I’m currently writing a novel loosely connected to two previously published pieces of fiction.
In some cases, chunks of text from both The Owl and Rain have been transplanted into the book. They might be changed slightly – the characters are different, for example, and have to be moulded to fit their new avatars – but essentially what I’ve done is cut and pasted segments of old into a new piece of work, feathering the edges to make sure of a true fit.
I have form, here. Blonde on a Stick contains a chapter that was an unpublished short story from the early 1990s. The Unblemished contains a character, Gyorsi Salavaria, and associative text that was lifted from a short story, Bloodlines, written ten years previously. That novel also contains sections from a short story, Outfangthief, from the same period. It was as if those old stories recognised something in the new stuff I was doing and called out to it. Or maybe that old stuff hadn’t been finished properly, somehow, and the newer me set out to do the material justice without realising it, until those old words started tapping me on the shoulder.
At first I felt as if this was somehow a cheat. Maybe what I was doing wasn’t right, that it was peddling yesterday, that it wasn’t progressive, a sensitive recycling. The reader might notice, causing him to realise he is involved in a process of reading fiction, pulling him out of the story: a grim scenario when we’re in this partly to capture attention. But for me, I sometimes feel as if the novel contains apertures, like those in a jigsaw puzzle, that the relevant, related sections form the short stories fit well, with a little massaging. It helps when influential writers do the same thing…
I spoke to three friends of mine who all work in a similar way, and it was interesting to get their responses in relation to why they go back to earlier work as a starting point for, or an adjunct to something new.
Nicholas Royle’s new novel, First Novel, is his seventh. He is also a prolific short story writer.
When I’m starting to think about a new novel I will try out certain ideas in the form of short stories. I’m aware that stories and novels are different things and I know that by the time it comes to folding these early thoughts into the novel they will probably have changed shape. Often, endings imposed for the sake of the short story form will go, and other, less visible work will be done as part of the folding-in.
Graham Joyce, author of The Silent Land, Some Kind of Fairy Tale and, soon, The Year of the Ladybird, does things a bit differently. His stories An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen (from Memoirs of a Master Forger) and The Coventry Boy (from Facts of Life) came into being after the novels in which they were couched had been completed.
I tend to be a bit too much fascinated with “stories within stories” structures (I blame Scheherezade) but I usually know at the outset if it it will work as a standalone. I might finesse the head and tail of the story to sell it as a standalone. The thing is the aesthetics remain untouched.
It’s an article of faith with me, part of a method.
(a) I’m an obsessive. I deal very heavily in repeating images & obsessive affects. No one complains that Dali or Ernst or Picasso used the same imagery over & over again. It seems to work for painters, why not writers. & of course you see obsessive repetition as technique in people like Ballard, Anna Kavan, many of the 50s & 60s nouveau roman authors, who were interested in breaking down narrative structures & looking for organisational methods from other kinds of discourse.
(b) I don’t see fictions as being discrete, or ever “finished”. Something which is totally itself in one incarnation becomes part of something else in another. I work by bolting bits together to see what they make. The boundaries of a piece are like those chemical sites on viruses that allow them to bind to cells; change the sites, top & tail the segment, & it’ll fit somewhere else, become something else. Guess I’m a structuralist. But I also think it’s a way of entertaining the reader by showing them your process.
As subject matter, I like the idea of contexts switching suddenly to become subjects, subject that flips to context; works well at the technical level too. I do test-bedding of novels as shorts, the topping & tailing of shorts so that they become chapters in novels, blog pieces that become bits of shorts, shorts that break up & get scattered as blog posts or tweets; but, really, that’s because any given component suggested all those possible relations during the process itself. If it’s fluid for me, let it be fluid for the reader. Nothing really “exists”: everything that seems solid in the universe is made of the dynamic relations between structures at the next level down.
So I see the whole thing as a kind of fluid momentum. Not as discrete products.
I feel I’m justified (and in sterling company) when it comes to refashioning some of that old material in order to service the current story, if it’s sympathetically done, and feels right. The work all shares the same blood, after all.
Thanks to Nick, Graham and Mike for their time.
On Friday, January 11th this year I did something I’ve never done before and doubt I will ever do again. I wrote 10,000 words in one day. The last time I performed anywhere like that was in 1994, the night before I had to hand in my MA dissertation. I think I wrote about 6000 words back then, fuelled by fear, coffee and the all-nighter mentality that a 25-year-old can frequently muster.
