter/Narnia mash-up thing. It’s the kind of story that could have been really-diculous, but ends up being just perfect.

(That reminds me of something Michel Gondry said about making art. It was something along the lines of, ‘you know you’ve got a good idea when it feels somewhat ridiculous.’ Furnish me with the actual quote, anyone? He said it in the DVD extras for The Science of Sleep, a film with the most beautiful fluffy animation and lovely multi-lingual appeal.)

Two of the other books that have been the subject of rave reviews lately are 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.

1Q84, as I have written about here, I found extremely bland and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was boring, I would say it was flat and completely forgettable. For me, it had none of the impact of Murakami’s earlier work, none of the mysterious other-wordliness (despite being set in an actual Other World), and none of the emotional connection I’d been hoping for.

I finished A Visit from the Goon Squad last night, and was pretty disappointed with that, too. It’s well-written, no doubt about that. It’s very well written, indeed, so you hardly notice it flowing by. But again, it made very little impact on me. I felt that I’d seen it all before. Specifically, it reminded me of A M Homes’ writing, which, to be fair, I’d liked a lot a few years ago, but which now strikes me as a bit too self-consciously ‘literary’.

I mean, what’s wrong with a linear chronology, and one or two characters that you care about? That you feel something for? What is the purpose of writing, if not to connect you to other worlds and other people? For me, if a novel or story doesn’t provide that emotional connection, then I don’t care how clever or well written it is – it has failed in the fundamental task of all literature. One of my favourite writers of all time is Philip K Dick, because all his stories connect you emotionally to the rest of the world – to the universe – to PKD’s own messed-up head, if nothing else. Frightening, disturbing, even funny – but they never leave you feeling flat. Another writer I love is Rikki Ducornet. Her novel Gazelle is one of the most stunning books I have ever read. It made me feel a thousand things, stirred up memories and desires, and connected me to a place inside my own self, where I finally understood something (a particular, personal thing) more deeply than I ever had before.

Of course, this ’emotional connection’ is a subjective experience, and I’m sure I can find hundreds of people who were deeply moved by books that left me feeling nothing. To me, though, it all comes down to the characters. A novel doesn’t have to have a linear plot, but I do think a book has a better chance of connecting with a reader if it has strong characters, precise language, and concerns itself with fundamental conflicts of the human heart. Love, fear, death, betrayal, regret, pain.  Sometimes writers seem to forget this. They get lost in their quest to be brilliant, and end up producing convoluted books that don’t seem anything like storytelling to me.

When I was seventeen, I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles for the first time. I remember I stayed up until three a.m. finishing it, and when it was finished, I cried and held it to my heart. I felt bereft that the story was over. The characters and the conflicts they embodied seemed very real and powerful to me. I wanted to keep reading it forever.

It’s not often that I feel that way about a book these days, but I still long to encounter characters I believe in, who I care about, and who seem real to me. That is more important to me than making some clever statement about the state of politics or post-modern anxieties or the world after 9-11. I want to read books that make me feel something. That’s why, for me, The Magicians is a far better book than 1Q84.

What books have you enjoyed recently? What would you recommend to this jaded reader?

not the daily george

Folks, I am reconsidering this whole blogathon thing. I am really struggling to find writing time at the moment, and I am way way way behind on critting and editing and subbing stories. I think a daily blog is just too ambitious for me right now, so I’ve decided to reel it in a bit.

From now on I’m going to be blogging twice a week, probably on Mondays and Fridays. I want to write blog posts that are interesting and entertaining, rather than ones that are rushed and full of complaints about how little writing time I have. The last thing I would want is to suck all the joy out of blogging! It is a really fun thing to do, and I love hearing from people, and I hope that by posting less frequently, there will be more here that’s worth reading and talking about.

And on that note, it’s back to work on the novel…

what I’ve been up to

My ‘to do’ list is getting scarily long. On it are the names of several people to whom I owe a letter or a phone call or a visit, or all three. If you are one of those people, I’m sorry for being so out of touch. I still love you, even if I don’t answer your texts and emails. And please get a twitter account so I can ignore you there as well.

That is the problem with writing – all free time becomes writing time and any non-writing time is usually spent staring into space, thinking about my imaginary friends. So it’s not like I’ve got anything to talk about. My friends tell me about their kids, their social lives, the funny things that have happened to them – but when they ask me what’s new, I haven’t got an answer. Do they want to know about the inner workings of my mind? Do they want to hear about the weeks I’ve spent trawling a completely imaginary world where only bad things happen? I somehow doubt it.

Of course, this all sounds like a very good excuse for being boring. If I weren’t so lazy, I could make things up. “What have you been up to?” My friends would ask. And I would tell them all about the talking animals which meet outside my house most evenings, smoking cigarettes, playing cards, and arguing about the X Factor. (This is the sort of thing I often say to small children, just for the reward of seeing their faces light up with that special “you are a total weirdo” look.)

Must do better. Now back to the scrivenings.

 

scrivenings

I started using Scrivener a couple of days ago.  It is pretty impressive! By the end of this morning I had managed to create a full scene outline of my novel, import everything I’d already written, and start making a synopsis. It makes it easy to structure your work, because you can split it into folders and files without you having to open different documents – and you can also view it as one long document if you prefer. You get a good overall view of the big picture of your novel, and at the same time, you can go into detail on whichever part you want.

