Keeping going

Sunday 5th August 2018

Keeping going

Last Sunday I wrote about what I called a Turning Point. I pointed out that I had decided to change course. After six months of writing my current novel, a new approach was required. Changing the style of the novel – from something resembling a screenplay – to the more conventional format of a narrated story, told in the past tense. That is what I am doing. It was not a decision that I took lightly; it means a great deal of work; editing the text, changing the way dialogue is treated. While that is happening no new material is being created.

Have I done the right thing?

Part of me wants to be rebellious. Creative. Innovative. Committed to bringing about change in the way novels are written. Another part of me craves recognition. Getting my novel published – by an established publishing house – justifies the many, many hours of work involved. An author who has a string of credits, whose work sells well, who has a following of readers, can try something new. A writer who wants to get his first novel into print is enslaved to conventional ways of doing things.

My previous two novels stuck to the rules. They were written in a style that followed the conventions of writing fiction in English. Neither of them has yet been accepted; but then, I have not done much to get them accepted. The manuscripts have been sent to far few literary agents. All of those approaches have been rejected. Hardly surprising. Both works were too different. They would not have slotted easily into the pre-conceptions of British publishing. Rant as I may about the sad and sorry state of book publishing, there is little I can do to change it.

I thought I read somewhere that the British buy more books than do most of their European counterparts. A nation of readers, the British spend more time in front of a page than the Peoples of other countries. Even if that is correct, I am far from convinced that the reading public wants novels that are literary. The shelves of bookshops are piled high with works that stick to well-worn themes, recognisable stories and genres, formats and styles that play it safe.

What do I read?

Reading novels written by others takes up a lot of my time. On my desk are copies of books that have recently dropped through my letterbox (I buy all my books on the Internet – at a fraction of the cost of what is being charged by the established High Street retail outlets.)

Kipps, by H. G. Wells, was the last one to land on the doormat. A couple of days before it was Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin. And his A Single Man is on its way. As the pile increases, I realise I am still wading through John Braine’s The Crying Game. And Smut by Alan Bennett. And I still have not finished Brideshead Revisted. Or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Even the bookmark slotted into the pages of Doctor Zhivago is nearer the front than the back. It’s all got rather silly.

But then I had been told that writers should read the works of other novelists. I think the Bennett is the newest work I have bought – having been published in 2011. I use it as a guide to contemporary typesetting. Frequently looking into it to see how things have been punctuated or laid out on the page. Would I buy a book published this year? Probably not. Apart from the price (too much for my meagre budget) I don’t like what stands for current fiction. Not based on what websites and newspapers are telling me. Expensive industrial pulp. In ten years time, many of these books will have been forgotten. Buy it. Read it. Bin it. Not my mantra.

Other posts in this blog

Use Your Imagination.

For a complete list of blog posts, go to the home page.

Turning Point

Sunday 29th July 2018

Turning Point

No one ever said that writing is easy; least of all, me. After more than six months of working intensively on The Streets Of London, I have come to the point where I think I have been doing it all wrong. Novelists will, I am sure, recognise that – as something that happens. As I have explained elsewhere, I decided to use a totally different style for the book. Most novels are written as narratives; often in the past tense and where the story is told by a third person. I wanted to do something different.

See my article about writing style

I used that style in my first two novels. In them. It worked. But I felt that the time had come to try something different. To experiment with a fresh approach to the novel. That is why I used a style based on the film script. Not the accepted standard way of writing a film script. A modified version of it that read like the text for a film. In some ways I think it worked.

Now I am not so sure. Yesterday, I spent several hours looking at the whole issue of whether it is possible to write a novel using a film script style. At the end of that time, I felt less confident that it could be made to work. I reached a crossroads. A turning point in my journey as a novelist where I had to make a decision about which way to go. I decided to rework the whole of Act One. Abandon the film script style and turn it into the more conventional way of writing. Narrative. Told by a third person. Possibly even an omniscient narrator.

Having done that, I will look at the two versions and weigh up where I have got to. That was my decision. I said ‘Act One.’ There were no chapters in the first draft of the book. Just three Acts. Each had a series of scenes. Each scene had a precise date. This is a history. It uses a chronological approach to the story. It does not have flashbacks. Those devices have not attracted me. Occasionally a character would talk about their lives – in the past. But they do that in the present. There is a sense in which the whole book is a story told by someone. But we are never told who. Or. It could be a diary. In that sense it is an epistolary work. It is, quintessentially, a story that runs along a time line. It begins at an exact time and ends at an exact time. Its division into three acts is, somewhat, a matter of convenience. Act One introduces the characters and sets out the background. Act Three leads to the denouement. The second act is the main course. Dividing the material up into chapters would be completely arbitrary.

Towards the end of last month, I realised there was one big weakness with the approach I had been taking to writing the book. It was almost totally talking. It could have been like a play for radio where all you hear is the voices of a group of actors saying the words. Apart from a few short opening sentences, each scene is limited entirely to people talking. All dialogue. It occurred to me that there could be some scenes that were almost all visual. Or largely visual. I have not yet tried that. So. I am not sure how to do it. In narrative. It’s straightforward. You tell the reader what happened. Job done.

Today – in the year 2018 – most people know the sixties from old film clips. Lots of documentaries on the television show news footage. Scenes shot at the time. They last for a few seconds. They illustrate the narrative. Someone talks about the riots in Grosvenor Square and you see brief clips of people fighting with the police; or being dragged away by them. That sort of thing.

Ah ha! You say. But this is a work of fiction. So you are not limited to brief news clips. You can make a scene as long as you like. As long as it needs to be. Yes. That’s true. But I could also use that news reel approach. Brief scenes where action takes place and a narrator describes what happens. New reels for radio. So to speak. That is a trope that might evoke a way of knowing what happened in the sixties. If you were not there. At the time. For some scenes that might work. Like Michael being at the Grosvenor Square demonstration. Or the boys attending the free concert in Hyde Park where the Rolling Stones were the main attraction. An approach such as this will not work for everything. It would not be possible to use it for the assassination of Martin Luther King. For example. That did not happen in London. The boys read about it in the newspapers, the day after. They talked about the news in the pub. There was nothing to visualise. Other than three boys sitting at a table with their newspapers and pints of beer. Talking.

Successful story telling involves keeping the reader engaged. Happy with how things are moving along. Being satisfied with the pace. Offering enough variation to keep them fully engaged with the story. Not getting bogged down in writing in a certain way. Just because you – the writer – feel comfortable with it.

Finding a voice

Lastly. One final problem. The story revolves around the lives of three people. All of them men (or at least boys – that is what they call each other.) Each of them has a distinctly different voice. In Act One. When they arrive in London. As their friendship develops, they become more and more like each other. By the final stages of the last act, they all speak with one voice. So it seems. By that time the reader has got to know them. As individuals. So, differentiating them through their voices is less important.

That is what I think. But I am not completely sure it works. Like that. Understanding the role of a voice in the novel is something I need to think through. But that will have to wait for next time.

Imagination

Sunday 15th July 2018

Use your imagination

To write a novel you have to use your imagination. At least. That is what I found working on The Streets of London. As the novel has developed it has taken on a life of its own. It began in January and is now over half way to its planned end date.

As I work on the sections, the world of London in the nineteen-sixties emerges, in my imagination. The characters become people that I can relate to. They can go on living their lives even after I have closed the document and walked away from the keyboard.

The scenes flow from my imagination. Like much imaginary life and like many imaginary worlds, the London they inhabit is partly imaginary. And partly real. The novel is sprinkled with real events. The central characters go to see a play. They go to the Royal Court theatre. They see a play by Joe Orton. The date on which they attend the show is a date when Orton’s Ruffian on the stair actually happened. The group of young men, around whom the story revolves, talk about the Grosvenor Square demonstration. They later talk about the assassination of Martin Luther King. Not long after that they discuss another assassination – that of Bobby Kennedy. They share their views on the musical Hair, recently opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre. They gather together to watch the first man landing on the moon.

The story is also sprinkled with real people. Various people make appearances in the book. To mention a few, Steven Sondheim, Leontyne Price, John Braine, David Bowie, Allan Sillitoe… people whose names might be found in any historical account of life and culture of the late sixties and early seventies. Their words were imagined. They were not people I actually met; well not most of them. One or two perhaps. I wrote them into the story because they were relevant to it.

Imagination or reality?