Last month, though, I wasn’t under any kind of pressure. I’m currently writing two novels – one, a commission with a July deadline, the other just a ‘me’ project with no contract or publisher attached. The only deadline it has is the one I impose upon it. I’d like to get it done by my birthday, though, on March 29th. So far, the commissioned novel (Project Eyeshine) is 40,000 words in and Project Bayonet, which has occupied me off and on for the past couple of years, is 63,000 words and counting. I had written a thousand words by lunchtime on Bayonet, and decided to switch my attention to Eyeshine. I knew what I wanted to write, so I knuckled down with the headphones on (Hans Zimmer’s excellent Batman soundtracks, if you must know), the internet off and a little app called Pomodoro ticking away. By 5pm, four-and-a-half hours later, I raised my weary head to find I had written 8000 words. Before bed, having rallied, I wrote another thousand on Bayonet, which took me over the magical 10K mark…
I wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to follow my lead. I was shattered by the end, and knew that much of what I’d written would need some tough editing, but if you do fancy having a crack at a big writing day I’d urge you to do the following:
- Make sure you have two or three chapters planned out: know where you’re taking the story.
- Find yourself a big block of time and insist that you aren’t disturbed.
- Use an app such as Freedom to lock you out of the internet (or switch off your network connection and don’t give in to the temptation to switch it back on…).
- Use the Pomodoro technique as a way of blitzing through your work: 25 minutes of hard graft, followed by a five-minute break. Four cycles of this grants you a 25-minute break, then back to square one. It really helps to focus you.
I hope I can enjoy a working day like that again, but it doesn’t really matter if I don’t. Little and often is better than a huge splurge and the misguided belief that you can then take a day or two off…
Even if your aim is to up your daily word count (or just get some work done!), something like Pomodoro combined with Freedom can help increase output over shorter periods.
Fewer Lolcats, more pages…
Subterranean Press magazine’s Winter 2013 issue contains a new short story of mine called Raptors.
They took their daughters to a glamping farm to escape the stresses of the city. There were chickens to feed, logs to chop and a fire to keep stoked. For a day it was fun to reconvene with nature and connect with what it meant to be wild.
But on that first night a blizzard hit and they woke up to a white world. The snow only made the blood easier to see…
Now the chickens have disappeared and there’s a dead little surprise down by the children’s playground. A warning that you can’t just wish all the bad stuff away…
Brighton, March 2004
‘I caught the seam under my foot and it was so uncomfortable.’
In 1993 I started the novel that would become Head Injuries. It was called Dust back then. Heavily influenced by M John Harrison, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker, it was my attempt at a modern British ghost story. It’s a flawed novel, but one for which I have great fondness. I wrote it on an Amstrad with a 10″ screen bought from Morgans near Manchester Piccadilly train station. As I paid for it (I think it was about fifty pounds), the salesman asked if I wanted to upgrade to a 12″ screen for an extra tenner. I said I couldn’t afford it and he said not to worry. ‘There’s a free set of binoculars comes with with it so you can see what you’re typing.’ Chortle.
The novel is partly set in Morecambe, which is where I stayed while I wrote the novel (I was taking the Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University at the time). Much of what happens in the book happened during my stay, but I’ll leave it to you to decide what is fact and what is fiction because the book, for so many years out of print, is available again, for the Kindle. You’ll find it on Amazon pages in USA and UK as well as the rest of the world.
I pondered for some time about releasing the book in 2013, as it would have been fifteen years since its publication (the novel was published one day before my 29th birthday) but other than me, who really gives a toss? So I thought I’d get it out there now, before Christmas. And just for you, for being such wonderful people, it’s available at a low price for a limited period. Included with the novel is an introduction by me and two related short stories. Bargain.
I hope you like it. Drop by and tell me what you think!
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology in Brighton at the weekend with their huge book, The Weird. We lock horns again over the World Fantasy Awards in Toronto at the start of next month. The Weird is once more up against Gutshot, but they’ve also got The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities in contention. Also shortlisted are old friends Steve Jones with his A Book of Horrors and Ellen Datlow with Blood and Other Cravings. All good people. So I’ll be (kind of) happy whatever happens… Graham Joyce will be my stand-in for the event and will say a few words on my behalf should I be lucky enough to win.
I’ll be headlining a night of spoken word and poetry at a special Halloween version of Manchester’s highly-regarded Bad Language.
The event takes place on Wednesday, October 31 from 7:30pm until 10:30pm at The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham Street, M4 1LE.
Open mic slots are available. If you wish to take part you can do so by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org from 5TH OCTOBER onwards.
At least five slots are reserved for people who have never performed on the Bad Language stage before and this month they are encouraging, in particular, horror writing.
You can keep up with Bad Language’s events by following their Twitter feed: @BadLanguageMcr