Tuesday, 28 May 2013
By way of early celebration, we decided to each write and publish a blog post simultaneously, without reference to what the other brother was writing. This is my take; a link to Julian's is below...
We're still a few months away from publication as I write, yet already we are often asked what it's like to work with your brother.
Writing in collaboration is very different from working by yourself. I can't say I like it more or less than working on a book on your own; it has some advantages and it has some drawbacks. Overall I think it's an easier task in many ways - we often find that we leap ahead in the course of one conversation, getting to a place I suspect it would have taken me months to get to by myself. Another advantage is built-in editing - by discussing things aloud we often censure ideas that aren't up to scratch, are clichéd or are otherwise best left unwritten. Perhaps most importantly, when done well, I think the combination of two people's imaginations should be greater than the sum of the individuals; that something more weird and wonderful is sparked and brought to life through collaboration. I
The disadvantages? The main thing, for me, is exactly because you're living in a world of two people's creation. I think most writers would recognise that when you make a story, some part of your mind goes to live in the world that you're creating. It's an internal space and it's very intense at times. Emerging from one's writing cave, at the end of a day's work, can feel like you've been away for a long time on a distant journey. But when this world is no longer exclusively an internal space, that feeling is altered somewhat. Less intense. Maybe this doesn't matter if the end result is the same, or indeed better, than working on your own, and it's certainly less tiring working in collaboration. There's also someone else there to keep your nerve together at times when you're doubting yourself, and it also should be said that it's an awful lot of fun; as can be seen from the photo above; a day when we were doing some corrections to the page proofs of Dark Satanic Mills.
So that's collaboration; however, the added element with Julian and me is that we're brothers. I guess for many siblings this just wouldn't work, but for us, it does. We're very close, we always have been, and our childhood, growing up in a rather remote corner of the countryside, was largely one we created between us in a thousand games and flights of imagination. So we're used to that process, including the 'resolution of differences'... and there the main thing is that you respect the person you're working with; or their writing talents at least, and I respect my brother's skills enormously.
We're about to embark on a new collaborative book project, and I for one can't wait. I only hope my brother, over here, is typing the same thing...
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
My book: Back off, will you?
Me: Er, sorry, what..?
My book: I think you heard.
Me: Well, yes. Actually I did. And since you bring it up, I've been meaning, that is, I've been wanting to, er, have a word with you.
My book: A word?
Me: Look, it's always difficult to say this kind of thing. But we've been together long enough now and we ought to be able to speak freely. You know, we've got a deadline coming up, and...
Me: So, the thing is, I was just wondering, whether, I mean, that is I want to ask you if you could be a little bit less...tough. There, I've said it.
My book: Tough?
My book: Tough??
Me: Well, er, yes.
My book: What the xxxx do you mean by that?
Me: Now listen, I'm sure there's no need for that kind of language.
My book: Oh, you're sure about that, are you?
Me: I'd just be grateful if you could be a bit easier.
My book: Easier? Easier? You think this is easy?
Me: No, I don't! That's the point; it's hard enough as it is without you being really difficult.
My book: Difficult?
Me: Yes, difficult. To write.
My book: Oh here we go...
Me: You're just making things very hard.
My book: Yeah? Well it would help if you weren't such a pussy.
Me: I beg your pardon?
My book: You going deaf, or something? You are such a loser.
Me: Now just you...
My book: No! Don't do that to me. That's what you always do, isn't it? Always with the whining and the complaints. Why don't you just stop being so pathetic all the time, huh? Show some goddamn determination or something! Some backbone. Jeez! All I ever hear is "it's so hard" and "no one understands". Well try sitting here all day and listening to you bleating on. THAT'S hard, believe me, that's really hard. If writing me is so xxxxxxx hard then why don't you go and get a proper job?!
Me: A proper job.
My book: Yeah, like delivering the mail, or working the rigs. Or welding.
My book: Anything, just stop being so puny.
Me: Oh I see. You think I'm weak.
My book: Oh he sees. Oh he gets it. The light goddamn dawns. Well thank xxx for that. Yes! I think you're a xxxxxxxx xxxxx. I think you ought to just xxxx your xxxx and xxxx the xxx. See?
Me: Now just you stop that.
My book: Or you'll what? You gonna teach me a lesson, izzat it? Show me who's boss? You gonna take me out back and pop a cap in me? You gonna nail my xxx? Haw, haw, you make me wanna xxxx. You really do. You're nothing but a xxx. A xxxxxxx waste of a xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx. I oughta xxxx your xxxx you xxx before I xxxxxxx xx xxxx and then xxx you xxxxx. Xxxx!
At that point I hit the delete key. But he knows as well as I do that I'll come crawling back. There's still that deadline, and he's still there, waiting for me, in the trash.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Ever since I started writing books I have always made some kind of diagram or map to help me do it. Writing a book is hard and I do everything I can to make it easier. Making maps is just one of those things.
I've kept them all and thought I'd post a few here. They are all slightly different, because every book is, but however they look, they help me get my thoughts straight before and during the time that I put fingertips to the keyboard.