For me writing a novel is not q question of trying to decide between reality or imagination. It is about finding a way of weaving them both into the fabric of a story. My novel is based upon London during a period of five years. London is not a figment of my imagination. It is not a city in Middle Earth. It was a London that actually existed. It is, however, a London that no longer exists. It has passed into the shadows. Like the London of the Elizabethans. Or Victorian London. Many of the real people who appear in the story are no longer alive. They made their mark. They left behind the remains of their existence. Their books. Their recordings. Their lyrics. Their music. Just as Shakespeare did. Just as Karl Marx did. Some writers have created worlds and people who are only imaginary. That trope never appealed to me. My London grew out of my own experiences of living there. From the records I made, some fifty or so years ago, I have a woven a literary fabric which has the warp of reality and the weft of imagination.

Previous posts in my blog

Sunday 8th July 2018 – Ways of writing a novel.

See the home page for my blog

Ways

Sunday 8th July 2018

Ways of writing a novel

Someone asked me recently, how I wrote and was I either a planner or an inspirationist? In other words, did I plan everything in detail before I wrote the first word or did I just sit down at the keyboard and start writing, fuelled only by inspiration and the ideas floating around in my head.
My answer was that, where my current work is concerned, I started as an inspirationist and then became a planner. When I started writing, back in January, the idea for the book was in my head. I felt inspired to get on with it. By the time I had written several thousand words, I realised that I would soon be in trouble. I could not hold all the information in my head; I had to get it down on paper. Otherwise, I would start making serious mistakes. So. What needed to be planned?

Two things stood out:

Characters. Their names and profiles.
Timescales. When things happened and the order in which they happened.

What worried me the most, was continuity. In movie-making, continuity is making sure that details remain the same from one scene to another. If someone has red hair in one scene, he cannot have black hair in a later scene (unless of course, he dyed it but that is something you have to explain.) Or, to take a more obvious example, if a character is 19 in Act One, they cannot be 18 in Act Two. Timelines are records of dates that ensure that each scene happens in the right order. My timeline planning document runs to seven pages of A4. Its purpose is to ensure that there is chronological continuity across the five years of the story.

My novel is split into three acts (not chapters.) Each act is a separate document file. If I want to look at or work on, a specific scene, I use the timeline sheets to find it. Each scene is marked with a unique number. It has to be that way, if I am to find any specific point in the whole manuscript.

The Streets of London is not a simple work. For a start, it now well over 150,000 words long. And growing. There are already forty-six characters in it. Each character has to have a profile specifying their age, appearance and other key details that appear in the book.

Other things have been going on, in the background. A synopsis of the book has been written. This helped me to visualise the work as a whole. A resume of each of the three acts was written. Each of the five years, over which the story takes place, was researched. Facts had to be checked. The story is told in chronological order, from day one to the final day. It certainly was not written in order of the days. It was written in sessions – that was the inspirational bit. Now that nearly all the days have been drafted, I go back to scenes, add to them, amend them or even delete them. And that is just the work on the first draft. Throughout the book, there are some key moments – milestone events that are crucial to the story. These have to be right; they have to be in the correct position to make sense in the flow of the story and they have to be worked out. Once they have taken place, their consequences need to be seen. Explained and shown.

When can we read it?

So, when will the book be finished? I plan to have completed the first draft by the end of this year (2018.) The first couple of months of next year will be concerned only with editing – things like checking the spelling and grammar. I also have to ask myself how it reads – as a novel. Or, more importantly, I have to ask my friends to read it. And to tell me whether they enjoyed it. Sending it out to readers is done to find out if people enjoyed reading it. Some will; others will not. But it’s why they reacted to it in the way that they did, that is important. Not just friends (who are likely to be kind to me) but other writers (who are not likely to be kind to me.)

Finding the tropes

Then there are not inconsiderable issues of style. Trope. A trope is a literary device. A metaphor that portrays an idea; a motif that recurs in the writing, that embodies something. What it should not be is a cliché (unless of course, it is a cliché that was common to a year or period that would warrant its use.) A trope is a figurative device. The story contains motifs – symbols that represent something that underlines a character or event or an idea. The story, as I have written it, contains a great deal of imagery (often of a visual nature.) Motifs feed the reader with clues about what is happening, the significance of events or spoken words. For example, there is a scene in which Adrian (one of the central characters) is walking along a road that glitters with stars. Glittering streets is one of many motifs that are used to signify an aspect of life, an attitude to circumstances. There are many images or figures that signify something and these have to built up as the story unfolds. In this respect, a novel shares elements in common with poetry.

