I’ve very kindly been asked by Lisa Hinsley to take part in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. This is a tour where you can follow a thread across the blogs of lots of writers, all of whom answer the same questions. It’s thrown up some very interesting blogs so far. To see Lisa’s answers (and she is an outstanding writer, so if you don’t know her yet, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise), go across to lisahinsley.weebly.com.
What am I working on?
Good question. I started The Jewel That Was Mine, about one particular item of the Cheapside Hoard, in November last year. The first half is set in the 17th century, with the second half supposedly taking place in the 21st century (a departure for me, who tends to mingle past and present in seemingly random chapters), and I reached 23k words about five weeks ago. It wasn’t working, and I woke up one morning and decided to ditch every one of those 23k words. I’m now back up to about 6k, and I’m hoping to be able to fit in writing it somewhere in my chaotic and maddening schedule.
The biggest problem with this is that I’ve got another four books in my head that I feel I should be getting on with. One of them is already in its second re-write; that’s The Emperor, The Practitioner and I, all about the origins of acupuncture, the effects of losing a friend in a war in Afghanistan, and the exploration of what if a patient fell in love with his or her acupuncturist? Another, The Trojan Corpse, is three chapters in and deals with some interesting and mysterious happenings in World War II. The other two aren’t even started, but could well be sequels to Dead Men, not merely in response to the many requests I’ve had to write a sequel, but also in response to ideas I had about sequels to Dead Men when I was sitting in an Antarctic Symposium in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in June 2012, notes which sit scribbled on some crumpled pieces of paper in my box full of Dead Men stuff.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The thing is, I never see myself as writing in a specific genre, and that’s something I’ve been told off for by a whole variety of people ranging from my ex-agent, to publishers, to friends, to anyone who I know I won’t listen to (although sometimes I have had to, which might explain why I sometimes get naffed off with writing).
If I look deeply at what I do differently to most other male writers is that I write genuine women’s fiction. Even if Dead Men might be perceived to be an adventure book in the first instance because it deals with exploration and the South Pole and the death of explorers, it’s actually about one particular headstrong and fragile woman trying to find her place in the world, and trying to solve a mystery from the past as part of that. And she’s not a wholly agreeable human being, and many readers haven’t liked her. But that’s real life; that’s how people are. We’re all horrible, selfish, fragile, in need of love, intolerant of love, lustful, lustless, listless, or manic at some time.
The same applies to the lead female character in A Fear of Heights which I’m shopping to agents and publishers at the minute, a woman thinking of calling it quits on her 10-year marriage because her husband is constantly jealous, because he fears climbing and flying, because life has been in stasis since she rescued him on Mount Everest years ago.
I refuse to deal in myths about the human condition, or in gender stereotypes, or in cliched characters. I want my characters to be real, believable and honest, not two-dimensional caricatures. Because the world’s not like that.
Why do I write what I do?
How long’s a piece of string? I write about what moves me, about what preoccupies my mind most of the time. And the things that I think about all the time are love and death. As simple as that. I sometimes ask myself if I’d ever be capable of writing a story (for that’s what a novel is, just a story) that doesn’t involve someone falling in or out of love, or one that doesn’t involve being obsessed by death or have someone who is loved dying. I’ve come to conclusion that I won’t ever be capable of doing that. Maybe that limits me. Maybe it doesn’t. Because I want to write universal truths.
How does my writing process work?
Weirdly enough, I often think of the title of a book first, and then I write the book. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s the way it is. I will probably have had some story or other jiggling around in my head before the title hits me, but not really consciously.
And once I start, I try not to stop until I get to the end. I don’t plan the plot or the story arc or whatever it’s called. I let the characters lead me. And if it doesn’t work, I start again. I don’t believe in writer’s block, and what’s happening to me at the moment with trying to get The Jewel That Was Mine written is a conjunction of adverse circumstance and the speeding up of time. I always say to people that it’s best to write lots (which will include a lot of rubbish) than not to write enough. It’s easier to shorten a book than it is to make it longer. Having said that, I have been sadly remiss, lately, to follow my own dictum of writing for an hour at least every morning before anything else. I must start doing that again. Because, despite my process possibly sounding slapdash, it is a craft, and the rythm and weight of the words is crucial. And they need to be the right words.
I hate the editing process. Although I have the advantage of having been a proofreader in my first job, it’s still not lots of fun going through, for the umpteenth time, something I’ve written. On the other hand, writers owe it to their readers to produce stories which are well-written and as perfect as possible. That’s one reason I always try to go down the trad publishing route, because I’ll get input from someone else whom I won’t have to pay to edit my book but who will invest in me and my book instead.
One reason I think I have been praised so much for my dialogue is because of the way I let the characters lead me. They talk to each other and me and my readers about their lives, about their dreams and desires. And that is, after all, where the heart of any story is.
I am passing the #MyWritingProcess on to a cracking author, Craig Hallam who writes in a genre I could never manage – Steampunk.
By day Craig is a mild mannered nurse from Doncaster, UK. By night (or any time he gets a few minutes to himself) he writes fiction. While he loves to write anything that pops into his head, his horror stories and darker material have gained him the most accolade. He started tackling short stories in 2008 and since then his credits have included New Horizons (The British Fantasy Society), Murky Depths and the anthologies of Misanthrope Press and Pill Hill Press.
His first novel, a Gothic Fantasy called Greaveburn (published by Inspired Quill), has had some very nice things said about it, and his next project, an epic Steampunk adventure called The Adventures of Alan Shaw will be hitting shelves both virtual and corporeal in June 2014 alongside a collection of his dark short stories, Not Before Bed. He hopes to see you staring hovering above one of his pages in the near future.
You can find Craig at these various internet locations: