Books of Hay

Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey

by Suw on May 17, 2012

It’s been a while since I last blogged, so I thought I’d just update you on what’s been going on. The first thing is that after I realised that the Queen of the May Kickstarter project wasn’t going to work out, I did a bit of thinking about what it was I was trying to achieve. I realised – and this is something that I probably should have thought about earlier – that what I really need to do is just fishing up the two novellas I’ve got in progress and get them out there.

So that’s my plan, and what a simple, elegant plan it is too! I am being very strict and spending time every day working on Queen of the May, primarily on preparing for what is going to be a significant rewrite. I will produce a handful of hand-bound books once it is finished, so you will be able to get your hands on a physical copy. 

I also realised that actually a big motivator for doing the Kickstarter project when I did it was, not to put too fine a point on it, money. As a freelance, it can be a bit scary when the work diary is a little sparse and after a big client was afflicted by budget cuts, I felt possibly a bit more pressure to ramp up the crowdfunding. Ach, well, live and learn, no harm no foul, and other platitudes. 

My blogging over on Forbes is taking up quite a lot of the headspace that I would have used on blogging here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the Forbes blog is proving to be quite good for profile-raising, which is what I need right now. I’m also getting quite a bit of contact from crowdfunding platforms and seeing research and information that I otherwise wouldn’t. Very useful! 

Finally, I just got diagnosed with a not inconsequential ovarian cyst which is currently some 8cm across. So I’m permanently a little bit achy, a little bit tired, and a little bit needing a pee. It’ll be a while before I get a judgement on whether they’re going to remove it or do something else – given my poor bladder is currently squished up into a boomerang shape, I really hope they chop it out. I’m not massively worried about it, as ovarian cysts are common and treatment is pretty routine, but I will be happy to have it gone. 

So, despite the quietude here, things are proceeding apace and hopefully I’ll have more concrete news on the ETA for Queen of the May once I’ve got my teeth properly into the rewrite. Patience, as they say, is its own reward.

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Taking off my overcoat

by Suw on June 15, 2011

I always used to think that blogging was for the terminally under-employed or the terminally not-very-happy-with-life-right-now’ed. Certainly that was true of me when I started this blog and at various stages throughout its history. Indeed, I often combined both conditions into one great big fugue of skint unhappiness, and was verbose with it.

These days, I seem to only blog when I have something to say. Back in the day, I had a lot less to say but seemed to say it more often. The last few years, since ORG really, I’ve busy with work and, since meeting T’Other, my life is several orders of magnitude happier. Somehow this seems to mean that I’m less likely to blog, due to having a lot less to whine about. Indeed, I am in awe of my friends who still blog enthusiastically despite being both over-employed and deliriously happy.

I still have those little moments where I think “Oh, I could write about that on my blog”, but by the time evening has come, my brain and fingers feel like they have had enough and that what they’d really like to be doing is nothing. I write a lot – a 15k word report here, a 35k word report there – and it can be hard to whip up the enthusiasm to find another few hundred words at the end of the day. It’s easier to say, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will blog.”

But I can feel an inflection point coming on. Change is in the air. I can smell it. What’s more, I want it.

I’m wary of talking about plans, because the future is one slippery little motherfucker. Kevin and I have made many plans but the ground keeps shifting under our feet. Actually, we keep making the same plan, over and over again, each coming from a slightly different angle, each one falling over at the first hurdle. The nub of the plan never changes, however, and is this: Leave London. But like a psychotic partner who makes your life hell but who’s still just enough fun to make you pause, London is a bitch to break up with.

For the first time in my life, I have a social circle, friends I see regularly and can just go hang out with. Friends within walking distance (a rarity in London). I have clients both here and at the other end of a flight from Heathrow. Favourite restaurants and pubs. Opportunities. Contacts. Cats. A life. (Compare and contrast my time in Reading, where I lived for three years, knowing no one.)

