Sunday, 27 May 2012

A British heatwave

It's rare that a British person can start a blog with these words, but wow, is it hot. I think we must have swapped weather with Australia. The sun is blazing, there's no wind, and I'm getting absolutely no work done.  

I spent most of this week on the college quad, pretending to write an essay, reading King Lear and working on The Bone Season. I've decided to make a few structural changes to the ending. I've knocked out a few superfluous bits (mostly involving my character being in the bath/pondering the meaning of life/generally not doing anything useful) and started to replace them with scenes that actually move the plot along.  

I'd planned for the editing process to happen via a page-by-page agenda, but it's been quite piecemeal recently. My brain and the heat really don't get along too well. 

I've been asked a couple of questions by readers, which I shall answer now: 

Was it hard for you to start writing your novel?

I started The Bone Season a little while after finishing Aurora, my unpublished first novel. Because I'd had the experience of writing a large novel previously, it wasn't too hard to start again. It was actually very refreshing and exciting to have a clean page in front of me. I had some doubts as to whether I could really produce another 120 000+ words, but once I got started I forgot about the page count. I just wrote and wrote until I reached the end.   

The main difficulty in getting started was that I chose to write The Bone Season in first person. Initially this was quite a difficult endeavour, as I hadn't written in first person before and it was hard to find a good 'voice' for my narrator. There's a very fine line between a narrator who is too strong, to an unbelievable extent, and one who is too weak to bear the weight of the story. I tried a few different beginnings until I found one I liked, and developed my narrator's voice as I went on. I found the writing flowed easily once I'd found the right voice. 

What sort of fiction books do you read?   

My absolute favourite book is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I was given a copy by one of my English teachers before I left for university. It's a beautiful, chilling novel in which women have been stripped of all their rights and liberties, leaving them with only one function: to breed. I remember finishing it for the first time and being left with a sense of real emptiness, and true appreciation for my life. It is a novel that changed my whole perspective on the world, and encouraged me to read (and eventually write) dystopian fiction. You can hear more about why I love The Handmaid's Tale here, in my recent interview with the Cherwell.   

When I was younger I read a huge range of books. Reading was all I really did. I grew up on The Faraway Tree, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. I also used to read the 'My Story' historical novels. My favourite of the series was Anne Boleyn and Me: The Diary of Elinor Valjean, London, 1525-1536. I think it was these books that sparked my interest in history, particularly that of the Tudors. I owned most of the series. They're wonderful, accessible books for children to read. 

I enjoy most genres of fiction, mainly those with some degree of magic or the supernatural. If they don't have the fantasy element, they're usually [a] mysteries or [b] dystopian. I'm a great fan of Isaac Asimov; I bought The Complete Robot when I was about fourteen, loved every page of it. I've also read all the Sherlock Holmes stories. I remember when I first started to read A Study in Scarlet and literally couldn't put it down, I was so gripped by it. I've always loved the character of Holmes, especially his recent incarnation in Sherlock (played by the very lovely Benedict Cumberbatch). I have a love-hate relationship with crime novels, but Conan Doyle will always be one of my most beloved authors. 

I haven't had much time to read for pleasure since going to uni, but I recently started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I'm only six chapters in, but I'm in awe of Ms Miller's delicate, sensory descriptions. It's a shame that Orange are discontinuing their sponsorship of the prize, as it brings some truly talented female writers to public attention. 

Finally, I should mention my favourite genre: dystopian or speculative fiction. If you're not sure what a dystopia is, you can take a look at an article I wrote on dystopian cinema. There's something about this genre that's very special to me. Having been asked many times why I enjoy a good dystopia so much, I still can't quite pin it down. I think it's primarily because a repressive environment forces a character to his or her limits, whether physical or emotional. I find that characters are more fun to write in extreme situations. The Handmaid's Tale is my top favourite of the genre, but I also thoroughly enjoyed reading Orwell's classic dystopia Nineteen Eighty-Four and the more modern Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I also recently finished A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, which encouraged me to play around with language a little in The Bone Season. If anyone can recommend any dystopian literature, please do I'd love to take a look. 

Anyway, back to editing for the evening. Possibly with a nice cup of tea. Do ask more questions if your interest is tickled. 