How did we speak?

There are several figures of speech. One of the big challenges I faced, in writing about the sixties, was trying to figure out how people spoke. Despite the fact that I was alive in that period, I cannot remember how people spoke. Not with any degree of detail or accuracy. But to bring the sixties to life, I had to guess how people spoke. There were a lot of slang words in the 1960s. Some of them I remember. Others had to be researched because I had forgotten them. Some of those sixties words and phrases are still in use; others have fallen into obscurity. Part of the trope (of writing about the sixties) was trying to capture how that period sounded, in the way that people spoke, back then. Not just speaking either. I had to describe how they looked. Fashion. Hairstyles. The way that what you wore said something about who you were.

There is one advantageous source, about setting a novel in modern times – film. Writing novels about Tudor times does not have that advantage. The camera was invented long, long after the death of Shakespeare. A lot of films of people talking and doing things in the 1960s has survived. Some of it has been very valuable to me in getting to grips with the period. It does have to be authentic. It’s no use thinking that movies, in which actors speak from scripts, is social realism. What I relied on were newsreels in which people spoke their own words.

Why?

In my travels around the Internet, I came across one question which I tried to dismiss when I read it. The question asked ‘Why are you writing this novel?’ So. Why am I writing a novel called The Streets of London? If I wanted to be flippant I could simply answer ‘Because I wanted to.’ Flippancy is not ways widely appreciated. In all seriousness, there are reasons and these include:

(a) Because I think it will make an entertaining read. Some people will want to read a book about the ‘swinging sixties.’
(b) A lot of books have been written about this period of English history. Few of them portray it realistically and accurately. Many of them stereotype it and simply trot out all the well-worn cliches that have become stock-in-trade for people who were either not alive at the time or failed to really understand what it was like, back then.
(c). I love using my own past – in my creative writings. Beware. My novel is not an autobiography. It is not about me. It is based on my experiences, that I recorded at the time, as they happened. The word ‘based’ is a trope. A device that is waived around in films and books more in glee than in seriousness.

Why did Jane Austen write Pride and Prejudice? Why did Charles Dickens write Oliver Twist? Why did George Orwell write Nineteen Eighty-four?

Intriguing questions but will we ever really know the answer? Might it not be better to say why I wrote the book after it is finished?

Some previous posts in my blog

Sunday 17th June, Finishing a novel

Sunday 10th June, Changing course.

See the home page for my blog, for a full list of blog articles

Finishing

Sunday 17th June 2018

Finishing a novel

Is there such a thing as a finished novel? Well there is; it is finished when it published and appears in print. But when it is finished as far as the author is concerned? Back in 2016, I thought I had finished my novel ‘Holiday‘ (working title). But, over the past couple of weeks, I have been going through it all again. I talked about this in my last blog post – Changing Course. More work still remains to be done. I will return to the manuscript and deal with the issues that I think are left to consider. One of these issues is how to start the story. At the moment, the story begins about three days into the timeline of the sequence of days that make up the fourteen days over which the story takes place. How do I explain the main characters got to that point in time?

The Saint Gotthard Pass. This picture has become a metaphor for writing a novel.

My original draft began right at the very beginning – when the main character went into a travel agency to book his holiday. I started not to start at that point, when I came to the third edition. I still think it important to tell my readers who the two boys came to go on holiday to Italy, back in 1966.

Structure and the flow of a story are considered to be very important. The way the story is told is considered to be part of the art of story-telling and how to write a novel. There are many elements within the story, elements that have to make sense as they read. Things happen and the reader has to understand why they happen, how they happened in the way they did and, after they have happened, what the implications are.

The characters are the story

My novel is a tale about two teenagers and their friends. That is what the story is about. What they do, what they say to each other, how they relate to each other – these are the elements of the plot (if it can be said to be a plot, in the traditional sense of the term.) Some scenes need no introduction – other than being family with the characters involved. It is just a narrative about people talking and doing things. But some events are put in and require later analysis. That happens. The main character is a teenager writer. What a surprise! That gives me a way of dwelling on what he thinks and I use this technique in ‘Holiday‘ and also in ‘The Streets of London.’ Michael, the main character of ‘Holiday‘, talks, acts and is seen doing things. But we really get into his mind and soul when he writes. The narrative has brief pieces of his writings. As he goes through the holiday, he writes about it. His thoughts could have been handled through dialogue. My concern is, however, to portray Michael as a writer and, as such, he is different to those around him and different in the way he experienced people, events and the things he sees and experiences.