But the one thing that’s missing is the one thing London can’t give me, not on my earnings anyway. Space. Peace. Quiet. A view. A slower, more considered life. Time to write what I want to write and the money to do so. It would take a miracle for that to happen in London. Specifically, a miracle that involved a very, very large deposit into my bank account.

There are other places that are nicer, quieter, cheaper, with better views, although the downside is that I’ll be leaving my friends behind and starting my life anew in a strange land. (Don’t ask me where, because I don’t know yet.) It’s exciting, but nerve wracking. But the decision is made.

Place isn’t the only thing that needs to change, but meaning too: The meaning of me. I’ve always been someone whose self-identity was tightly bound to what I do. Being a music journalist may have broken the bank, but it was a fun persona to try on for a while. Being a musician or a stand-up comic were interesting and sometimes even enjoyable experiments.

Being a digital rights activist or social media consultant connected a bit more deeply with who I am, because ultimately it was a form of story-telling, the sort of story-telling that involves us creating a better world in our imagination and then fighting to make it come true. But who I really am, who I’ve always been, has been the Suw who wrote Argleton and the Books of Hay and Tag. It’s just that at times, wearing these other careers like coats, I might have fooled you. Or maybe I was trying to fool myself.

A few years ago, after Tag but before Argleton and the Books of Hay, I was having dinner with a writer friend. He’s quite good, this writer friend, and I confess I’m still a bit in awe of him, despite us having shared sushi and he having witnessed my meal fighting back in a most embarrassing fashion. I mentioned something about truly, madly, deeply wanting to write and the words he kindly didn’t say were, “Well, get on with it then.”

That night, I lay in bed, thinking about what I would write about if I was going to write something that no one would read but me. At some time around 3am, I realised that it would have magic, and cats, and probably some scenes in Wales, and dragons if I could crowbar them in. The next day, I started writing the Book of Hay. It was supposed to be stupid, whimsical and just for me, but it turned out to be quite good, even though it doesn’t have dragons in it.

Just before I finished the Books of Hay, which was turning out to be 30k words longer than the short story I had anticipated, I had the idea for Argleton. Egged on by friends, I put down the Books of Hay and focused on what was supposed to be a short story but which came in at novelette length instead. Well over a year later, Argleton is nearly done. Not the story – that’s been done for ages – but the project that the story evolved into. And as part of that evolution, something became very clear to me: I can be, and have the skills to be, the kind of writer I want to be.

I’ve always been somewhat put off by the traditional route that writers used to take. The idea of sending of my works into the cold, harsh unknown and waiting weeks, if not months, for a rejection letter, filled me with dread. I just don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather just put my stuff out there and see what people think. Novelettes are a great length for a piece of work – long enough to be a bit meaty, not so long that they take forever to edit. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with that format, with the idea of a little book not so tiny as to be accidentally inhaled, but certainly bite-sized.

And in the years of my procrastination, of wandering aimlessly through the creative desert, the world changed. Pivoted. In a way that is now essential to my plan. Five years ago, I could have distributed Argleton for free quite easily, but whilst free is lovely for readers, it’s tricky for writers who need to do things like eat and sleep under a roof that’s not leaking and wear clothes that aren’t threadbare. But now we have crowdfunding. Now I have a Plan.

The Plan is this: When I have finished making all the Argleton books and have sent them out, and the backers have had their PDFs for a couple of weeks so that they get to enjoy the story that they funded first and exclusively, after all that, it will go up here for free. Then I will crowdfund the prequel to the Books of Hay, which will likely be in the form of a newspaper. Then I will crowdfund the Books of Hay, which is another novelette. And hopefully, by then, I will have my 1000 True Fans, and I will have, with them, a living.

Because I’m frankly shit at doing this thing that other people manage to do where they balance writing and working and get both done equally well. I need to find a way to do that for now, through this transition, so Dear Clients, I still love you and want you and need you. But this is what I need to do to be me, because I’m not happy when I’m not me. I don’t want to wear a coat anymore. I want to feel the sun on my skin, feel the grass between my toes, and feel everyone staring as I dance through the meadow in my white dress like that chick out of the Timotei advert.

