My writing process

It’s blog tour day! And that means an extra blog-post for all you lucky, lucky people. No freewheeling, rambling inanities today; there is Structure, and Questions, and (possibly) Revelation.

I should start by thanking Gabby Aquilina, for ‘twas she who invited me to take part. You can read her entry at gabrielleaquilina.blogspot.co.uk; please do visit and spread the word. For we are not rich, haughty authorly aristocrats but the mere unpublished (or self-published) peasants who crave all scraps of attention and wallow in the Bog of Eternal Rejection.

And without further ado…                

What am I working on?

Regular blog-readers will know that I’m currently doing a root-and-branch revision of Australis, the second in a trilogy of novels set in near-future Antarctica. The three books (which start with Night Shift and conclude with New Gods) are all a blend of science-fiction, murder mystery and psychological thriller.

I’m also – still – trying to get Chivalry into publishable shape. I’ve been working on this on and off for the past seven years and, at 135,000 words or so, is what Baldrick would probably call my ‘magnificent octopus’. That’s an adventure set partly in modern day (alternative?) Bradford and partly in a computer recreation of the Crusades.

Finally, I have a new work currently gestating in the murky depths of my mind. If I don’t get distracted by another new idea, it’ll be another adventure – possibly YA – set in a Victorian-style Fenland. If I ever get round to actually writing anything you’ll be sure to find out here first.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Firstly I should say that genre exists more in the mind of publishers, agents and bookstores than it does in the minds of authors and readers. I’ve never really put too much stock in the established tropes of fiction – not in that regard, at least. I want to write what I want to write.

That said…

The Night Shift trilogy is different in a number of ways. It doesn’t really belong anywhere; the sci-fi element is minimal, being used only to support the (very human) plot. The setting is unusual: MacLean’s (excellent) Ice Station Zebra and the film The Thing are probably the closest parallels. Finally, the protagonist isn’t a hot-shot detective or some grizzled veteran but a relatively young loner, lost and troubled by traumas of the past. His development over the course of the three books is something I’m really keen to get right.

Then there’s ‘the voice’. All authors have their own voice, and only the very finest satirists and parodists can imitate another’s style convincingly (Boris Akunin is the best ‘pasticher’ I know). An author’s words are like the brush-strokes of an artist; the rhythms and timings of the prose are as distinctive as Van Gogh’s thick oils.

I’ve always leant hugely on my personal classics for inspiration. Andre Norton, Philip K. Dick, Roger MacBride Allen, Bernard Cornwell, Dorothy L. Sayers – I’ve stolen from them all. I guess really my voice is a composite of every book I’ve ever enjoyed, in addition to a sprinkling of my very own fears and neuroses.

Why do I write what I do?

God knows. I’ve really no idea. I guess it comes down to all the books I’ve ever read. I’ve also a massive interest in history, and that provides an almost infinite selection of ‘what if?’ questions – and I do usually start with such a posit, hence my self-description as a writer of speculative fiction rather than sci-fi or thriller or whatever. For example, my starting point for Chivalry was the question ‘what if someone lived by the rules of Chivalry within the modern world?’ I can’t say what question inspired Night Shift as it contains spoilers. It was there, though.

I also dream desperately. At least four projects have been directly inspired by dreams, and in the stories I tell myself in order to slip off into sleep.

More simply, I write because creativity is embedded in my core and I’m no good at anything else. I’ve tried art, music and acting over the years, but now I’ve come to realise that I’m too old, too ugly and too crap to be anything but a writer. I have such a massive need to speak, to express myself; I guess that over the years I’ve thought myself voiceless so often and I’ve slipped into writing as a way to communicate… to communicate myself. I want to be understood, I want to explain the way I work. Gradually, as other options faded away, I’ve come to realise that this is my metier.

How does your writing process work?

Badly. No, not really. Just… well, a little chaotically, I suppose. I don’t plan. I get my idea and mould that rough core into something workable and logical. For Night Shift I began with the setting and then worked backwards to divine what kind of world could generate such a situation. Then I might sit down and sketch outlines of the major characters; again, this is more practical that inspirational. ‘Right, what crew are needed to keep this Antarctic base running?’ I might never look at my notes after I start in earnest.

I start the actual writing when I have a protagonist, an antagonist and a vague idea where I want the piece to finish. I’ll usually begin when I can visualise a scene so strongly that it can’t not be written. And then carry on to the bitter end. It’s only then I’ll really work on the words. I also rely on friends and family to beta-read and tell me where I’m going wrong.

I work part-time, so have enough free hours to write five days a week, either in the mornings or afternoon depending on my shift. In the mornings I’m sharper but have less time. I’m often dopey in the afternoons, but having more time allows me to work at my own steady pace.

I always, always, write to music. Silence is too loud. I like good ol’ rock and indie, with slices of folk and metal thrown in for good measure. I can write to most things, but it can’t be too ‘wordy’. It also takes a bit of time for me to ease new albums into heavy rotation. Unfortunately familiarity is best, but I do try and vary the patterns as much as possible.

How much I do in a session varies dramatically. I’ll admit to being a word-count obsessive, but I don’t have targets. I work to the laws of the local bus service. It’s also tremendously satisfying to see the word-count go down as that almost always means you’re making things better.

I prevaricate to the nth degree. I’m always pausing to wash up, put the kettle on or to just pace around the room. I’m a big fan of this, especially where the thinking is hard. I like to give the subconscious time to mull things over…

Coming next…

Right, that’s my tuppence chucked in the well. Next week will be the turn of…

David F. Chapman – writer, game designer, editor, publisher and all-round control freak. He is probably best known for his work as game designer on the award winning Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game for Cubicle 7 Entertainment, and as line developer on Conspiracy X 2.0 for Eden Studios.

He has also worked on such games as Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Terra Primate, and his game systems have been adapted for use in the official Primeval RPG and Rocket Age. He also produced such comics as Missing, and D’Adventures of ISRAELI for renowned comic artist D’Israeli, and will be publishing his forthcoming roleplaying game of dreamshare, WILD.

Find his blog at autocratik.blogspot.co.uk. He is a man of rare wit, intelligence, and subtlety.

And…

Liah Thorley –Liah currently lives in Abingdon, in the soggiest county in England. She writes historical fiction and has two finished novels, though hasn’t actually got round to doing anything with them as yet. Her themes range from historical romance to the more supernatural with vampires and time travel. Her third novel is sitting under her desk waiting for her papers for a part time Masters in History to be done for the year. 

You can find more at liahthorley.com.

Please check both these folks out – great writers both, and lovely people to boot. Also check out #mywritingprocess on Twitter for more instalments.

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2 thoughts on “My writing process

    • Hi Miraz… the idea is that each participant will recruit two further inductees to answer the questions as I have. Thus Gabby Aquilina invited me to take part alongside Marissa de Luna, and we’ve both invited two people to take over for next Monday. That’s about it, really. I fully expect everyone in the world to have participated in a year’s time. The questions should be the same each week so you can compare how writers in many different genres work

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