I’m surprised at how much I like this. I always thought that outlining was incredibly boring (but total pantsering really scary!) Now I think it was just the idea of one, long, linear document that I couldn’t handle. With Scrivener, it’s all hypertext – you can go wherever you like, but still keep your place.

I don’t know if it will help make sense of what is a rather muddled mess at the moment, but every time I open my project file, I have a sense of calm clarity about what I’m doing. Not to say it’s good or bad – but at least I’m not panicking about it!

Is anyone else using this software? Would love to know what you think.

the fridayness of things

Bonjour! C’est la fin de semaine and that’s about all the French I can manage at this time on a Friday afternoon.

Managed to work out the voice recorder on my phone, and dictated notes and thoughts as I walked to work. Quite a lot of useless ramblings but now at least I can listen back and sort out any good ideas. I got a few funny looks as I was walking past people saying things like ‘It’s very important that she dies now,’ and ‘maybe I should just kill them all.’

Have nearly finished 1Q84, and will report back soon. It’s definitely too long though. I reckon he could have cut it by at least one book. But I guess if I were a bestselling and widely admired author, I might come to believe that people really wanted to know my every last insight into the world and characters of my story. Which perhaps they do. I don’t, but that’s just me.

Finally, I have been thinking about how lovely and elegant the Present Perfect is. But why don’t we call it the Present Retrospective? I would like it even more then.

Voila! À demain!

 

we have the technology

Remind me again why I wanted to be The Daily George? The last couple of days have been crazy hectic, and my head is full of all sorts of stuff, most of which is not really bloggable. Blogging every day is great fun, but I may have to reel it in after December. Twice a week?

I realised today that if I put my headphones in whilst I’m walking to work, people will assume I’m talking to someone on the phone, rather than talking to myself.  (I am actually talking to myself. Quite loud.) I find it helps to talk through story problems – it would probably be even better there was more than just one person in the conversation, but even so. I can’t imagine anyone else would want to listen.

I also need to find out if I can record my one-sided conversations on my phone. Today I plotted out a good quarter of a novel, but I’m not sure how much of that I’m going to be able to recall once I finally get to my writing time tonight.

Et vous? Do you use any smart technology to help your writing or writing process? Or is it pen and paper all the way?

Yikes!

Just realised I hadn’t blogged today! Am fixing that right now. Time has just got away from me – was teaching this morning, then spent three hours planning lessons and another two hours catching up on other paperwork, and now I am hungry and I still have to do at least an hour of proper writing… So, yikes all around then.

What I want to know is, how do you fit writing in with your other work? It seems to me that you can be a full-time writer if your partner supports you, or you have some kind of independent means, or you are writing bestsellers. The rest of us need jobs. So how do you fit writing in? Get up early and do it before work? Stay up late? Sacrifice something else?

I try to write every day, even if I only manage 15 minutes. Some days, even that seems hard to achieve.

How about you?

progress

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with one novel on the go is always hankering after another. I honestly think that the best way to guarantee a steady flow of exciting new ideas is always to be working on something that keeps you away from writing anything new.

That notwithstanding, this morning I hit a sweet spot with the novel I’m working on and managed to get about 3000 words down. I’m finding that splitting my writing time up is working well for me – I start by revising and polishing what I wrote the day before, then I write new stuff after that. I don’t know if that method would work with every project, but it seems to be keeping me anchored in the world of this story and the voices of the characters. I reckon I’ve got another 40, 000 or so words to write on this one (having cut about 20,000 already), so it’s not going to be finished very soon. Unfortunately I haven’t got a big chunk of free time to throw at my writing at the moment, and am just trying to fit in as much as I can every day.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, fb messages and emails on the ‘sympathy with the devil’ post I wrote a few days ago. Everyone’s ideas and advice has been really interesting. I know it’s a difficult and emotive subject, so thank you.

In other news, I’m hungry and off to forage for food. Anon, my dears! Laters, innit!

half-face illness

A bits and pieces sort of post this morning.  Brain is not cooperating fully and is demanding eggs and fruitcake.

Working on novel yesterday – not the ‘finished’ draft, but the half-written novel I abandoned in order to write the other novel. I was so incredibly stuck with it when I gave it up, and couldn’t see anything worthwhile in it at all. A few months later and I have somehow once again found the thread of story and interest in it. The lesson I’m taking from this is that sometimes, you just need to back off from things for a while. If something isn’t working, maybe it just needs time.

Also I’m happy to say that finishing a draft of my other novel has given me the confidence to believe that I can finish a draft of this novel. And I hope it will be a somewhat cleaner draft, although that might be wishing for too much.

Finished reading Book 2 of 1Q84 last night. I think I’ll finish Book 3 before I pass comment, but there were a couple of things I found hugely disappointing and definitely want to blog about.

I am still lurgified, but now I have this weird, half-face illness, in which half my face is ill (running nose, swollen glands, headache, earache) and the other half of my face is totally fine. Bored of being ill now.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have something more interesting to say for myself. Am off to get breakfast and write more stuff.