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A self-publishing project to inspire

by Suw on October 29, 2009

I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to do my self-publishing project for Revenge of the Book of Hay. I’m constantly riddled with doubt: Is it going to be good enough? Will enough people be interested? How will I convince people to support me given I have no track record? What exciting things could I add to the sponsorship options to entice people in?

Robin is offering a “surprise”, which I think is a great idea, but what sort of a surprise could I offer? A picture of me saying “Boo!”? A pop-up picture of me saying “Boo!”? A paperclip and elastic band contraption that shoots a pictures of me saying “Boo!” out of the book when it’s open? (I give all due credit and deference to Kevin Marks for that idea.)

Now Cory Doctorow has given me even more ideas in his article for Publishers Weekly to appropriate. Cory is self-publishing a collection of short stories, With a Little Help, as a free ebook and audiobook, but also as a print-on-demand trade paperback (via Lulu), a premium hardcover edition, has sold a specially commissioned new story (at a fee of $10,000) and is looking for other income streams such as maybe including ads.

The details of the packages are interesting. The trade paperbacks will have four different covers, and there’ll be a custom-cover package for people who want to run events or give-aways.

The premium hardcover really is premium, at $250 for a limited run of 250 copies. It will be printed by Oldacres of Hatton Gardens [Suw makes mental note] and hand bound by Wyvern Bindery [walked past them the other day, makes another mental note]. Each will be embossed with an illustration and will come with an SD card containing the full text of the book and all the audio. Furthermore, every book will have “unique endpapers made from paper ephemera solicited from writer friends, ranging from William Gibson and Neil Gaiman to Kelly Link and Eileen Gunn.”

Now, Cory does have bucketfuls of contacts that he can call upon to send him ephemera or help him out. Some of those people are very famous, some are just quite famous, and some are people he’s worked with before. He’s been doing this for a while so it’s no surprise that he has a fatter address book and, as an already successful author, he has a much deeper understanding of how the book creation process works than I do.

I’m going to have to get to grips with that process myself, and I’ll admit it’s a bit daunting. I don’t know who of the people that I do know has typography or cover design skills. But there are plenty of great ideas in Cory’s piece that I shall be half-inching right this second. A hardback edition is a great idea, for example.

But right now, I need to put details aside and just get enough nerve together to launch the project.

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Finally spotting the blindingly obvious

by Suw on September 22, 2009

Sometimes, I get stuck on projects and have no idea why. Then, like a log jam suddenly freeing up, I have an idea that sets everything flowing again.

I’ve been stuck fast on Revenge of the Books of Hay for longer than makes me happy, mainly because I hit a structural problem that my brain just couldn’t quite wrap itself around. I felt as if I had more backstory than story and the backstory also had a slightly different tone that make it feel as if the backstory and the story were really two different stories.

Talk about missing the blindingly obvious. If it feels as if there are two stories… then why not just split the thing in two and write them as separate, but related, stories? Not exactly rocket science.

Thinking about it a little bit more, though, I realised there are at least five related stories, possibly more. Having split them out, I now have 13k words in the first story, 7.5k of the second, 1.5k of the third, and 2.5k of the fourth and an idea for the fifth. And I’m very excited about actually working on the stories like this. It feels right.

So that’s good, that’s a problem surmounted. I’ll now focus solely on the first story, which I want to rewrite and get into Book Oven within the next couple of months. It needs quite an overhaul, I think, as it lacks structure, but I am sure that I can sort it out now that it has clearer boundaries.

The other aspect to this is that I want to publish each short story as a stand-alone project. Now, i could do it just as a PDF, but I rather like the look of what Robin Sloan is doing with his novella project. Robin is using Kickstarter to gather enough backers for him to be able to print up his 30k word novella, which he’s aiming to finish by 31 October. (If you haven’t read Robin’s short story, Mr Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store, you really should.)

