Obi-Wan Kenobi is on my shit list

The chair I bought to complement my shiny new desk was from Habitat. A couple of years ago they approached a number of prominent names and got them to design stuff for their 40th anniversary. Ewan McGregor designed a fold-up director’s chair with extra padding that initially went on sale for £150. Well I got one from Habitat’s Clearance Department in Wythenshawe for £40. And I was robbed. I’ve had it for less than a month and it’s torn right down the middle. I’m not Jabba the Hutt, but it’s collapsed on me. So I’ve got to dig the receipt out from somewhere. And then find McGregor and slip a red hot light sabre under him as he sits down in his own director’s chair.

The Minutiae of Writing – 2. The Desk

My old desk is in Leicester, at my wife’s father’s house, a big place with a big room where a lot of our stuff has been stored for (gulp) over five years now. He’s a nice man, that David Carrier. Patience of a saint. Or maybe he just forgot about the room and we can keep our stuff there for another five years…

Anyway, this desk is a bit of a tank. It wouldn’t fit through the door of my study. So I got a new one. From IKEA. I bought some legs that double up as shelves and a big piece of frosted glass to go on top. It looks nice and it’s good to work on, even if I still have visions of crashing through the middle of it during a period of key pounding. On top of the desk I have the following:

  • Two Apple Macintosh laptops (one battered old iBook, one nice new MacBook)
  • One plastic storage cube with four drawers for my little bits of junk (dice, marbles, lip balm, pebbles, chocolate, lens filters, Post It blocks, notebooks, photographs, glue, badges, tins, plectrums, batteries…)
  • Speakers for the laptops
  • A halogen lamp
  • A pair of headphones
  • A graphite sketch set
  • A cutting mat
  • A white mug with an apple core in it
  • Two organisers filled with stolen stationery from boutique hotels
  • A cricket ball
  • A wooden box filled with ink cartridges and dried rose petals
  • A wooden pen pot bought in Seoul
  • A stone bowl containing coins, MiniDiscs and a phone charger
  • A stack of CDs
  • A bigger stack of notebooks

I like a big desk. I’d love to have two desks and me sandwiched between them. You can’t have too much desk space, I say.

What’s next?

I don’t know. I always get this scary stretch of white space unfurling in my head when I finish a novel. It’s an ideas path. And there’s nothing on it. Well, that’s not true, but I often feel that the ideas I do have aren’t going to see me through 300 pages of story.

I’ve always written what I’ve felt like writing, what occurs to me, but now that I have a publisher keen to promote me as a horror writer, and with THE UNBLEMISHED having made some impact, there’s pressure on me that I’ve never felt before. Do I produce more of the same? Do I go off in a completely different direction? Probably I should produce something similar in scope and tone to TU and then think about writing something unusual. That, I think, is the smart thing to do.

So I have an idea for a new novel to equal, if not better, TU’s epic feel, although at the moment it’s very raw. It’s an idea for the first half of a novel and I’m struggling to work out how the second half might develop from the first. It’s an idea that will require a shedload of research, depending on whether I begin the story before or after the first half’s key element (what was it Vonnegut said about starting as close to the end as possible? I think he was on to something with that). I don’t know how to start it. All I have is a working title, a lead character and the knowledge that it will be written in the first person. I think. And I have a year to get it done.

One of my problems is that I tend to jam too much into a novel. There’s too much going on. Some people who have read my stuff have said they’d have liked to see an entire novel written about one particular strand. I don’t have the confidence to leave one strong idea alone. I fret that it won’t be enough and keep adding, like a chef who isn’t sure about his fish stew. So maybe the idea I have for the first half of the novel is actually substantial enough to see me through to the end. And the idea I have for the second half is a novel in its own right. What do I know?

Maybe I should just go and write an outline…

The Minutiae of Writing – I. The Study

I love talking to other writers about the way they go about this insane profession of ours. Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time alone, or perhaps it’s just that I have a fetish for writing implements… So every so often I’ll give you a glimpse of my life as a scrivener.

I’ve been lucky enough, for the past two years, to have my own writing room. I’ve craved a study for ever, but it’s only the generosity of my wife, Rhonda (who is also a writer) and the fact that our two boys prefer to share a room that I’ve been able to have one. Prior to that I used to have a desk in the living room of the one-bedroom flat in London I used to own or I’ve worked in bedrooms and kitchens – pretty much what most writers do. But having a study is bliss. I’ve got my books in there, and a beautiful glass-topped desk, and all the little drawers and cupboards and tins of secrets and notes and junk that I like to have around me.

From my window I have a view of the terraced houses across our road. Not a great deal goes on, but there’s quite a lot of traffic; the local hospital is almost next door and we get a lot of people parking outside. Other than that, a woman at number 19 who pops out every day to water her hanging baskets, a couple of sleek grey cats… that’s it in terms of visual distractions. But I have plenty of other things to distract me from my work (I’m the world’s worst at getting started on my writing).

More about them later.

The Unblemished

The funny thing about winning the award was that I received the news on the day I finished rewriting the book… Yes, don’t adjust your set, I was rewriting TU for the paperback edition which comes out in the UK and USA in April 2008. My new editor at Virgin wanted some changes, despite the great reviews and the Hollywood interest and the awards nominations. And I agreed with him. There are a few problems with the book in terms of plot and pace. A year down the line, such things become more identifiable to a writer who otherwise might be a little too close to the text. I’m sure that every writer wishes (s)he was able to give their MS one last polish before it was produced. I’m glad I got the chance to do so, and that I have an editor who knows his onions, has a deep love of the genre and, as he warned me early on, is a ‘very hands-on type of editor’. Luckily, I’m not a hands-off kind of writer.

So what’s changed for the paperback? Well, chapter order has been jiggled, one character has been subsumed by another, two characters die earlier than planned, a couple of chapters have been excised, a couple of chapters have been added… Structurally, I hope, it’s tighter, leaner and hangs together more logically.

Of course, after all this, if TU bombs, it’s my editor’s fault…

Stephen King, you took one hell of a beating…

So it’s a week or so after my novel THE UNBLEMISHED won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel. The last seven days have been one big grin. I am so happy. A couple of weeks previously I’d been up for two awards at the British Fantasy Awards. I came away empty-handed, but there was no bitterness in my disappointment. The winners of the categories in which I had been nominated were Mark Chadbourn and Tim Lebbon, two of the nicest human beings you could hope to meet, so I couldn’t exactly spit venom in their direction. In addition, perennial awards bridesmaid (and one of my dearest friends) Mark Morris broke his duck so the ceremony was always going to be a happy time.

Bizarrely, I reckoned my best chance for a gong was in the juried IHG award, even though I’d be up against a strong shortlist, which included Stephen King. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Stephen King, I probably wouldn’t be writing today, and neither would the majority of horror writers. I was 12 when I picked up SALEM’S LOT and read it, seemingly, in a moment. I was, and still am, in awe of him. Recently I’ve re-read what must be the strongest consecutive line-up of horror novels in history: SL, THE SHINING, THE STAND, THE DEAD ZONE. Those four books alone, if he never went on to write anything else, would cement his place in horror literature. I think he went off the boil a bit after that, but IT, MISERY, THE GREEN MILE and BAG OF BONES show that he is always capable of pulling something exemplary out of his wizard’s sleeve. It was a big thrill for me to win the IHG award up against one of my idols. If I do nothing else, I’ll always have that. What a story for the grandchildren…