Thursday, January 16, 2014

Between books

"Pick me!"
"No, pick me!"

I’m in a strange place right now. The Mannequin Makers has been and gone. I’m happy with the book I produced. It hasn't sold a lot of copies, but I've had some nice reactions from people who have read it. If I was to write the book again now, I’d do a few things differently and the result would be -- surprise, surprise -- a different book. 
But I’m keen to strike off in different directions. 
In fact, I’m moving in at least three directions at once while standing still (not writing anything).
The projects:
  1. Another collection of short stories – this is what I was working towards in Iowa, and it'll include some stories pre-dating The Mannequin Makers. I’m mulling whether one story deserves two companion stories (and how that might be structured within a collection) or whether it becomes a novella (and how that works with shorter stories). And, as always, there are some stories I’d like to write when I have time (ha!). But I’m not in a huge rush to ‘finish’ my collection. I know that not every story will sit comfortably within the final collection, and the longer I wait, the more stories I’ll have, the better the whole coheres and the better the quality of the individual stories. That’s the idea anyway. Then there’s the fact I’m not champing at the bit to have the conversation with my publisher (or any publisher) about the merits and demerits of bringing out another book of stories. A story collection might be leverage in negotiations for my next novel, though it's probably not my leverage (the publisher treat bringing out a story collection as a favour to me).
  2. A novel that takes circa 4,000 words of an abandoned novel (referred to as Novel B around these parts) and takes it in a different direction. The “different direction” is actually the natural direction the novel should have always gone. But I couldn’t recognise that at the time as I’d started with the direction and then wrote the first chapter. The chapter works, just not as the first step towards “that” destination. Later I tried to turn that chapter into a standalone short story, but that didn't work either. I tried revising it while in Iowa and realised, "Hey, there is a novel here!" It'll be contemporary and employ multiple perspectives, rather than sticking to the one narrator. It’s concerned with the idea of “narrative politics” that I talked about in this interview with Joan Fleming but I’m not yet in the space where I can write from any of the other character’s perspectives. My research for this involves meeting people, forming relationships, forgetting about the novel for a while, and then coming back to try and tell this story in the boldest, fairest, clearest way.
  3. A novel about a family, belief (God, time travel), infidelity, porn and true love (Lets call this Dysfunctional Family Novel)This is the novel I’ve mentioned, obliquely in some interviews and articles re: ‘what’s next?’ While I was in the States the nucleus of the novel (one character, one arc) started to attract other stories (a short story I was going to write about a mysterious school closure in the 1970s - the setting of which I blogged about in 2010; the cloud seeder story!). It’s still growing. I think about it when I’m plucking laterals off my tomato plants and sitting up with my sick daughter (ear infection, she’ll survive). The other day while mowing the lawn I realised that something I thought might be a big part of my next novel but dismissed almost the next day could actually be useful. All this thinking time is necessary and I can feel the momentum building. But I’m not at the point where I can start writing yet.
There’s a fourth project (another novel), which I have clear ideas about but don’t feel like pursuing at the moment (let’s call it Genre Novel).
It’s funny to have so much work ahead of me. It’s somehow calming. I know that one or all of these books mightn’t make a dent on the big wide world (or ever get written). But maybe something clicks.
One of the things I’m most pleased with about The Mannequin Makers is the fact I actually went through the process of researching and writing a historical novel (with all the angst that entails). Even though I don’t fancy going back to the past in any of the books above (except maybe a bit in c) I’m a better writer for having tackled history. The same concerns (veracity, telling detail, a sense of responsibility for your characters) are carrying over to my next projects. I’m hopefully more awake to language than I was before, though each novel (and each perspective) is a process of finding a new language, the right language.
My plan for this year is to keep thinking the novels into shape, while sitting down to write for two hours every morning before heading to work. To begin with I’ll be working on short stories (my extended Christmas break is well and truly over), but at some point this year I’ll probably start working on Dysfunctional Family Novel...

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