I’ve thought before about using a service such as Kickstarter, Pledgie, ChipIn, or Fundable as a way to fund various projects that I had in mind. I thought about trying to fund research into the way people use Welsh on the web, or to explore the attitudes and experiences of women in tech. But, as per my earlier post, I’d have to confess that those are Yetis. I never did them not because they aren’t good ideas, or that the community might not see enough value in them to pay for me to do them, but because my heart wasn’t really in it. Deep down, I knew they were Yetis.

My heart is in this though! I love the idea of doing a small, artisanal book that would be a gorgeous thing, the sort of thing you’d really want to have in your house. In fact, I’d do a matching set, with a new book for each story. Like Robin, I’d have different levels of support, so you could spend as much or as little as you wanted. Robin’s packages go like this:

Pledge $3 or more
DIGITAL PACK. Get a PDF copy of the book and follow along with behind-the-scenes updates.

Pledge $11 or more
PHYSICAL PACK. All of the above, plus get a physical copy of the book. (The more people who choose this level or higher, the better the book is for everybody!)

Pledge $19 or more
SINCERITY PACK. All of the above, plus your book is signed, and it comes with a little surprise.

Pledge $29 or more
PATRON PACK. All of the above, plus your name (or secret code-name) is listed in the acknowledgments.

Pledge $39 or more
SUPER OCCULT VALUE PACK. All of the above, plus get three more copies of the book (for a total of four), so you can give one to a friend, donate one to the library, leave one in a coffee shop with a line of hexadecimal code scribbled across the title page…

At the moment, the Sincerity Pack is the most popular. Robin has managed to raise more than double his initial goal of $3,500 with the pledge currently sitting at $8,714 from 334 backers. The pledge closes on November 1st, if you’re interested in supporting him.

Taking a step like this is a big motivation to write the very best story you can. An e-book can be quietly updated with amendments and corrections, so there’s always that nagging sense that you can go back and fix things if need be, but a book is forever. And a gorgeous book demands the very best words to go in it.

All I need to know now is how much it will cost to do a lovely artisanal little book and just how artisanal I can get whilst keeping the price reasonable. Any printers out there want to help me out with answering those questions?

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Who’s the hero?

by Suw on May 15, 2009

I haven’t worked much on The Revenge of the Books of Hay lately, mainly because I’ve been insanely busy with moving house, travel and work. It’s nice to be busy with paying work after the crappy year last year was, but it hasn’t left me with much mental space to think about, well, anything much.

It’s also been because I hit a bit of an impasse when I realised I had more backstory than story, and wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it. I haven’t felt particularly compelled to flesh out the story of the people of Hay and couldn’t really see why that would be interesting. It was only when I was talking to Kev over dinner the other night that I realised something I had, stupidly, failed to see.

The story’s main protagonists are a book and a cat. (Yes, yes, humour me.) I knew that, but I hadn’t really clocked that the most important character in the story is the cat, not the book as I had previously thought. It is he who is called to action, he who must fight the forces of evil, and he who must prevail in the final showdown in order to win… well, I won’t say what. If you’ve ready Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, you might recognise those as key stages of the hero’s journey.

When I wrote Tag, my one and hopefully only ever script, I followed the hero’s journey without even knowing it. It was only later, reading Hero with a Thousand Faces that I realised how cleanly my story fit the ‘monomyth’. It was, at the time, rather satisfying to realise that I had absorbed the archetypal mythical structure so well that I was reproducing it without thinking.

Looking now at Books of Hay and thinking that it’s already starting to fit the hero’s journey (in the way that an elephant fits in a Mini) is both comforting and depressing. On the one hand, if I wanted to follow the formula, it would be easy. I already have a call to adventure, a fragment of the road of trials, and a boon, and it would be a relatively simple thing to map out the rest of the formula and fill in the blanks.

