So, this isn’t really working out, is it?
It’s not you, it’s me. Yeah, yeah, that old cliché, I know. But the thing is, just now, the timing isn’t right. I mean it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? I only come here once in a blue moon these days – and whilst my lack of commitment plays heavily on my mind, there are other priorities which need my full attention at the moment.
First off – I’m writing! I mean writing writing. The Possibilities of Elizabeth is moving along nicely, and I need to have a tidy first draft finished by October. I’m on course, but the more I write the more I realise that Elizabeth is going to require a lot of organisation, leaving no spare time for blogging (or, more accurately in my case, thinking about blogging). More of that in a minute.
Then there’s work. My other writing. For a host of reasons I need to focus more on my work this year – which basically means get more of it. I recently took myself on as a client and put together a (very humble) work website to promote my copywriting – www.wordwhizz.com. I’m pleased enough with the result – but I tell you what, I don’t pay well, and I wouldn’t be one of my favourite clients ever! Have a wee peek if you like and let me know what you think. I’d appreciate that. After all, we’ve come through quite a lot together these past couple of years, and I value your opinion.
So, with one thing and another, I’m aware that I’ve been chronically neglecting my Naked Blog of late – and to abate the nagging discomfort I feel as a result, I thought it best to call a temporary halt to proceedings. It’s more of a sabbatical than a break up. And even if it ends up being a gap year, I’ll definitely be back – with good news, I promise!
I’m signing off with another blog hop – a good one to bow out on I think, as it focuses on writing. It’s called My Writing Process, and was passed on to me by the very lovely Valerie Francis, a Canadian author who’s hoping that her own debut novel will soon be published. You can read Valerie’s own writing blog hop here.
So, my task is to answer four questions about my writing.
1) What are you working on?
Well, if you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I’m currently working on my novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. In a nutshell, it is narrated by Elizabeth Rose – a young woman who lies in a coma, the result of an accident which may or may not have been an attempt to end her own life. She can’t remember. As she tries to choose between life or death, a collection of her former selves bring her on ‘trips’ back to her past: seemingly insignificant moments in time which gradually reveal an astonishing family secret, and ultimately guide her decision. (If you haven’t done so before, you can read a chapter from the book here.)
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Blimey – this is a tricky one! I suppose ‘because it isn’t published yet’ is the obvious answer, if a somewhat flippant one. But, just for a moment, let’s pretend that the deal for my first novel, Biddy Weirdo, didn’t fall through – that it’s already out there, taking up prime spots on bookshop shelves, being read (and loved, obviously) by book groups, top of the Richard and Judy Summer Booklist, tipped for a Costa First Novel nod. (I’m loving this little fantasy!) And, of course, Elizabeth is number two in the three book arrangement I secured when I signed my (five figure, naturally) deal for Biddy. (What the hell, make that six!) Oh, I forgot about the movie deal for Biddy. MGM, I think it was!
Right, now that we’ve set the scene, imagine that I’m being interviewed by a respected (female) journalist for a feature in, say, The Guardian, or The Sunday Times Culture magazine, or maybe even The Culture Show. (Don’t know why the journalist is female – she just is, okay! My fantasy, remember.) Oh no, wait – it’s Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour!
So, the conversation goes like this:
Jenni: (after a lavish introduction where she has gushed about the literary and commercial merits of Biddy Weirdo)
Tell us, Lesley, how would you say your work differs from others of its genre?
Well, Jenni, that’s a really difficult question to answer. Funnily enough, I was asked it once before and it stumped me a bit then too. I suppose it’s the issue of how my writing is categorised: which ‘genre’ it slots into. My agent describes it as Literary Fiction – which fits, certainly, although it has also been labelled as Young Adult fiction, which I don’t believe it is. I’d say it sits somewhere between the two: contemporary literary adult fiction, which could be read and appreciated by young adults too – a ‘genre’ shelf which the publishing world seems oddly reluctant to fill. In fact, we had a hard time getting Biddy Weirdo published at first because, whilst many publishers loved it, they couldn’t find a ‘home’ for it on any of their regimented lists.
Personally, the audience I write for is me. If there were millions of mes out there, I’d have been an international best seller years ago. What I mean is that I write the type of fiction I like to read. And I read avidly. If I don’t have at least two novels in waiting I get twitchy. I’m constantly researching debut writers so that I can see what’s new out there: what the publishers are going for. And if I fall in love with a writer’s style or voice, I’ll get hold of their other work if I can. This is primarily how I learn about writing – by reading. And reading, and reading and reading.
There are a few books I would definitely compare Biddy to, in terms of style, story and approach – and potential audience too: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher, to name just a few. All of these books were published as adult novels, but with a strong young adult undercurrent – and all deal with at least once catastrophic event from a central character’s childhood. But they are all uniquely individual too. Isn’t that the point? So, Jenni, that’s a very long way of saying I really don’t know how my work differs. Actually, if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s a bit of a stupid question. And, really – screw genre anyway!
And at that point I am ushered out of the Radio 4 studio, never to return. Ah well – my fantasy was good while it lasted!
3) Why do you write what you do?
