The New Grub Street

Sorry for silence. NaNoWriMo – in all its adjective-laden, adverbally-challenged glory – is eating the screentime spat back out by jobhunts. I have half the recommended wordcount, a plot that’s racing towards the edge of a cliff, and one character I love so much it’s ridiculous. Occasionally a tangental paragraph about NOTHING (a blink-and-you’d-miss-her character watching Saturday telly with her grandchildren) blossoms into something like prose, but whenever I prod the plot, sentences start committing suicide. I’m worried that the hero is just me with a beard. I’m worried that the heroine is just me with spatial awareness. I’m resigned to the fact that yet another character is someone I loathed at university, and that changing her hair colour really changes nothing.

But occasionally there’s a sentence (the state of St. Aldate’s, inclement weather, that bloody woman and her grandchildren) which arrives of its own free will, and for a few minutes I’m God on the seventh day. In a less sacriligeous/bearded/infallible sense. I love the NaNo pep talks, especially this one by Chris Baty (quoted below):

In fact, by November 30 you will have amassed tens of thousands of words of very solid prose. You will come up with things that make you laugh so hard you have to wipe off the keyboard afterwards, and passages so moving that you will cry as you write them. Your plot will unexpectedly give birth to fantastic subplots, characters will reveal surprising and juicy things about themselves, and you’ll have some moments during NaNoWriMo that will rank among the most satisfying and happy-making of your life.

You will also, however, write some flagrantly nonsensical chapters, create pages and pages of dialogue that make you cry (in a bad way), and endure a few shameful days where the only thing keeping your word-count afloat is the fact that your protagonist has a habit of reading the dictionary aloud whenever she gets nervous. And she’s always nervous.

and this one by Jasper Fforde [via email]:

Because here’s the thing: Writing is not something you can do or you can’t. It’s not something that ‘other people do’ or ‘for smart people only’ or even ‘for people who finished school and went to University’. Nonsense. Anyone can do it. But no-one can do it straight off the bat. Like plastering, brain surgery or assembling truck engines, you have to do a bit of training—get your hands dirty—and make some mistakes. Those 22 days of mine were the start, and only the start, of my training. The next four weeks and 50,000 words will be the start of your training, too.


So where do you start? Again, it doesn’t matter. You might like to sketch a few ideas down on the back of an envelope, spend a week organizing a master-plan or even dive in head first and see where it takes you. All can work, and none is better than any other. The trick about writing is that you do it the way that’s best for you. And during the next 50,000 words, you may start to discover that, too.

The best pep talk of all, though, didn’t come to me via NaNo: it’s Janet Reid‘s ‘Less Than Zero‘ on what – or who – constitutes a ‘real writer’. One line in particular has become my mantra, and motivation for sticking with NaNo: “Make no mistake about this: if you have written and finished a novel you ARE a writer“.

So, here I am, hammering away in my parents’ living room, Corrie descending into scary psychodrama on playback, and approximately eight thousand characters beating genre to death in Word (I run MS Word on Mac. It’s not a happy marriage. Incidentally I went in the Apple shop today, and cannot tell an iPod from an iPhone. Is this the middle-class, 2009 equivalent of never having seen the sea, etc etc). I am still happy for this novel to be largely ‘bad, boggy and unpublishable’. If I can have enough good sentences to get me through & stave off the fear of a crawling wordcount enough to do something about it, I’ll be delighted. I don’t expect this novel to be good or fantastic or even adequate. I’ll settle for mine, and finish. The rest is for the second book.


  • Last night I read Brrnrrd‘s work from the MyPlaceOrYours residency, heard at the Soho theatre last year & now up on the project website. In person my favourites were towards the start of the cycle; ‘London’ and ‘Love Is Not A Potato’. Now it’s ‘Woman With Bird’ and the end of the end – ‘The song and the yurt’. I didn’t expect the form of ‘London’, but, then again, the artist did combine the residency with English Mods. I also have increased fondness for the second piece, ‘Two dogs’. At the time my memories of said dogs were somewhat fresh and my overwhelming feeling relief that we didn’t go to the Hobgoblin. Putting it out there: she needs to write a novel.
  • I am completely obsessed with Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City novels. Everyone is beautiful and queer, everywhere is San Francisco, and the plotting is that of a technicolour detective novel written by a wizard. I love the women. I love the men. I love everyone else. There are SEVEN books and I have read THREE and I will not obey any injunctions to be sensible and wait for Christmas. I shun the library copies. They must be mine mine mine and I must live in them and be BFF with Michael Tolliver (who Lives, according to Book 7). There are three miniseries and one stars Thomas Gibson (cf Aaron Hotchner, cf Criminal Minds). Armistead Maupin, blessed man, started Tales of the City as a daily newspaper serial, a chapter at a time. If I could write in any form, it would be that one. I can’t think of anything better.
  • I took a decent photo of London. Keep watching areyouaspy.
  • New blogs on my RSS — Murderati, BookEnds, LLC and Janet Reid. Writing in general & crimewriting in particular = relevant to my interests. If you like crime/detective fiction, definitely check out the first.
  • I am consumed (respectively this’ll seem like a pun) by a pre-festive urge to order enormous food hampers online. For some reason we get the Chatsworth catalogue. And finally (my parents have started reading the Sunday papers aloud, probably a sign I should stop typing and engage) if ASW is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

4 thoughts on “The New Grub Street

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