Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is nothing to do with the post but hands up who hates the new Blogger interface?

I once attended a writers' panel at the Whitsunday Voices Writers Festival. Somebody asked what was the best thing about writing, and Alison Lester, I think, replied 'Finishing'. It's an excellent answer, even if it was meant half-jokingly. Today I finished the sequel to The life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, after making all sorts of excuses for not doing it. I completed a questionnaire from one of the book blog sites recently where I was asked if I was a 'pantser' or a 'plotter'. In other words, did I start writing a novel with no real plan, in the hope that it might somehow fall into place, or did I plot carefully? I answered that I'm a mixture of both. This time, because I already had my cast of characters, along with the world they inhabit, I did less plotting than I would normally do. People who don't plot need to be tremendously lucky. They also need very good memories to realise what they have already included (or omitted to include). In the old days, when people wrote in longhand, it was absolutely necessary to plot thoroughly, but now a computer makes it possible for you to fix up many messes you might have made early on, when you didn't properly introduce a character who has magically grown in importance, or plant some vital clues that are satisfyingly revised or paid off later in the novel. h, and you akso have to tell a mildly diverting tale. You also don't need to search the shelves for a dictionary to make sure when the word 'towhead' was first used. My computer tells me that. It even tells me how to pronounce it. No wonder so many people are writing books.
A very good example of a towhead. Okay, I know it's Chord Overstreet from Glee, I don't own him  and I'll probably get asked to take him down, even though towhead is actually a nice word.
I started writing the sequel knowing what I wanted my characters to do and determined to visit someplace other than England, to give myself a sort of holiday from smog and squalor. I also wanted to write a book that stood alone and did not depend on the reading having read volume one. I think most authors strive for that, though it doesn't seem to happen very often.  think the best trilogy  have read is The Tripods by John Christopher, even if it does rip off HG Well just slightly, with the Tripods looking very much like the Martian war machines. But Wells himself was not against a little literary pilfering, so John Christopher is forgiven. This trio seemed to get more and more suspenseful as it flew along. In fact, I rather suspect that Christopher wrote all three novels as one big story, then elegantly trisected them.

 I don't own this Tripod either.

I sound like a broken record (or whatever the digital equivalent is) but I'm still trying to get over that bloody stroke I had last year, which makes it very difficult to type (even informal little chats like this) and most of the time I resort to hunting and pecking with my right hand while the left does a lousy job of changing the cases for me. So, The Teamen, which is the name of the sequel to The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher was a bugger to type. My voice recognition software, Dragon, didn't work for writing novels because I spend so long jumping back and forth through the text.

 Sorry, I don't know who you are, but you look like how I feel and my Photobooth isn't working.

Now, it's the jumping back and forth thing that caused a nightmare from which I have only just emerged. I wrote one chapter at a time and saved them as I went along, but when I stuck all the chapters together I realised that many events or runs of dialogue appeared twice. I really do blame the stroke for that. My short-term memory is crap, so I kept writing stuff I didn't need to write. In the end I had a novel full of time loops; incredibly difficult to negotiate if your memory isn’t razor-sharp.Some runs of dialogue appeared three times. Characters who had died kept turning up again - and to make matters even more confusing, the real plot does feature a few non-biblical characters who actually do that. Horrors that have been vanquished reappear all of sudden, looking surprisingly healthy. I'm a great believer in giving my characters dull, easily typed names so that I can later do a search-and-replace and thus give them more interesting ones. Only, because the book was in bits, not all of my characters had their new names. My brain felt like it was about to explode all over again. The manuscript really needed a fresh set of eyes to go through it and excise all the stuff that didn't need to be there or that made no sense. What a horrible job. My long-suffering but immensely supportive partner did it.

So I now have a sequel! The first time I've ever done a sequel to anything. And because of the stroke business, the whole 60,000 words were typed with one finger. I swear that the index finger on my right hand is now smaller than the one on my left.

What have I learned from this? The best part of writing is indeed finishing, although I know that today I will have to start work on a quirky crime script featuring my colleague and hero (can you have a colleague who's a hero?) Shaun Micallef. (Listen to the ABC talking book version of Leon Stumble's Book of Stupid Fairytales and see how funny we can be together.

Shaun Micallef, fresh from his role as Sue Sylvester's love interest in Glee.

Penguin hasn't said yes to the sequel yet. Perhaps foolishly, they want to read it before making a commitment. It will be a curious experience for me if it goes ahead as I will not be working with my usual editor, Dmetri Kakmi, who butchers my work thoroughly and always makes me look elegant. I will miss working with him. And if the book is published it won't appear until 2014, because all the slots are full next year.

But who cares? I finished. My right index finger hurts like hell and I have a massive head-ache. It is probably the last time I will write a novel so soon after a stroke, but it was something I felt I had to do, since I become even more unbearable to live with when I'm not writing. I really hope you enjoy it and that those who asked for a sequel don't mind having to wait so long before they can read it.

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