Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Smouldering: Fortnight 23 of The Burns

Today is my daughter's fifth birthday. Thanks to Christmas, she doesn't start school till the end of January, so I'll be whacked again by that Tempus Fugit feeling soon enough.

Speaking of time flying, we're already 20% of the way through fortnight 24, so time for some numbers...

Fortnight 23 wordcounts
Total words: 14,563 (56% on the novel, 37% on this blog, 7% on other non-fiction like rejigging the Q&A on my blog)
1st week: 6,533
2nd week: 8,030

A 111% increase on Fortnight 22, though some of that is inflated by work on my (long-but-not-that-artful) end-of-year music posts. I'm going to hold off a similar review of books until the year is properly done.

The first week of Fortnight 23 I really got back in the flow with the novel by NOT starting where I left off before all my speaking engagements and sick kids. Instead, I found myself writing a historical section (San Giuseppe in Naples) that I'd skipped when pushing ahead with the contemporary action a couple of months ago.

And I knocked out that chapter (three or four pages) in a day.

The next day I wrote the next historical section (San Giuseppe getting kicked out of the Capuchins in Martina Franca) which will slot in after the contemporary chapters I've left hanging.

The third day, drunk on all this completion and achievement, I put off returning to the contemporary mire and worked on the final section of the novel, which jumps ahead two years. I wrote half of that (the other half involves a perspective shift which I'm not sure about). But what I did complete has helped me go back to the 2017 chapters and ask questions of it like:

Should I move you from May/June 2017 (when I did my research roadtrip) to Oct/Nov 2017, when the Harvey Weinstein/#MeToo stuff started blowing up? Because how can you write anything about Hollywood in 2017 that doesn't address the pre- and post-Weinstein world (I don't like those terms but others have started using them and I can't think of a different shorthand right now)? But you don't have to depict the exact moment when the pricks started to fall in order to deal with the subject of sexual harassment and unfairly retarded careers in Hollywood (and other walks of life). In fact, I'd already built all of this into my story - the way male characters tend to have female counterpoints who operate under a different set of rules and expectations. By jumping from June 2017 to sometime in 2019, as has been my intention since before October, I'm able to allude to the fate of both male and female characters, and let them rise or fall based on what they did in 2017 (and the years preceding it)...

/internal monologue

There were other knotty questions too. And for each I've come up with answers, or at least diagnosed which bits need to change and will figure out how when I reach them.

So I started going back through from page one again, and I'm about 90% of the way through the manuscript as it stands.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get back to the next blank page in the 2017 section...


Fortnight 23 also saw me don my judging hat for the 2017 Robert Burns poetry competition. Together with my fellow judge, Elena Poletti, we've reached our verdicts.

There's a prizegiving on 25 January, which, funnily enough, is Burns Night. Looking forward to some haggis in one of my last acts as the Burns Fellow...

... and be judged.

U.S. reviews 3 and 4 of The Mannequin Makers have appeared. The one from The Arkansas International was enthusiastic. The other, from Minnesota daily, The Star Tribune, was not. It was a bad review in at least two meanings of the word (a poor use of 550 words - too much plot, factual errors...; and unfavourable).

I'm more frustrated by the quality of that review than its conclusion.

Maybe it's the fact I'm in the process of reviewing four other novels.

Maybe it's the fact my novel is ancient history to me (I wrote it before my daughter was born!) and I'd do some things differently now.

Maybe I'm deluding myself.

But it's useful to be reminded how varied the responses to a book can be while in the midst of writing another. I can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to write for everyone / not offend or 'lose' anyone.

That way pallid mush lies.

Better to work until the novel is wholly what I intend it to be (or as close as I can manage with my capabilities at this time).

Speaking of reviews

I came across this tweet late last week and it got me very worked up:
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all? 

Fuck that!

Reviewers must be bold enough to be honest and smart enough to back it up with evidence.

Some context: The tweet was in response to a less-than-favourable review of Kaveh Akbar's poetry collection:
A lot of people felt it was mean-spirited and ad hominen. But some of the griping felt like people who didn't know how to take criticism, even when it isn't directed at them.

And then came that tweet about the review genre being preserved as a space for gratitude... Way to kill of any serious discussion about books and the thoughts the are able to squirrel away. Way to misunderstand everything about.

To @noahbaldino's credit, they clarified this statement the following day:

Hmm. That's better... but it still presupposes that every book is worthy of our love. I can think of plenty of examples, either the ranting of evil men or the blather of bland one, that do not.

What use Fiction?

While I'm discussing random tweets, here's one from Ben Goldacre:

That cut pretty close to the bone, as someone trying to talk about skepticism and the limits of the rational materialist world view, but doing so with what amounts to a bunch of sock puppets.

But when I read non-fiction books on the subject (I just finished Sam Harris' Waking Up after getting it out of the library twice and not making it more than a few pages), I realise why it can only be done the way I'm doing it.

Because I don't have answers, only questions.

Better to read Steppenwolf, with all its narrative frames and ropey elements, than Alain de Botton or David Mills.

At least, that's how I am built.

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