Saturday, 26 April 2008

Planning a novel ...

... is a strange and frustrating business, despite my colleague's beautiful vine and wire analogy.

My heart gives a little leap of excitement each time I think I've 'got it', only to find that what I thought I'd got won't work, because something else comes to light as a result of what I thought I'd got.

I would love to be able to look on this process as a puzzle: (image from the Crafty Puzzle Company), as I've heard Peter Matthiessen say that he does. I've also heard him say that while meditating - he practices Zen Buddhism - the answer to a plot puzzle sometimes comes to him, which is frustrating because he can't get up and write it down. But when he told his Zen Master this, the Master simply smiled and said, 'Well of course you must go and write it down.'

I admit that I am less frustrated with Hope Remains (working title for the novel that was, once, a biography of my great-grandmother) than I was at this stage with Speaking of Love because I know, having got there once before, that the puzzle will resolve itself eventually (or, I will resolve it). But I am impatient to write before I've done enough planning even though I know, from bitter experience, that to write too soon means writing for miles down the wrong road.

What I need is a plausible connection between Jennie, my twenty-first century protagonist, and Noel, my own (fictionalised) Edwardian great-grandmother beyond the Titanic (possible title there ...). It must be something that Jennie would, plausibly, not have known. I thought I had it last night but this morning the sun is shining brilliantly through the holes. With any luck the sun will shine on a watertight solution tomorrow ... .

Thursday, 24 April 2008

As easy as 123

Norm at normblog has tagged me for this ... and because I've never been tagged before (I'm so easily flattered) and because my nearest book was not what I usually read but what I absolutely need (for research for my next novel) I thought I'd give it a go:

1. Pick up the nearest book
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you

Nearest book: The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society by Paul Thompson. The sixth, seventh and eighth sentences on page 123 are:

There was the annual Sunday school outing. In summer they could go walking, and pick up apples. But for these English country children there was nothing equivalent to the storytelling, music and dancing which still flourished, as we saw in Peter Henry's story, both in family and community in the north.
I've tagged - if they want to be tagged: Stuck-in-a-Book, BooksPlease, Cornflower, A Work in Progress and Random Jottings.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Telling ourselves into being

I found this:

We tell ourselves into being, don't we?... I think that is one of the great reasons for stories. I mean, we are the storytelling animal, there is no other creature on earth that tells itself stories in order to understand who it is. This is what we do, we've always done it, whether they are religious stories or personal stories, or tall stories, or lies, or useful stories, we live by telling each other and telling ourselves the stories of ourselves.
It's from an interview with Salman Rushdie by Matthew d'Ancona at The Spectator. But I didn't find it there, I found it here, at normblog. Rushdie says precisely what I believe about why we tell (or write) stories ... what possible other reason could there be? This is it.

Thank you Norm, at normblog.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

To plan or not to plan a novel?

That is the question.

A writing colleague and I were talking the other day about whether we should or shouldn't plan our novels. I said I felt as I'd heard Rose Tremain say she'd felt: that if she plans, the subsequent writing bores her and if the writing bores her, it will surely bore readers ... .
But I also knew as I spoke that there was a deeper resistance to planning in me and it is this: planning is the rockface, not the romance. Planning is the dangerous hard work from which I might fall off and injure myself (ie, the piece will prove itself to be nothing but piss and wind) and I am afraid that planning will destroy the romance of the words themselves. However I also know that if I write off in any old direction it takes twice (or thrice) as long and I get despondent. My colleague said: Novels and stories should come from deep places, from the soul, should be inspired, ie, romantic, but it's difficult to square that with planning, let alone keeping an eye on the marketplace. (Hurrah, I said to myself .) But she also said: 'But I am coming round to the idea of putting a structure in place, just a little something, for the inspiration to hold onto. It's a bit like letting a climbing flower grow feely but putting a wire in front of it and saying, "This way, I want you here".'I think her analogy brilliant. She is right. I also came up with one of my own: I need the bedrock of planning to provide a solid base for the romance (the soul) of what I write. Serendipitiously I found this, here, when idly searching for 'bedrock and soul':'The substrate here is woodsy humus and soul pockets over bedrock ... ' which says it all, really, even if unintentionally. But I shall leave the last word on planning to one of my favourite writers in my favourite book:

John Fowles wrote this, on pages 85 & 86 of my copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman:
You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons. ... Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Cornflower Book Group

The Cornflower Book Group is discussing Speaking of Love, so if you'd like to join in the discussion, hop on over there, here.I'd like to hear what you think does work as well as what you think doesn't work, and if you've got any questions ask me them there, in the comments, and I'll reply there too.

Friday, 11 April 2008

I have been Normed


It is a wonderful thing that normblog does, this norming thing of a Friday. The similarities and the differences between, for instance, why a person would tell a lie (often to save a life) and which songs and poems people love - when they can only choose one - make interesting and sometimes hilarious reading. You can find all the bloggers norm has normed here - and Norm himself has been blogging about all kinds of things since before 2003, can you believe it?

He has normed himself here; he has normed Geoffrey Chaucer (hilarious) here; and he has normed the three bloggers who I named as my favourite three: here, here and here. He's even normed Saddam Hussein here (probably funnier when he was alive, but still I giggled).

Thank you Norm for making blogging such a linked and sometimes hilariously unexpected experience.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Convergence of the Twain

It is strange what research throws up when you let yourself follow a curving line, isn't it? (I know, it could be called a MAT, but I don't think it counts.)

I was looking for information about icebergs, when this caught my eye and so I veered off course towards it. Hardy wrote it in 1912, that ill-fated year for an apparently unsinkable ship and her passengers:

The Convergence of the Twain
by Thomas Hardy

In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her,
stilly couches she.

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid,
and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls-grotesque,
slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless,
all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: 'What does this vaingloriousness down here?'...

... Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her - so gaily great -
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history

Or sign that they were bent
by paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said 'Now!'
And each one hears,
And consummation comes,
and jars two hemispheres.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

In the blink of an eye

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean-Do to his friends) wrote a whole book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by the arduous process of one blink for each letter. In French it's called La Scaphandre et le Papillon. (I tried to upload a video clip of the film - which the boyf and I saw last night - but utterly failed: technology impossible to grasp.)

I love the word scaphandre and, with the help of my (English) dictionary I make the direct English translation manboat (or boatman) from the Greek andro (man) and scaphe (boat).

But, heavens, I MAT by dreaming and procrastinating and putting off writing by going for a walk and making cups of tea (herbal, natch) and wandering round my house and answering and sending emails and and and ... and so many of these MATs are physical. Then, eventually, I sit down and type or handwrite sentences that have been building themselves in my head while I did everything else except write them down. How simple (and taken-for-granted) is that?

Bauby blinked his way from letter to letter to make the sentences that eventually made his book. He prepared the sentences early in the morning so that when Claude Mendibil arrived, and began reciting from a list of letters, he could blink when she reached the right letter and then again and then again until she said a word back to him. And so on and on and on. What extraordinary courage, tenacity, clarity, imagination and sheer human spirit. 'The blink of an eye' took Bauby months.

Go and see the film ... or, if you've missed it - we nearly did - buy the book. Bauby's beautiful, moving story of courage in the face of impossible odds, deserves our unblinking attention.