That trope is one of my key characteristics as a novelist. Insert bits of written script into the narrative, draws the reader into the nature and art of writing and into the way that writers experience the world and the events that happen to them. Other authors do the same thing by narrating what the characters think; as though the narrator was capable of seeing into their minds. In two of novels, I make the leading characters write about what they are thinking. I want the reader to see what life is like as a writer and how the realities of daily life can be expressed in writing. Not everyone carries a notebook around with them and writes down in it things they experience in their day-to-day life. For authors with non-literary characters, they can equally well sit down and write a letter. It’s an alternative way of doing much the same kind of thing.

For me, I like to portray characters as writer. As Michael, the lead character in ‘Holiday‘, writes in his holiday diary:

Being a writer makes me different to other people. They keep asking me why I am always writing things down in my notebook and I try to give them serious answers but I don’t think any of them understand. For me, writing helps to sort out my thoughts and feelings. In my notes I can record what I have seen and done and how it is has affected me. I write about what other people have said and done and what I think about them.

This is a recurring theme in my work – that the writer is not just another bloke; a writer is a different kind of person. How he sees the world, how he thinks, and how reacts to his experiences, are recorded with a pen and paper. That makes him different. He is psychologically different and existentially different to people who never writer anything. That is a premise which I want to stand up to scrutiny. In The Streets of London, I take it to the next level. Adrian, the writer and main character, is writing a novel and that is part of the story line. What unfolds is a novel within a novel. A story being told about telling a story. Of course, the book is not just about Adrian writing a novel; there is a lot more to it than that. Adrian’s writing is a sub-plot. What the story considers is the way in which his experienced as a person feed his creative writing. It also reveals how his desire to write about specific things drives his life and even the lives of his friends.

For now I am putting the manuscript of ‘Holiday‘ to one side and returning to work on The Streets of London.

Previous blog posts

Sunday 10th June – Changing Course

Changing Course

Sunday 10th June 2018

Changing course

I missed a couple of Sunday posts because I was busy doing other things. Mainly going to festivals and other gigs and having to write them up for Music in Leicester magazine.

Since early January, I have been working on my third novel – The Streets of London. Now, I have decided to give myself a break from that. I have gone back to my first novel – Holiday – and am working on that. I feel it should be put out to potential agents and publishers. But first. I need to revise it. There is no such thing as a ‘finished’ novel. Not until it had been published.

Holiday is a story about a group of English teenagers who go on a packaged holiday to Italy. Set in the year 1966, the story centers around two friends who take advantage of the emergence of cheap packaged tours and end up on the Adriatic Riviera with a bunch of other teenagers and their parents. The work contains a variety of themes, including the clash of cultures, the nature of adolescent friendships, sexual awakening and reflections on history and modernism.

I felt I needed a break from working on my third novel. Having got a long way into it, it seemed it was time to sit back and reflect on what I have been doing and where I am going with the book. Having worked on three novels, I find I have not done very much about trying to get them published. A few manuscripts have been sent to literary agents but that has not resulted in anything. That is mainly because the structure of the books fails to fit with the accepted way of doing things. Reorganising the flow of the story has been my main preoccupation and continues to be my main concern as I go back to the manuscript after a break of two years.

I spent the whole of yesterday reading through the manuscript of ‘Holiday’ the working title I have given to my first work of fiction. I spent many happy hours reading it but now I have to be objective and critical about it. A lot of it appears to be very self-indulgent. Few people have read the complete manuscript. Friends have read bits of it but I have not yet asked other authors to look at it and give me their comments. That is something I need to do. But not after I have gone through the whole thing with a fine-tooth comb.

Previous posts on my blog

20th May 2018. – How I am writing my third novel.

13th May 2018. – Drawing as an aid to writing

6th May 2018. – Masks and characters.

See the home page for my blog.

