The trouble with constantly saying “I really want you to be brutally honest”, is that sooner or later, someone’s actually going to be brutally honest. Over the last three weeks, I’ve had feedback over the book that has been extremely helpful- but has also pointed out some serious problems. At least three people haven’t gotten very far in before telling me it isn’t in a good state, which is, to be honest, true, but it’s one of those instances when artistic feelings suddenly go into tragic mode, and the idea of weeping in your garret sounds like a welcoming one. This is, at least, opening my eyes to exactly how bloody difficult it is to write a novel, and I’m getting the feeling it’s rather like making a film in some respects. You go through lots of organisation, effort and hell to shoot the thing, get to the end, feel a sense of huge satisfaction- and then realise that all you’ve got is raw footage, and if you just slashed it all together you’d have a twelve hour movie. Essentially, you then go through the process of making the film again in the editing room- and that’s close to what I’m going through.
For much of the weekend, I was carefully going through the opening chapters- the area where most people ground to a halt and which- gulp- is currently the strongest section of the book…- and realising there are ways of shortening, of refining, and of saying what I’m trying to say in a smaller, more compact space. It’s a shock to realise that you don’t have to tell the audience everything- that it’s slightly similar to a comic book, in that much can happen between the sentences as long as you choose the right words. Leave the right gaps, and the audience will fill them in for themselves. Once I get this week over and done with, I’m getting on with some serious work on the book, as I’m determined that the next time I send it to someone, they’re not going to want to give up halfway through. I’m going to learn, and I’m going to get this together, mainly because I’m certain of how good this could be if I can just get it to work. Feverish editing, and then, as long as I haven’t gone mad, I’ll get on with the next one which, at the moment, is looking like it might be a left-field version of my long-gestating SANITY CLAWS idea- madness, conspiracies and all-out weirdness in present day London. There is much to be done…
Another interesting side-effect of having fjm over for dinner last week was that it’s really forced me to have a very firm think about certain aspects of my ideas. There’s something about talking about your story concepts to someone who’s tremendously brainy and knows a ridiculous amount about fantasy and science fiction, and one particular idea that came up was that I might be worrying too much about character, at the expense of the actual science fiction nature of what I’m trying to do. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and some of it is stuff I’m only going to find out by writing, but fjm also pointed out that one idea I’ve got- a Young Adult reality-bending spy story called Flipside- is currently playing more like a psychological thriller that wouldn’t actually go down well with kids, as it’s actually an inherently anti-fantasy story that presses a reset button at the end. It was one of those moments where I had to say “Bugger- they’re right, aren’t they?”, but after a little thinking, I may have come up with a solution. I am very interested in the idea of exploring the dangerous side of fantasy- the idea that it’s one thing imagining battling international spies, it’s another to actually do it- and I like the central concept of the story, so I think what I need to do is increase the stakes- and not press the reset button. Instead of a return to the status quo, with the teenage hero having learnt important lessons for everyday life, he’s actually going to have to learn to cope with and rise to the challenge of the strange new world he’s found himself in. I want it to be a mixture of stylised spy fantasy and gritty reality, a world that may be surreal and strange, but one where there is genuine risk, the laws of physics are roughly the same, and where violence damn well hurts. I always preferred kids stories and movies where there was genuine danger and it wasn’t just camp nonsense- oddly enough, one of my favourites, when I was in my early teens, was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, mainly because of the fact that it simply had kids in it but wasn’t a kids movie. (That, and the fact that- despite the very shonky storytelling, and the fact that it’s obviously two seperate movies welded uncomfortably together- it’s the Mad Max movie that really captured the weird, semi-mythic sense of a Post-Apocalypse world that I found so unutterably cool as a teenager. As I’ve recently worked out, I often didn’t give too hoots about the story as long as someone was actually trying to assemble a cool and interesting world.)
I think, however it might make me go ‘wah!’ inside, it’s good for me to get honest feedback- it might occasionally smart, but it”ll be worth it in the end.