The Writing Process
A little while ago, I was asked by writer friend Lesley Richardson to take part in a blog hop. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘so long as it’s not happening any time soon.’ (‘That was my reaction too,’ said Lesley, ‘you can do it any time you like.’) So here we are, five short months later, finally getting around to it. The idea is to answer four questions on your writing process, and then nominate up to three other writers to do the same, so here goes.
What are you working on?
A book - a novel to be precise. Don’t ask me for the title – I have a list the length of my arm, each of them suggesting a slightly different sort of book and the chances are that none of them will stick. I don’t know what it’s called because I don’t know what it is yet. As for what it’s about – it’s set on Rathlin Island, County Antrim, around the time of the wireless telegraphy experiments there in 1898. At least part of it is set then, and part of it is set in the present day, although that’s giving me lots of problems so that could all change. (You’re sorry you asked now, aren’t you?) I don’t really like talking (or writing) about it. It feels like a private thing while it’s happening. I would like to create the impression that it appears on the shelf fully-formed, jacketed and lovely, every word where it should be. I don’t really want you to know what an ugly malformed thing it is right now. I have to have faith that it will all work out in the end but dwelling on it in its present form with all its workings on show like a disengorged clock is not helping me.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’m really beginning to regret that I agreed to do this now. What genre do I write in? Literary or historical fiction seems to be the agreed category, although, interestingly, none of my short stories have an historical setting, unless you consider the nineteen eighties to be historical, which I suppose you could argue they are. Where were we? Ah, yes, ‘others of its genre’. Well, I suppose the most obvious thing is that my characters tend to be from Northern Ireland since that’s where I spend most of my time, the royalties not having yet stretched to the purchase of the little flat in Florence. There are lots of writers I admire and whose writing skill I would like to emulate – some female, some male, some Irish, some not. Some of them write short stories, some write literary or historical fiction, some don’t do any of that. I don’t know how my writing differs from theirs except to say that most of them manage to produce more of it than I do.
Why do you write what you do?
I don’t think I have any choice. It’s certainly not a conscious thing. I don’t wake up in the morning and think: ‘Today I shall write like Alice Munro.’ If only it did work like that, if only you could take on another writer’s skin. (I’m always amazed when writers in workshops say they’re afraid to read too much in case they get influenced by other writers. As Patsy Horton of Blackstaff Press said at the recent LitNetNI Literature Development Day – ‘If you’re not reading, what are you doing?’) You can develop and improve your writing through reading and workshopping but I don’t think you can ever shoehorn it into a place where it won’t fit. You just have to try and do what you do better than you did it the last time you tried and the more of it you do, the stronger your voice becomes.
How does your writing process work?
Mostly, it doesn’t. It’s a very flawed and frustrating process but since it’s the only one I have I’m going to have to try and use it to finish this book at least. It involves writing lots of scraps of things in Scrivener and then moving them all around until they make a kind of sense. Then I print it all off in neat, double-spaced, typed drafts that are subsequently read and written over, through and under in biro with comments such as ‘check this’; ‘delete’; ‘rewrite’; ‘develop?’ and ‘What do you mean by this, you idiot?’, all of which are then incorporated into a new typed draft so that the process can begin again. There’s something slightly subversive about it. I like to deface the page. I find Scrivener really helpful but as for the rest of it, I wouldn’t recommend it. When this book’s finished, I’m going to shop around and find myself a new process, one that gets a book written in fewer than five years. (The picture at the top of this blog is of Altachuile Bay on Rathlin. It’s my chosen background when I’m writing in Scrivener. It gets me down the page.)
That’s it. And now for my nominated blog hop writer. Debbie (DJ) McCune is the author of the Young Adult trilogy Death & Co, published internationally by Hot Key Books. Death & Co. and The Mortal Knife are the first books in the series; the third book will be published in January 2015. Debbie was born in Belfast and grew up in Carrickfergus, a seaside town just north of the city. As a child she liked making up stories and even wrote some down, including a thriller about a stolen wallaby. She read Theology at Trinity College, Cambridge but mostly just read lots of books. She lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, daughter - and two cats with seven legs between them. Debbie’s on Twitter and her Author Facebook Page is here.
I’m delighted to say that Sleepwalkers has been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize along with collections by Jaki McCarrick, David Rose, Rachel Trezise and John Burnside. The winning collection will be announced on Thursday 3rd July at the Free Word Centre in London where I will be quaffing something fizzy, regardless of the result.
I have returned, belatedly, to say that Sleepwalkers didn't win the shiny prize. It was won by John Burnside for his collection Something Like Happy; the Readers' Prize went to Rachel Trezise for her collection Cosmic Latte. Congratulations to both of them. We had a lovely evening, the Whittricks and I. There were chocolate-coated strawberries and the smallest Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte I have ever seen, so no complaints here.