Writing a novel

Sunday 20th May 2018

How I am writing my third novel

I began to write my third novel early in January, this year. The way I have written my book differs from conventional approaches. To begin with, it is written more like a film script than a narrative work of fiction. In my previous novels, I followed a more traditional style. In my first novel – Holiday – I wrote in the third person using past tense. The usual form of narrative storytelling. In my second novel – The Trench – I used the same approach: the narrative is told by a third person in the past tense. In both of these works, the order in which the story was told was not chronological. Neither of them began at the beginning. They started with a chapter that introduced the main characters and then, later on, told how they had arrived at the point at which the story began. I took advice that a novel should begin with a strong opening chapter that introduced the main character and set the scene. I could not do that in my current novel. It would not have been possible. There are three main characters and they all arrive in London at different times.

In the novel I am working on now – The Streets of London – the whole story is in precise chronological order. The book starts on day one and it finishes on the last day, covering a period of five years in the lives of its central characters. When it is completed, each section will have a precise date. The whole book is divided into three acts. There no chapters. Each act is written in sections, beginning with the date and then saying where the scene takes place and who is in it. In that respect, it is similar to a journal. The approach I have taken to the chronology of the story is intentional; it is essential to the way the story is told and presented.

The only points at which flashbacks are used (references back to events in the past) are when the leading character, Adrian, writes in his journal. His journal entries appear in the story and often these concern things that have happened in the past. The only other way of referencing the past is for the characters to talk about it. If I want to present the future (which is rarely) I put that into the dialogue. I show characters talking about the future – as they see it. The whole storyline is the dialogue between the characters. It is a novel about people, what they say to each other and what they do and the latter is explained via dialogue. In fact, what the characters do is what they say. There is no narrator describing their actions. Reading the book would be like seeing a film.

It strikes me that my approach and style might not be to the liking of today’s commercial publishers. Abandoning the conventional style of writing fiction – most often past tense narrative – is undertaken with caution, by authors whose aim is to have their work published. I realise that. But I chose this style of writing because I think it works in the context of this novel. I want to write a book that does justice to its content – not the whims and fashions of the publishing industry.

I decided that I wanted to do something different. That is what I am doing. Only when the first draft is finished will I be able to tell if my decision was a good one.

A selection of previous posts in my blog

Sunday 13th May 2018. Drawing as an aid to writing.

6th May. Masks and characters.

29th April. Planning a novel.

22nd April. Should novels have plots?

See the home page for my blog

Drawing

Sunday 13th May 2018

Can drawing make me a better writer?

A few weeks ago, I started a course in drawing. Every Monday morning I go the Adult Education Centre to do a course in drawing and sketching. If I learn to draw, will it make me a better writer? Will I become a more able novelist?

Much of my fiction writing uses images and pictures. Writing a story is, for me, like making a film. Instead of calling sections of my book chapters, I call them scenes. My hope is that learning to draw will help me to see the world around me, to visualise it and above all to observe it. In sketching we need to employ high levels of observation – there is one way of seeing which we do with our eyes partly closed – squinting – seeing only rough shapes, proportions and relationships. Then we open our eyes and look at the details. We also have to observe colour, shades, tones, shadows and textures. Drawing helps me to do this. It helps me to observe what I see. If I can see the world – or people – as an artist would see it, I might be more able to describe it through words.

Drawing of the head of a young man by Jean Baptiste Greuze.

Being able to draw is not the only thing that might make my writing more descriptive and more visual. I must be able to decide which words are the most evocative when it comes to describing a scene. Sometimes, the story requires only a rough sketch of a room, a landscape or a vista. At other times, it is useful to add details – as long as they are pertinent. Adding in details simply for effect (and not because they are required by the story) is padding. True as much for a novel as for a drawing.

Attending the course on drawing was not something I needed to do. I thought it would be interesting; it has also proved to be a rewarding social experience. I have no ambition to become a visual artist or to exhibit my drawings in a gallery. Studying sketching is, for me, a way of training my eyes to observe and my mind to interpret what I see. As I walk along the street, I see the world – just as any other pedestrian would – but my mind interprets it differently. I see the shapes of buildings and the colours of the trees, but I see the relationships between objects, their proportions, their textures, the moods they evoke and I analyse my surroundings as though they are a picture.

As a writer, I want to take my reader to the place I am telling them about. I want them to see it as I see it. After all, none of my books will have actual pictures in them. It is very easy, these days, to insert a picture into a text document. If you happen to have the right picture. If I was to become an expert painter or sketcher, I suppose I could draw any scene or face for my book. This has been done by a few authors who have illustrated their books. I am not sure that is likely to happen in my case. Of course, I need to leave something up to the reader’s imagination. I can show them something – a person, a scene – but I should not want to spoon feed the reader. I give them an outline and leave the rest up to their imagination.

