Historical Novelist Louise Turner, who wrote the excellent Fire and Sword, has tagged me in the latest (or almost the latest) writing blog hop. I have to answer some questions about my writing, and if you are reading this and you are a writer, I’d be happy to tag you to write your own version a week from now. So, here goes…
1) What am I working on?
Well, I’ve got quite a bit further with my first novel since I last mentioned it, and as usual, I’m writing poems all the time, which actually come a lot more naturally to me. The novel, under the working title The Crocus-Gatherers, has now got to the end of the first draft, but I know there’s more to do on the characterisation. I have to make the reader know and care about my lead character as much as I do, but I don’t think I have really got her on to paper sufficiently as yet.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
What genre is that? I suppose it is a kind of thriller. My husband says it’s not so much a “whodunnit” as a “whydunnit”. I’ve woven a kind of mystery story using a lot of what I learned about the workings of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. I think it is different because my lead characters who are scientists who are good at what they do but are actually ‘normal’ people – not ‘boffins’ or autistic-savants, just bright people trying to learn something about the way the world works as well as negotiate their way through the academic and office politics they find themselves in. They go to the pub, they fall in love, they watch TV and eat pizza, but they are also trying to bring new medicines into the world, which is both an intellectual puzzle and a great motivating factor in their lives.
The poems are really a response to living in the world, continually questioning what I find there and wondering about it. They come from a different part of my brain from the novel. Fiction is a cerebral pursuit, like writing an essay for a college course. It comes from the higher part of the brain. Poems are deeper-seated. Like many poets, I get a funny feeling when there’s the seed of a poem arriving in my head: a restless and melancholy feeling, like homesickness or nostalgia. If my poems are different from anyone else’s, I’d say that quirky subjects appeal to me, and I want readers to see the world slightly differently after reading one of my poems.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The novel – because I am a storyteller and I have a story to tell. Because I want to entertain and, to a lesser extent, to show readers a different world from the one they inhabit.
The poetry – who knows? I think it is because I am always questioning everything I see, and living “the examined life”, and therefore I think I have something to say.
4) How does my writing process work?
With the novel it involves procrastinating, flicking through facebook and twitter, and avoiding any actual writing as long as possible. I do a lot of research, mostly on line, and when I find a little fact that will add to my plot, I get very enthused. I write on a rather old-fashioned PC in our little study. Sometimes I stop and watch the birds in the neighbour’s garden, and the Red Kites wheeling overhead. I’m not somebody who works through the night; I think afternoons and early evenings are my best writing time, especially with tea – not any fancy Darjeeling or Earl Grey, just regular Builders’ Tea with milk. What I am finding at the moment is that I am pretty hopeless at editing.
With the poems, once I get that funny poemy feeling, a line often pops into my head. Or sometimes I start from a line scribbled in a notebook – I carry a notebook most of the time. It’s often the first line of a poem, sometimes a last line. More rarely it’s a bit in the middle. I then start scribbling – in pencil if possible – and within a few hours I’ve got the basic poem down and I type it up and tinker with it. Then it works on a sort of 80:20 basis; it can take a few days or a few months to edit it, tidy it up, look for rhymes and chimes, and fiddle with the line and stanza breaks. The poems that get on to the page the most quickly and easily are usually the best ones. I’m lucky to have a number of people to send my poem drafts to, who will give me good and constructive feedback.
So, I hope I’ve answered those questions adequately!
William Thirsk-Gaskill is hereby tagged to provide his answers to those same questions next week.
I’m very happy to tag two more writers who would like to say something about their own work-in-progress, and their writing process.