On the other hand, it’s depressing to think of a story reduced to a formula, no matter how timeless that formula is. I don’t want to end up writing something that’s drab and predictable, but rejecting the formula and deliberately trying to write something that doesn’t fit is just as fraught with problems. Remember the last book you read or film you watched that tried too hard to be different? Annoying, wasn’t it?

Part of me wishes I’d never read Hero with a Thousand Faces. Then I’d be able to just write the story that is in my head and not have to worry about following/not following a predetermined plot. Although it’s handy to realise that I need to focus more on my ginger tom’s story, it’s going to be a bugger to not slip into predictable patterns.

Revised opening scene

by Suw on March 17, 2009

I’m revising almost everything I’ve already written for The Revenge of the Books of Hay, and adding in a lot more. The total word count currently stands at 25,112, which is about 20,000 more words than I originally thought this story would bear. Whilst the backstory has blossomed, the stuff set in the present day is starting to look a bit threadbare by comparison and is going to need a lot of TLC to bring it up to snuff.

I thought I’d post up the revised opening scene which I’ve tried to plump up a bit. I still laugh every time I read it, not because it’s particularly funny but because the “How to get published” presentation I went to a while back included the sage advice, Never start with the weather. Oops.

As usual, have at it in the comments.

Ernest Scrimshire pulled the nape of his jacket up over his head. He hesitated on the bookshop doorstep as the heavy oak door shut behind him, then plunged into the pelting rain. The remains of Hay Castle loomed up behind him and provided some shelter for a moment or two. The ruined Norman tower, covered in thick ivy, was a dark mass to his right. Behind him rose the Jacobean mansion, the blind windows of the eastern wing, blocked by rusting sheets of steel or left wide open for the bats to fly through, staring over his shoulder. The wing that had escaped the ravenous fire thirty years before housed the books, and its glory made the ravaged third all the more pitiful.

Ernest hesitated at the top of the steep steps that lead between neatly trimmed trimmed topiary down the embankment to the Castle Green. The stone was slick and dangerous, and he took a hold of the hand rail, still holding his jacket up with his other hand. It wasn’t far to home, but he’d be soaked to the skin before he got to the other side of the tiny walled green. It was barely 15 yards across but the rain was coming down like stair rods.

The lush grass, thick after a wet summer and long overdue a mow, soaked up the weather and mud spattered the bottoms of his trousers. The embankment ended in a stone walled ha ha. Bookshelves backed up against the ha ha and the wall opposite as if defending themselves against all that lay outside, or perhaps they were cowering away from the torrents that lashed them.

Ernest felt a pang of guilt as he hurried past the exposed and vulnerable books towards the tiny stone archway that lead out onto the street. Every time it rained, he wished he had found time to erect some sort of shelter for them, just something to keep the worst of the rain off. But every time it was dry he was busy with other things, with urgent things that couldn’t wait. Or couldn’t wait insofar as Griffith Loyd was concerned. Most things could wait for Ernest.

He hurried home, leaving the soggy books behind him. Sad and unloved, they stood in serried ranks along the shelves: outside, unprotected, at the mercy of the elements. As if the desultory prices they were on offer for, 30p for a paperback, 50p for a hard cover, wasn’t insult enough in a world where 50p barely bought half a loaf of bread.

The Literary Guide to the United States stood next to More For Jonathan and Indoor Plants, A Compendium, but should any brave souls take a shine to one of these illustrious titles and try to remove one from the shelf, they would find the covers stuck together, past rains and subsequent hot spells having bound them together as fast as any glue.

The poor large format books were relegated to the lower shelves, no longer lined up neatly, but piled in sorry heaps. The weaker, thinner paperbacks curled up in pain, their pages wrapped foetally around their spines, their deformity crushed into place by heavier hard covers. The muddy path that lead the book buyers around the green threatened to cast its muck over everything, except the mould had got there first. Mildew spots grew on every page, consuming the type and eating away at the paper.