Photographs are things I take regularly. When I take a picture, I have to position the shot at the right angle relative to the camera screen. That is the same as deciding how to layout a sketch on a sheet of paper. We have to decide where the focus of the shot or drawing should go. That requires observation and the skill of composition. Each of the drawing classes that I attend trains me to observe and to position objects in a layout. That skill comes in handy when I am writing – describing a scene or a person. So. Yes. I do think that my drawing classes will help to improve my writing skills as a creative writer.

A selection of previous posts to my blog

Sunday 6th May 2018 – Masks and characters

Sunday 18th February 2018 – The swinging sixties

Sunday 4th March 2018 – London: past and present

See the home page for my blog for a complete list of posts

Masks

Sunday 6th May 2018

Masks and characters

In my novel, the lead character is called Adrian. He is a young writer, intent on a literary career. In my novel, Adrian begins write a book – a work of fiction describing the people and events of the period (1967 to 1971). I have reflected my own work – as a novelist – in my story, showing Adrian writing his novel. In writing about the people he meets in London, Adrian is concerned with how to portray characters. Adrian reveals his characters, sometimes, through their faces and what their faces suggest about them as people. He unravels the idea of the mask – a device used to display emotions and personality through visual symbolism.

Masks of the ancient Greek theatre

In September 1971, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, in South Kensington. Before my visit I had been reading a book by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst. Jung developed the idea of the persona, which, he argued, was a mask for the ‘collective psyche.’ At the museum, I spent several hours looking at exhibits – masks collected from many continents, some of them very ancient, other more modern. I then wrote an article on the subject.

Mask as used in ancient Greek drama

In ancient Greek theatre, masks were worn by actors to portray an emotional type or to conceal the true identity of a character. Adrian is aware that the mask of the face expresses emotions inside the bearer, but can be used, in the drama of life, either to communicate feelings or to conceal them. As he studies those around him, Adrian begins to analyse the way that people either use masks to portray who they are or to conceal their inner realities. This then becomes one of the themes in his book. In a work of fiction, some characters can hide behind masks and others can be seen trying to probe behind such masks to discover the reality of the individual. Adrian comes to realise that fiction writers can sometimes simplify complex characters in order to make them easier to understand for the reader – whilst, at the same time – exploring and uncovering some of those complexities. Novelists can, sometimes, use literary masks to enable recognition of certain kinds of characters. The danger is that such a device results in a stereotype, if not handled sensitively.

Noh theatre mask from Japan 1650 to 1700

Adrian reads widely. He often visits libraries in West London to pursue his studies and interests. During one of these sessions he delves deeply into the topic individuality. He considers that the individual comprises a unique identity but also a persona derived from the collective unconscious of the community he was born into or has become a part of. In his writings, Adrian explores the meaning of individuality and how identity is formed both personally and collectively. This might make Adrian sounds like an academic – in fact, he never went to college and rejects the idea of going to university. At one point, he describes himself as being like the ‘autodidact’ – a character in Sartre’s novel Nausea. Adrian prefers to build up his own knowledge and intellect rather than being defined and moulded by the English educational system, which he distrusts.

Medieval mummers wearing masks

In my novel, Adrian is criticised for being too intellectual in his approach to fiction writing. He refutes this criticism by arguing that it is necessary to explore and portray contemporary London as it is seen and witnesses by audiences. Themes, subjects, plots and dramas are complex and sophisticated. That is what makes London such a vibrant and entertaining city, he argues. As part of his background research for his novel, Adrian visits many places where the varieties and shades of masculinity are seen. He writes about the subject of twentieth century masculinity and tries to define and portray types of men that he observes. This becomes part of his other theme – the way that boys become men as they mature into adulthood. Again, his friends criticise him for being too ‘theoretical’ in his narratives. He retorts that he is not an academic and insists that many playwrights and film-makers of the time have dealt with such subjects but not in an academic way.
In writing novels set in a specific milieu or period we must be able to convey what it was like to be there. If we were to write a novel about our own time – 2018 – we would be foolish to ignore its main currents of thinking, politics, philosophy and beliefs when presenting our picture of its arts, drama and literature. How would readers in the distant future get the feel of our age if we neglected to present its depths by concentrating solely on its trivialities?
Adrian faces a similar set of issues as he writes his novel.