Okay, no Jenni this time. Just you and me. But, as I told her – I write what I like to read. Don’t all writers? I have been asked, on several occasions, ‘why can’t you just write about romance? Or vampires? Or sex? Or crime? Or whatever-the-fuck is selling at that particular time? Err…because, frankly, it doesn’t work that way. At least not in my head. The stories in my head are very dark, and pain, on various levels, seems to be a recurring feature. The characters who tell them are dangerously damaged, or deeply flawed. They exist, rather than live. I have no idea why, but that’s what I write – although I try to inject moments of humour, even if they’re black ones, and the possibility of hope is always hovering, just out of sight. But to introduce love and romance and sex to their stories, or thrown in a witch or two, or a couple of bloodsucking gnomes, would be, well, a lie. And if I were to write about romance or sex or vampires, it’d be shit.
4) How does your writing process work?
Well, as you’ll know if you’ve been to my Naked blog before, obviously with a huge amount of procrastination, and a hefty dose of crippling self-doubt! But when I’m on a roll – which I am just now (I know, halle-freaking-lujah) – I’d say my writing process is, hmm, eclectic. I have no specific routine. No rituals. No talismans. I don’t pray, or ask for guidance from the writing Gods, or meditate or down a slug of gin. I do like to have had a shower, and my breakfast, and applied a dash of mascara – and then settle myself down in front of My View. (Not to brag or anything, but My View is pretty special: garden, followed by landscaped walkway, followed by marina heaving with beautiful boats!) I also like to decamp every so often to a coffee shop, and, weather permitting, my gorgeous blue garden table, which sits at the bottom of said garden, has witnessed the penning of a chapter or two.
My tools are my laptop, a notebook or two, and my favourite new gadget – a pocket Noteboard. It’s basically a collapsible white board, which opens out into 35 double sided 5” x 3” rectangles. (www.thenoteboard.co.uk.) I LOVE it. I started using it last year when I was working on a re-write of Biddy, and it’s been proving invaluable for Elizabeth, as I’m finally able to keep track of all her comings and goings.
Writing Elizabeth is proving to be an altogether different experience than writing Biddy was. For a start, I’m using first person narrative, or point of view, which is definitely a challenge. With Biddy I used an omniscient point of view technique, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea from a reading perspective, but I love it. It sort of allows you to nip inside almost any character’s head at any given moment. (I actually believe that JK Rowling uses it to great effect in A Casual Vacancy.) I didn’t set out to apply this form of narration to Biddy, but when I started writing her story I had a very strong sense of the voice of Mary Alice – the dead character who narrates the beginning and end of each episode of Desperate Housewives – in my head. That’s where the similarity with Desperate Housewives ends though! Biddy would most certainly never end up on Wysteria Lane!
Telling Elizabeth’s story entirely from her perspective can be a little bit exhausting sometimes – especially when she’s not being very nice! But then I do know what she’s been through in her short life (bloody nightmare – you’ll see) and she is in a coma – so I kind of have to let her off the hook. Sometimes I do find it more difficult to ‘hear’ her though. Her voice has to be crystal clear when she’s talking to me, otherwise I find I’ve written complete clap-trap, which is totally irrelevant to the story and ends up going in my laptop’s bin. And at the moment her story is all over the place (which is where the Noteboard earns its keep). With Biddy the process was much more organic – the story moved from A to B to C, and so on, until we finally got to Z. Right now, Elizabeth’s story is like an alphabet on drugs. There is absolutely no sense of chronological flow – and I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay that way. Which is fine, so long as I don’t lose the plot (literally) in the process. Because there is a plot, you see. I do know that. I’ve known it all along. She came to me with her story fully formed – it’s just the telling of it which is proving tricky. Getting in the bits that count, and leaving out the ones that don’t.
But then again, I suppose that’s writing. And it’s great!
So, enough I think. I’m off for now. By the way, you’ve been brilliant: supportive and encouraging and funny. You’ve made me laugh and cry in equal measure. You’ve warmed my heart and kicked by backside – and I love you for it. Thank you!
See you around…x x
PS: My own tags in this Writing Process Blog Hop are two fabulous writer friends and all round lovely people. The first, Bernie McGill, is already a successful and renowned author, with an abundance of awards and accolades to her name, and a whole lot more to come. The second, Jackie Buxton, is, like me, a lady-in-waiting. But when she does take centre stage (as she will) she’ll set the damn thing on fire!
Bernie McGill is the author of Sleepwalkers, a collection of short stories long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2013, and of The Butterfly Cabinet (named in 2012 by Downton creator Julian Fellowes as his novel of the year). Her short fiction has been shortlisted for numerous prizes and she won the Zoetrope:All-Story Award in the US in 2010. She is the recipient of a number of Arts Council of Northern Ireland Awards and was awarded a research grant in 2013 from the Society of Authors for work on a second novel set on Rathlin at the time of the Marconi experiments. She lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland with her family. www.berniemcgill.com
Jackie Buxton is the author of short story, A Life with Additives which is published in Stories for Homes, an anthology based on the theme of ‘home’ and A Time to Push, published in They Lied, an anthology of short stories focusing on the ‘humorous’ side of childbirth. Her stories have also been published in Chase Magazine in which Jackie also has a regular two page slot featuring book reviews and other articles. Her novels, Glass Houses and Misguidance have both won first chapter competitions and were runner up and shortlisted respectively in the Oxford Editors’ First Chapter Competition 2013. Jackie also teaches creative writing, edits novels and short stories and is the world’s worst PA to her long-suffering husband. When not writing or reading, Jackie can generally be found on a bicycle, in a pair of trainers or holding a cappuccino. Find out more at www.jackiebuxton.com.