No one would want one of these pathetic books in their house. They weren’t even fit for kindling in the town’s many fireplaces. Instead, they sat on their shelves, quietly rotting.

The wind swung to the north and a different cadre of books cringed away from the cruel rain.

Planning ahead

by Suw on March 14, 2009

I know that this might seem like jumping the gun a little bit, but I’m thinking about what to do with The Revenge of the Books of Hay when it’s done. From the reading I’ve been doing, novellas aren’t a popular format with agents and publishers, and given I don’t exactly have anything else ready to show them, it seems a bit premature to try the traditional route. But it does strike me as an interesting opportunity to do a little bit of experimentation.

I’ve always planned to release the story electronically under a Creative Commons license, but I’m thinking too that it might be fun to release via a print-on-demand too. I’ve started looking at the options, and I’d love to hear what people’s experiences have been with the different services. I’d do it pretty cheap – say a quid or two over their base cost – to see if people would then be willing to take a chance on it.

Assuming that it would top out at 100 pages, the different services looks like this:

Lulu
Paperback, B&W, perfect bound, 6″ x 9″, one off: £2.98, tax not mentioned, (shipping ~£3.75 to UK, according to a friend)

Blurb
Paperback, B&W, 5″ x 8″, one off: £3.50 + tax, (shipping £3.66 to UK)

Createspace (Amazon)
B&W, 6″ x 9″, one off: roughly £2.69 depending on exchange rate, tax not mentioned, (shipping has various options)

Cafepress
Paperback, B&W, perfect bound, 5″ x 8″, one off: roughly £7.16 + tax, (various shipping options)

WordClay, Authors Online, BookSurge all also have offerings, but none of them very simple or attractive.

To be honest, Lulu or Blurb certainly seems like the way to go. Their models are simple and their prices attractive. I like the idea of specialist software to design my book, rather than just fiddling about in a PDF and hoping for the best, but Blurb’s BookSmart really seems struggles to cope with my novella even at just 23,000 words. I hate to think what it would do with a full length novel.

Anyway, I’ve love to hear your experiences with PoD, so me me with ‘em in the comments!

A question of balance

by Suw on March 10, 2009

I managed to cram in a bit of writing last night, much to my delight. I’ve had very little opportunity to write recently, and with a house move on the cards, it’s going to get harder to find the time to write. But I managed and even though I only got 570 words down, it was 570 more than I had when I started, and that make me happy.

I also spent some time looking at the outline of my novella in Scrivener, trying to figure out how best to order the scenes. Some of them have an obvious linear order, but others are back story and need to be positioned within the main timeline for best effect. It was then that I realised I now have more backstory than I have story. This means quite a bit more work. It won’t be enough just to flesh out existing scenes, I’m actually going to have to come up with more meat to go into the pot.

I’m quite happy though. I’ve already had a think about where I can elaborate and make things more interesting, but it does mean that chances of me getting this novella done any time soon are slim. Oh well, I may post another scene here for you to chew on in a little while.

Rain on the green

by Suw on March 1, 2009

First draft of opening scene from Revenge of the Books of Hay. Comment at will.

Ernest Scrimshire pulled the nape of his jacket up over his head. He hesitated on the bookshop doorstep as the heavy oak door shut behind him, then plunged into the pelting rain. The remains of the castle loomed up behind him and provided some shelter for a moment or two, but soon he was at the top of the steep steps that lead down to the Castle Green. They were slick and dangerous, and he took a hold of the hand rail, still holding his jacket up with his other hand. It wasn’t far to home, but he’d be soaked to the skin before he got to the other side of the tiny, irregular walled green. It was barely 15 yards across but the rain was coming down like stair rods.

The lush grass, thick after a wet summer and long overdue a mow, soaked up the weather and soaked the bottoms of his trousers. Bookshelves backed up against the walls as if defending themselves against all that lay outside, or perhaps they were cowering away from the torrents that lashed them.

