Catch yourself on

I’m writing two books at the moment. Similar in context to ‘I’m seeing two men’, but you are much less likely to get in trouble for it. In fact you will be lauded, most likely.

I’m a bit in love with book four. I still love book three too but the problems are starting – the flaws. The things I don’t know how to change. Book Four is new and fresh and makes my heart beat faster (especially when I’m writing all the sexy male characters my heroine is going to get involved with, swoon).

This is the first book that I can’t pinpoint getting the idea for, or what it was made me decide to write something set at home: Northern Ireland. I was reading something recently where Ian Rankin said there wasn’t much Northern Ireland crime, because the chaos and violence was too near. Well, it’s not any more, and I think the time is ripe.

What’s interesting is working out the voice – for the book and for the characters. Ostensibly it is my own voice, but after ten years away it really isn’t any more. I’m having to ask myself, would someone from Northern Ireland say it this way or that way? I want to capture the flavour of how people speak, but it would be awful so sound like a cod-Irish disaster (like when Hollywood actors star in dramas about the Troubles. Looking at you, Brad Pitt).

I also don’t want it to be incomprehensible, like when I used to fall foul of my university tutors because I used words they did not consider to be valid English ( I still think ‘underslept’ is a word!). Even now I still get odd looks for gutties, slabbers, banjaxed. I think the only solution might be regular trips back so that weird alchemy can happen where I slip back into my old speech and accent without even realising.

The Waiting Game

I am playing this game.

The rules are simple: wait. Wait some more. Do nothing. Do not pass Go. Do not make phone calls. Do not check email obsessively. Set deadlines by which you will stop waiting and then watch them pass. That’s the game, but it’s harder than it sounds.

I must have always realised being a writer involved having to wait a lot, but somehow I was entirely unprepared for it all the same. Perhaps because with my first tentative submissions replies came fast, several nos and a request for a full within two weeks.

But then came a great wide ocean of waiting. Weeks. Months. That’s how I first learned to play. In French, I was patienting. I am trying hard to patient myself.

As a child waiting seemed interminable. Passive, all you can do is wait for parents to pick you up or the school bus to come or Christmas to arrive or a journey to end. There’s a reason children ask if they’re nearly there yet, because they don’t have much control over it. As an adult I try to remember that however far off a date seems, it will come like a train on the tracks (not the trains I get, obviously, they never come) and one day you’ll be looking back on it out the window as it passes. I wait more patiently now for Christmas, late trains, exciting events. In fact I spend so much time waiting on, near, or in late trains that I try to practice a little Zen-like stoicism. After all, it won’t come any faster no matter what you do – it’s like being a child again. Often I fail though, and end up muttering and cursing like a madwoman.

So how can I distract myself as I wait again? I could have some kind of personal crisis or fall in love, although overall this might be counter-productive to my writing. I could travel or take up a hobby or move house (wait, I’m doing that). Or I could just write. That’s the same as falling in love and travelling anyway, though with less need for vaccines and broken hearts. And when the waiting’s up, it’s always good to be able to say, if you like THAT book, here’s one (or two or three) I wrote earlier. So back to the notepad for me!

Being kind to future me

I once watched an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ where the characters decided to leave a sticky problem for ‘future us’ to solve. I think this applies to writing too. When you’re haring down the slalom of a first draft, it’s all too easy just to write FIGHT SCENE HERE or A GETS TO THE HOUSE SOMEHOW….DON’T KNOW….and then carry on round it to the lovely exciting bits. Often, this is the best way to get the end (which you must do. You absolutely must get to the end of your first book before you can do anything). I’m very guilty of being lazy on first drafts. I rarely write in a straight line, but rather do all the easy scenes first, the ones that come to me. Then I make long straggly lists of extra ones that need to go in – along the lines of ‘need scene to show X fancies Y’, ‘more scenes where father does something’, ‘hint at Mary doing something evil’ and so on. Then I read, make notes, and do it again. And again. You get the picture.

This isn’t being very kind to future me, so perhaps I should stop being so lazy? Especially since past me can be quite thoughtful, actually. I’m writing my third book at the moment, although I get distracted and cheat on it with my fourth, because I’m in the exciting ‘Oh my God it’s amazing’ stage with the story. You know, before you start to run into problems like having a plot or dialogue or finding names for the characters. I found an old notebook the other day, and to my surprise I had already written large parts of Book 3. I have no memory of this. I knew I’d written a few scenes over the years, but we’re talking tens of thousands of words here. What a gift from past me! Interestingly (and annoyingly) I had already re-written some of the scenes, I suppose because they are the easy ones, the ones I had in my head and didn’t have to struggle for. It seems past me and present me would take a fairly similar approach to the scene, apart from a few small details changing such as surnames.

Past me was good. Past me wrote all this, by the looks of it, in 2009, when I was wrestling, I thought with my beast of a first novel. So in the spirit of friendliness I will try not to be lazy with Book 3 and will aim to get stuck into the tough passages instead of the lovely ones, and I’ll keep noting down the ideas I get for other books and stories along the way. Future me will be very pleased, although may with that current me did not have such indecipherable handwriting. To which I will say, stop being so ungrateful, dude.

To be kind to future me, I will:

Face the difficult bits head on.

Make copious notes on all the ideas I get, because I most definitely will not remember them even tomorrow, never mind in two years’ time.

Work very, very hard to get better at my writing, through constant feedback, study, and practice. Past me was very bad and despite a life-long dream to be a writer, did not get properly started until 2009. Imagine how good I could be now if it wasn’t for all the laziness and fear!

Come up with some kind of system for recording ideas instead of having to read through a hundred tatty notebooks when I come to write the book (except I won’t do this because I know now it’s just too much like hard work. Sorry, future me).

Try to write more neatly instead of in the fevered scrawl I usually use when the ideas are pumping. Think automatic writing done by disembodied hand in bad Gothic novel.