Nick Bottom as a Donkey in Midsummer Night’s Dream

Previous posts in my blog

Sunday 18th February 2018

Sunday 25th March 2018

Sunday 29th April – Planning a novel

See the home page for my blog

Planning

Sunday 29th April 2018

Planning a novel

Writing novels takes time. A lot of time. It’s not something that can be rushed. Just writing the words, spoken by the characters, takes a good deal of patience and effort, to get right. A novel is a work of fiction. It is a creative endeavour that requires imagination. The writer is telling a story. That story has to be thought up. Thought out. Thought about. And then there is the research. My guess is that I spend about the same amount of time doing research as actually writing the text of the book. That is because I have to get the ethos and milieu of the period right. My novel is set in the years 1967 through to 1971. Even though I lived through those years, I cannot remember everything about them. What I have forgotten is how people talked. The vernacular of everyday life. The words and phrases that were used. That is not something that was written down at the time; not even by me. Little remains of the way I spoke; even though, a great deal remains of the way I wrote. The way we wrote differs from the way we spoke. Both then and now. It was during those years that my command of written English grew and developed.

Keeping track of everything

The art of writing involves sitting at a desk with a typewriter, or a word processor, and putting into words whatever comes into your head. That seems like extemporisation. Some authors might work like that; I have too, in the past. Today, writing is more likely to be planned in advance, than it was in the past. As I work through a novel, I have to record timelines and characters. The timelines ensure that sections appear in the right order, chronologically. Let me explain. I did not start writing at the beginning. Ideas came to me in somewhat of a random order. I then spent a lot of time trying to reorganise my sections and pieces so that they flowed from day one to the end. Day one happened to be 1st May 1967. That was the day when Adrian arrived in London. The story started from that point. Later, Adrian explains why he left home and moved to London. The other characters did the same; they explained why they were in London and what caused them to leave home.
Characters were thought up right at the start of the work. As I wrote, new characters had to be invented. I set up a page in which all the characters were listed by name, with a brief resume of their appearance, key facts about them, such as their age, and any notes that would help me to achieve continuity as I wrote about them. I decided that I did not want to have more than one character with the same name. My page of character profiles ensured that I did not use a name more than once.

Keeping to schedule

One thousand words a day was the target I set myself. I write daily. Including weekends. Having a target of writing at least one thousands words a day, was useful. To see how much I had written, I set up a separate document, at the top of which, was a field that displayed the number of words in the document. It’s a fairly standard feature of most word processing packages. Apart from writing new material – in this special document that I called a scratch-pad – I also went back through the manuscript and corrected it and proof read it, sometimes reworking whole sections. Nothing unusual about that. I started by having one document for the entire book. That proved unwieldy and stressed the resources of my computer. The book was divided into three parts (which I called Acts.) Each part covered a defined number of years. That made the management of the files a bit more easy. The drawback was that I had to know in which file a specific piece occurred. If I wanted to go back over a certain event, I had to know which of the files it was in. That meant I had to compile an index – a listing of sections. Each section was assigned a unique number. The index gave the number of the section. Using the ‘find’ button I would instantly get to the piece I wanted to see, providing I had a unique serial number for it.


In case this sounds rather complicated, let me explain that the way I wrote the novel was somewhat chaotic. For any particular year, I might compose a section using the scratch-pad document. That then had to be copied into the relevant file and put in the right position, chronologically. Other authors may, I am sure, find this a rather laborious way of doing things. For now I am stuck with it. But, it works for me.

It is all about method

I am a devotee of the method school of writing. This is how it works. I write a piece (also called a section.) When I have done as much on it as I can (no piece is always finished) I leave it. I go and do something else – the washing up, feed the cat, make a coffee, vacuum the carpet.) I go back to the piece and proof read it. When I am satisfied with it I read it aloud. I read as though I was an actor saying the lines on a stage or for a camera. If the piece flows as reading, then I am satisfied with it and I print it.

It is a peculiarity of this novel that it reads like a film script. That is the style I have adopted for this work. It has to work well as a script and it has to explain what is happening, where that is no obvious from the dialogue.

Some previous posts in my blog

22nd April – Should novels have plots?

25th March – Writing about characters

18th March – The swinging sixties

11th March – What is masculinity?

See the home page for my blog

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