Writer’s diary: stardate: 28.03.2014
I figure that everyone who needs to know/cares that A Dog’s Life (R&M#4) will be out on (hopefully) April 1st is aware of that by now. Probably sick of me saying it. So, lets talk about something else.
Last week I wrote about my ongoing struggle with alcoholism.
Sorry, I mean, last week I wrote about my ongoing struggle with writing the third Acer Sansom novel. (It just felt like that kind of battle.) This week I feel a great deal better about it.
I was thirty thousand words in and not loving it as much as I should have been. I thought that the biggest problem I had to contend with was my ignorance regarding the geographical issues of the corner of the world I’d painted myself into. I have since realised that this was not my biggest problem. My biggest problem was that thirty thousand words in and I still wasn’t thinking like Acer. I wasn’t inside his head. He was doing stuff that wasn’t typical of him. He’s a different character. And I’d forgotten that.
I write three series and I like to think that they are all written differently to each other. Not just the characters but the style of my writing. I enjoy this challenge but it means that I have to adjust my thinking for the characters involved.
So at the weekend I printed off a copy of how far I’d got, bought myself a new red pen and went to town on it. The result is I’m much, much happier about things. I hacked three thousand words out of it, which is about as painful for a writer who is constantly monitoring the word count as removing one’s own appendix…with a spoon.
But because of how much better I then felt about things, more comfortable and familiar, I rattled off another five thousand words in pretty quick time.
I suppose that if I had any friends, I would liken writing another book in a series that I hadn’t been near for a good while to meeting up with one of them after having not seen them for a couple of years. It’s a bit awkward to start with while you’re trying to remember how you once were with each other, and then memories are prompted, you start to relax, and you’re reminded of why you’ve avoided them for so long (surely, back in your relationship groove? ed).
Something I’ve learned recently about writing out of one’s geographical comfort zone is this: the Internet is flipping amazing. Well, I didn’t learn that. We all know it already. All the Google options (satellite, maps, web, images) are particularly amazing resources for a lazy bastard author (surely, struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money? ed.) But what I’ve also found to be a rich source of information to draw upon has been ordinary peoples’ travel blogs. Wherever you want to learn about in the world, ten people have been there, done that and written a blog-post on it. Digest a few of these and you can really begin to get a feel for a place, warts an’ all. Much better than official websites. You learn stuff too.
I hate writers like Dan Brownstain because when they set themselves a book to write they just get someone to book them a ‘holiday’ there. They pack themselves off with a notebook or digital voice recorder, stay in some fancy hotel and have a fine old time of it for a couple of weeks wandering around the streets soaking up the ambience and the cultures of Europe’s more interesting capitals, taking notes and sipping regional drinks on pavements. Gits.
As a struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money (didn’t we just have that sob story? ed) scribbling about far flung places, you have to be able to fool most of the readers most of the time into believing that how you tell it is how it is. If you don’t have the time, money or opportunity to go there yourself because you are a struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money (time to stop that. ed) you have to make it up. One final thought on that subject: no wonder Dan Brownstain always sets his books in ‘safe’, ‘comfortable’ locations. I bet he doesn’t fancy a fortnight in Iran researching Da’Ayatollah Code, for example. Lightweight.
There is one good thing to be said for writing about Iran: I’m willing to bet that not too many of my readers will have been there. So as long as I can paint a believable picture of the place, something that people can buy into then does it matter whether it’s entirely accurate or not? I realise that this is going to be a potentially sticky issue with readers, but I reckon there has to be a compromise. Struggling self-publishers with work and family commitments and no money (!!!) should do their best to find out everything they can if they can’t visit, and readers must be prepared to cut the writer a bit of slack.
With that in mind I’m hoping that faithful readers of the Acer Sansom novels are going to be able to suspend just a little bit of disbelief when Acer has to visit Disneyland Tehran during the Islam-world-wide Easter celebrations in search of Father Christmas who is rumoured to be plotting a terrorist outrage. Ahem.