Saturday, 30 July 2011

74,000 words and counting

At the beginning of this year, after the experience of seeing my drafts laid bare and exposed in the exhibition at Stephen Lawrence Gallery, I decided to revise most of what I had written so far. Revising Part 1 went well, I was able to identify the blind spots fairly easily and find the right resolutions. I entered an excerpt of Part 1 into a competition - the prize being a subsidised place on a professional development programme for writers who have completed a draft of their first novel and would like to spend some dedicated time developing it further under the guidance of writer-mentors and agents. I didn't get selected for the programme - but I was a runner up and offered a whole manuscript appraisal. The judges were a professional writer, publisher and agent, so for me this was a very positive outcome. I've never shown my novel to anyone in the literary industry and the fact they thought it demonstrated great potential, a strong lead character with an individual voice, was a boost to my confidence.

Revising Part 2 has been more tricky. I have struggled. Perhaps this is because in Part 2 I have to make decisions and resolve some of the teasers and plot lines set up in Part 1. The main problem is that the denouement at the end of Part 2 no longer convinces me. And if it doesn't convince me then it sure as hell won't anybody else. The catastrophe awaiting Kaye is largely driven by her Father's absence and her willingness to subscribe to his political ideology, but it is also facilitated by the intense friendship with her best friend, Carole. Carole is an incredibly influential and important person in Kaye's life and I need to spend more time establishing their friendship and cementing their strong bond.

I am fascinated by female friendships - particularly those formed during adolescence. The feelings I had for my own best friend during primary and secondary school were as fierce as any love affair. This is because at that time, it was the central relationship in my life. I owed her loyalty, protection and total commitment and she owed me the same. If either of us failed at any of these things, there would be hell to pay: hours of painful accusation, followed by days of silence, before the delicious satisfaction of burying the hatchet and making up. The desire to make it up to my friend overruled anything else - that kind of power can be dangerous. I think I need to further explore the dance of power and status between Kaye and Carole and demonstrate how this leads them to disaster.

So I have written 74,000 words so far. Funny how the word count becomes an indicator of some kind of success. 74,000 words, but I am not sure how close I am to a completed draft. Major revisions are under way and it is like renovating a house. Once you start attacking one section, you notice that some of the foundations are a bit wobbly and if you don't attend to this problem, the house will just come crashing down later on. Writing a novel probably takes as long as building a house.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Airing Cupboard Diaries: A Novel in Progress

Last month I presented my novel in an exhibition at Stephen Lawrence Gallery, entitled Fireside Tales and Poolside Memoirs. The exhibition explored the materiality of building narratives and included photographic work, film, performance writing and projections.

I created an installation which presented both the fictional narrative of the Airing Cupboard Diaries, and the narrative of writing the book so far. An incomplete bound copy of the novel was juxtaposed with earlier hand written drafts written in notebooks and journals. In addition, research material and methodologies were laid bare, the focus spanning personal, social, historical and political contexts.

The whole experience was exposing and it was tempting to withold some of the less than accomplished drafts from the installation, but I resisted. My installation asked viewers to spend a some time absorbing the range of materials presented and I was worried that people would not sit and read within in a gallery context. I am happy to say that a lot of them did - they seemed to understand that if they invested in the piece it would pay off and they would be able to link and unpack the different layers of the work.

Even though I have yet to write the final chapter of the book (I did plan to have a finished draft in time for the exhibition, but hey ho, I didn't meet the deadline), binding what I had written so far, as if it was the finished product, has been incredibly helpful to the writing process. Reading the text in a beautiful serif font printed on unblemished book paper created a signifincant distance between me and what I was writing. Now I want to rewrite the whole thing. Not drastically, not like a mad obssesive who will never finish (at least I hope not), but finessing the cadence of the speech sentence by sentence so it sounds more like Kaye and less like me putting on a voice. When I look at a page of text in the bound book, I can grasp what is wrong with it and what I can do to fix it. The process will involve rewriting large passages from the bound book back into a diary, the type of diary I imagine Kaye using and then adding these reswritten segments into the manuscript. This will no doubt feel time consuming and tedious, but what I am starting to discover is that much of the writing process involves sitting in a room on my own, spending hour upon hour sweating over a single paragraph, with only the ocassional breakthrough to make me feel like I am not completely wasting my time.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Writing Rules

  1. Turn off mobile
  2. Do not surf the internet and tell myself it is for ‘research' purposes 
  3. Use ruled notebooks  
  4. Double space text so there is room for editing and additions 
  5. Hand write first drafts, and second drafts, and third drafts 
  6. Keep writing in hand until I am almost happy with the text 
  7. When I am almost happy with a hand written draft, type it up on the computer and refrain from looking at it again for at least 7 hours 
  8. When writing as child Kaye, use a multi coloured pen 
  9. When writing as child Kaye, use the kind of journal/diary that Brian would have bought for her - one that is a little too young for an 11 year old 
  10. When writing as secondary school Kaye, use notebooks which resemble school exercise books 
  11. When writing as secondary school Kaye, use a fountain pen or an inky black pen which has similar effect to a a fountain pen 
  12. Hand write ‘final’ drafts again in a real diary - the type that Kaye would choose for herself, and edit once more

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A Writing Connudrum

So, I have completed Part 1 of my novel - it will need another edit, but for now I have to it leave alone in order to embark on Part 2.  It has been tricky moving into Part 2 and so far, not nearly as much fun.  In Part 1, I had the opportunity to set the scene and ask some deliciously open ended questions.  I have been able to be very  playful and suggestive without having to make too many decisions or commitments. In Part 2, I am going to have to begin to answer or attempt to resolve some of the traps I have set for my characters (and myself). And as I write this, I also realise that I need  to come up with titles more enticing than Part 1 and Part 2.

Here is what I know:
I know how my book will end - there is a moment of castrophe that Kaye is heading towards and I know what that is. The book begins after the end, with a Prologue, and an older Kaye reflecting on her literally mispent youth.

Here is what I don't know:
How in the hell I will get to that end point, that denouemont.  But then, I suppose that is the point of writing a novel in the first place.  I am embarking on a journey and while I might know what my final destination is going to be and maybe even a few stops on the way, I cannot predict what is going to happen en route. 

And writing this Blog alongside my novel presents a connundrum. Until I started this, I was feeling pretty confident about my writing. The idea of people reading and commenting on what I might publish on here, of being interested and potentially critical does have an impact on the way I write, or at the very least on my attitude towards my own writing. There is no getting away from it. Every writer has an imagined or ideal reader, but hopefully not to the extent where they are writing to please them rather than themselves.  I think that in order to write anything worth reading, you have to have a vision and the best you can do is to keep writing  in order to clarify that vision in a beautiful and engaging way.  I couldn't imagine writing to please others and I don't see the point of that. I have this argument with a friend of mine who works in publishing.  I can certainly respect her point of view - she is someone who has to regularly trawl through hundreds of manuscripts, some of which are probably excruciatingly bad.  Her desire is that writers spend more time thinking about their market and their audience and I suppose that is how  publishers have to think - how something is going to sell.  But I don't think that is the job of the writer. In order for a writer to create some wonderful alchemy with words, they have to ignore what anyone else might think. This doesn't mean I am not interested in what people think about my writing and of course I desire an appreciation and respect for my work. But I think those anxieties about 'appeal' and 'markets' have no place in the space of writing. Think about them after you have finished the manuscript and sent it in to the jaded publisher, but not before.

I think this is why I haven't published anything on this Blog for almost two weeks.  I have however, done quite a bit of novel writing.  See, a dilema.