End-of-the-week thoughts

Weird. I see from these entries that it’s just about six weeks since I began work on what I thought would be the second draft of my novel. It feels much longer ago, probably because the book I’m writing now is completely different.

I did precisely one week’s work on that second draft before I realised that something was wrong. What was wrong was the entire first section of the book. I spent a day or so going ‘oh fuck’ (it was 35,000 words we were talking about, after all) before deciding to junk it.

It seemed the only thing to do. I didn’t think that what I’d written was bad, just that it did not fit. It was swinging the novel into a cul de sac. I still felt happy with the middle sections of the book, but I wanted to rewrite the beginning and I knew that if I did that it would mean rewriting the most of the final section also. In effect I would have lost three months’ work, possibly more.

‘Comfort’ may not be the right word, but what made me certain I was doing the right thing was knowing it was not the first time something like this had happened to me and far from it. I begin with characters and situations, never plots. The only way I can find out what one of my stories is about is by writing it, and sometimes – very nearly always – the story I begin with is not the story I eventually arrive at. A lot of words get discarded. It took me three false starts – about 8,000 unused words – before I got a proper handle on ‘The Muse of Copenhagen’, for instance. For a while it began to feel like one of M. R James’s infamous ‘stories I have tried to write’ and it’s absolutely true to say that it was only my attachment to the protagonist and his situation (oh, and my promise to Jon Oliver and his House of Fear) that kept me going with it.

Similarly with the novel. I had this core section – about 25,000 words – that seemed to me to be the essence of the novel, the book as I’d always imagined it, a narrator with a story to tell. I could not let her down.

I fixed my mind on that character, and started again at Page 1.

Now, six weeks on, I have a whole new Part One, and this week I made a good start on rewriting Part Four. The book’s SFnal quotient is significantly stronger and more defined, something that delights me immeasurably. Those who know me best know that I get terribly nervous and vague when talking about work in progress, but I think it’s OK to say I’m quietly excited.

The thing still doesn’t have a title, but I’m trusting that will reveal itself eventually.

Just finished rereading: M. John Harrison’s (dauntingly magnificent) Light and Nova Swing, in preparation for the third book in this trilogy, the forthcoming Empty Space. Next up: China Mieville’s Railsea.

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