Samantha

16 comments:

  1. For Dystopian fiction I could recommend Bagicgalupi's Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. Though they probably fall closer to post apocalyptia.

    If you can get a copy in the UK, I heartily recommend The Couriers New Bicycle by Kim Westwood it won an Aurealis award and if you liked The Handmaids tale I think you'll enjoy it.

    Now as to the weather how hot is it really? It's not hot in Australia until it gets over 35 degrees c. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the sound of those; I'll check them out after I read 'The Giver'.

      And I'm not sure how hot it is, but I'm sure it's not as hot as 'Australian hot' ;) I'm quite British in my approach to weather. Everything that isn't cold is hot.

      Delete
  2. I protest.

    Laying in the bath, pondering the meaning of life is the most useful thing for a human to do!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But she does it soooo much. I was quite disturbed when I looked back and saw the sheer number of bath scenes.

      Delete
  3. I wonder how you feel about the new dystopian books of The Hunger Games. I'm trying to get my kids to focus on the dilemma and not the glamour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoyed 'The Hunger Games', though I confess I've only read the first one. Haven't had time to read 'Catching Fire' yet. I think it's an interesting take on an extremely well-worn storyline. Definitely raises some very relevant issues about reality TV and our general hunger for entertainment in the modern day. Suzanne Collins is a fantastic writer; she has a great grasp of suspense, and Katniss is a strong female lead.

      I can see why your kids are enthralled by the glamour — I enjoyed the Capitol parts a bit too much myself! I think it does detract from the message a little but I can see the logic behind it. Have they seen the film?

      Delete
  4. I completely understand with your love of dystopian fiction; I am the same way. One of my all time favorites is 'A Canticle for Leibowitz.' As a novel it blew my mind with its storytelling. Pair that with almost anything Octavia Butler ever wrote and you have good bath reading material.

    You say that 'A Clockwork Orange' encouraged you to play around with language, does your novel go quite over that same cliff of speculative slang?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' looks fascinating — haven't heard of a dystopia with a monastic element before. Definitely adding that to my summer reading list. I've heard Octavia Butler's name mentioned so many times but have never found time to read her work. It looks amazing — very interested to read 'Parable of the Sower' particularly.

      I wouldn't draw a comparison between my novel's slang and 'A Clockwork Orange'. It's nowhere near the level of detail that Burgess achieves. I'm not a linguist and I don't pretend to be. I am, however, forever in awe of Nadsat for its sheer readability, and I never looked at literature the same way after I finished it. I was inspired to develop a street slang for my clairvoyant characters, but it's more individual words and phrases than a whole complex register.

      Delete
  5. If you give your character slight OCD so she's always desperate to have a bath it makes it plot relevant and significant when she does, along with another bit of character depth. Problem solved*! :P

    (Hi, I got linked your blog after my dad told me about you... I'm a writer as well who just survived university, writing all the while. I'm still impressed anyone else is mad enough to do it - it almost killed me! Congratulations on getting the book deal!)

    *This will probably not solve the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, I wish I could but she'd have quite serious OCD at this rate! I write late at night so I think I was just projecting my (repeated) desire for a hot bath onto my poor narrator. Serves me right for not reading the MS properly before I sent it to an agent.

      Congratulations on surviving uni! Still wondering if I'm going to come out alive.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps they were confused and thought that it was a novel about baths or something, and all the other dystopian stuff was just a backdrop to the bathing? "The Bath Season" instead.

      You should probably edit to reflect this, since they're going to be trying to market it as such.

      :D

      Delete
    3. I just had the biggest laugh over 'The Bath Season'... Yes, clearly a beautiful book about having baths, and using them ignore the dystopia raging around you.

      Delete
  6. Would publishers still publish a novel if the writer is skint with hardly any money to put into the process? Because I just left school and am writing but hardly got any money to add to the publishing costs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yes! I certainly couldn't have paid for publication on a student income. The publishing house will pay you an advance; you start earning royalties on book sales once the advance is paid off. Self-publishing is where it gets expensive: you have to give money towards the book, do your own publicity and so on.

      Delete
    2. Awesome thx :)

      Delete
    3. You're welcome. Best of luck with the writing!

      Delete