Ernest felt a pang of guilt as he hurried past the exposed and vulnerable books. Every time it rained, he wished he had found time to erect some sort of shelter for them, just something to keep the worst of the rain off them. But every time it was dry he was busy with other things, with urgent things that couldn’t wait. Or couldn’t wait insofar as Griffith Loyd was concerned, at least. Most things could wait for Ernest.

He hurried home, leaving the soggy books behind him. Sad and unloved, they stood in serried ranks along the shelves: outside, unprotected, at the mercy of the elements. As if the desultory prices they were on offer for, 30p for a paperback, 50p for a hard cover, wasn’t insult enough. And this in a world where 50p barely bought half a loaf of bread.

The Literary Guide to the United States stood next to More For Timothy and Indoor Plants, A Compendium, but should any brave souls take a shine to one of these illustrious titles and try to remove one from the shelves, they would find the covers stuck together, past rains and subsequent hot spells having bound them together as fast as any glue.

The poor large format books were relegated to the lower shelves, no longer lined up neatly, but piled in sorry heaps. The weaker, thinner paperbacks curled up in pain, their pages wrapped foetally around their spines, their deformity crushed into place by heavier hard covers. The muddy path that lead the book buyers around the green threatened to cast its muck over everything, except the mould had got there first. Mildew spots grew on every page, consuming the type and eating away at the paper.

No one would want one of these pathetic books in their house. They weren’t even fit for kindling in the town’s many fireplaces. Instead, they sat on their shelves, quietly rotting.

The wind swung to the north and a different cadre of books cringed away from the cruel rain.

Are cliffhangers necessary?

by Suw on February 28, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about my style of writing, and about what’s missing from my current draft of The Revenge of the Books of Hay. I read Cory Doctorow‘s Little Brother recently. It is quite probably the best thing that Cory has ever written and definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s utterly gripping, and I found it incredibly difficult to put down. I was reading it on Stanza on my iPhone, which meant I was reading it at the gym, on the bus, on the tube, in bed… pretty much anywhere I could find a moment to read. I haven’t been that drawn into a book in ages; although now that Kevin and I read to each other most nights, so I rarely read book on my own now and reading together is a very different thing to reading solo.

Anyway, I’ve been mulling over the question of cliffhangers. Vince is pretty good at creating cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that make you want to keep reading, and of course, plenty of other authors are too. Cory has a really big one at the beginning of Little Brother than nagged at me the whole way through, as I was dying to find out what happened. I’m not really all that great at cliffhangers. In script writing, we learn to “get in late and get out early”, to make scenes tight and concise and to try and keep a sense of tension going. But in my prose, my scenes tend towards the opposite: I get in early and get out late. I let the whole thing unfold slowly, and the end of the scene has a comfortable “closed” feeling to it.

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I had been operating on the assumption that I’ll have to go back and try to imbue some of my scenes with at least a hint of tension, but when I was talking with a friend of mine last week, she asked a really insightful question: Why? Er, um, yeah…

I guess it really comes down to the fear that what I’m writing will be, when all is said and done, a bit dull. I don’t mind if people think it’s silly, or daft, or strange, or awkward. Or even if people don’t understand it at all. But I would be gutted if they thought it was dull. Maybe I’m being premature, though, as I’ve still a lot to write and rewrite before the thing even reaches the “in first draft” stage.

Either way, I’d like to know what people think about cliffhangers. Like them? Hate them? Prefer books without them? See them as a trite trope, overused and difficult to execute well? Or are they essential to retaining a sense of tension and suspense?

Writing as sculpture

January 15, 2009

I’ve nearly finished the first draft of The Revenge of the Books of Hay, a couple of months later than I had intended to, but so it goes. I’m currently writing one of the very last scenes, a big showdown between two of the key characters, and whilst I was writing the other night I [...]

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