I've posted them here in reverse order - newer books first...
|These are various maps for a version of a book that I aborted several times. The book's finally coming out this October in the UK, and is now called She Is Not Invisible.|
|The simple map for Midwinterblood. That's raspberry juice at the bottom, by the way :-)|
|The map for White Crow - note the working title; titles often change.|
|This is the map for Revolver, literally, for once, a map.|
|The three-pager for My Swordhand Is Singing|
|This is the first of three versions of a map for The Book of Dead Days|
|This is the third of three maps used for The Book of Dead Days|
|This is a sketch I did of 'The City' for The Book of Dead Days; I don't always do sketches but they sometimes help to bring the place to life in my head.|
|A couple of maps for Witch Hill|
|And a sketch of Alison, the accused girl in Witch Hill|
|Finally: a curiosity - the map for the fourth of the four books I wrote before I got my first title published.|
Sunday, 31 March 2013
It's a documentary that has quite rightly garnered a lot of praise - its subject is the hidden meanings of Stanley Kubrick's film version of Stephen King's The Shining - but the way it goes about discussing the film is unusual.
It features the voices (only) of five different commentators on what they think The Shining, or Kubrick's take on it, is actually about. No, it's not really about a writer getting cabin fever in a deserted hotel and trying to turn his wife and son into sushi with a fire axe.
According to the theories propounded in the movie, it's about various other things too: the Holocaust, the genocide of the Native American Indian, how NASA got Kubrick to fake the moon landings and then forced him into secrecy over the subject (!) and so on.
Instead of seeing the various commentators on screen, Room 237 uses a nice trick of using footage from various Kubrick films to play with, or against, the narrators of each theory, some of which turn out to be remarkably convincing, some, well, let's just say, some less so.
If you're interested in how these symbolisms play out, get hold of Room 237 and have a look, it's well worth it. What's most interesting about all this however is what it shows us about author intention.
A question I get frequently when visiting schools goes like this:
Student: 'You know when you write a book?'
Student (with one eye on their English teacher): 'Do you actually mean all those things our teacher says you mean?'
Me (smiling): 'Some of them.'
The (post) modern view holds that it doesn't actually matter whether the author meant that thing about the curtains:
|This cartoon is harsh on teachers: the intersection in the Venn diagram is much larger in general, I think.|
What matters is what the reader took away from the text, whether or not the author meant to put that meaning there.
From my point of view, sometimes I've meant things to be in a text, and people have 'got it', sometimes they haven't. Sometimes, I haven't intended a particular meaning to be in a text, but people have found that meaning anyway. At which point, if it's cool, I immediately claim I meant it all along, and if it's fatuous, I deny all knowledge ;-)
Room 237 is wonderful because we see this process happening twice over. Stephen King wrote his book, and Kubrick made his film of it. So there's one instance of change in the 'text' already, and in this case, there are some significant changes between the book and the film; most of them improvements in my opinion: the book has giant topiary rabbits etc coming to 'life' in Jack's mind; the film has that frozen maze. The book ends with the over-signposted explosion of the hotel's boiler; the film ends in the maze in much more sinister fashion. King has Jack going ape with a Roquet mallet (huh?), Kubrick gets right to the point with a damn big axe. And so on. King famously hated what Kubrick did to his book, which Kubrick was well aware of. One of the narrators in Room 237 makes a nice point about how Jack's specifically red VW Beetle in the book becomes a yellow one in the movie, and then as if to put two fingers up to King, places a red Beetle under the wheels of a truck in the traffic accident scene; 'take that, author.'
And at this point, the wild theories about what Kubrick was actually trying to say with the film kick in - and fascinating it is to try to unpick where valid interpretation becomes ludicrous conspiracy theory, and perhaps the modern view is right, that if you find 'it', 'it's' real. But if that's so, just don't expect the author to put his hands up and admit to it too. He may well have meant nothing of the sort. Especially if you're the guy who believes Kubrick intended us to watch the movie backwards...
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Yoinks! BBC TV Centre is more dangerous than I remembered!
I'm absolutely delighted to announce that I've written the third in Puffin's year long celebration of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary. Each month from January to November each of the eleven Doctors is being brought to life once more by a different writer.
The news about each writer is being strictly embargoed which means that up until today, all anyone's been able to see about my book is this:
Ooh, who can it be?
Eoin Colfer kicked off with the First Doctor back in January, and last month Michael Scott's Patrick Troughton-inspired Time Lord lived again.
Now I've been given the chance to write a new story featuring my all-time favourite Doctor, Jon Pertwee. If you're not too familiar with classic Doctor Who (well, it is quite a long time ago now), then you might want to nip over here to find out a bit more about the Third Doctor.
I've never had to work so hard to keep my mouth shut.
Now that I can finally talk about it, I can share a little my excitement at getting this chance. Doctor Who is iconic. There is no other word for it. It's now been a part of British culture for 50 years. 50! That's a lot. So I admit that when I finally sat down to write the opening words of my story, I had a sudden freeze. Hands poised over the keyboard, I thought "Holy -insert-your-own-expletive-here-, this is Doctor Who! Doctor Who!"
Then I gave myself a quick slap and got on with it, deciding to have as much fun as possible with the Third Doctor and Jo Grant in a jaunt into the Viking-age world. The picture above of me moments before annihilation by a Dalek is slightly misleading - for various reasons I decided to put the Doctor up against his old nemesis, the Master.
The story links together a few nice pieces of mythology and legend - the Spear of Destiny was the spear which pierced Christ's side as he hung on the cross. Legend has it that the armies of whoever holds the spear would be invincible. It was of the various supernatural things that Hitler was obsessed with. But as it happens, someone else who hung on a piece of wood was Odin. He hung on the 'world tree' for nine days and nights, and was pierced by his own spear, a magical weapon called Gungnir. Here's a picture of Odin in happier times, resting on his throne with his faithful ravens, Huginn and Muninn, alongside.
Odin with Gungnir
There are more of these nice serendipitous connections in the story, but I don't want to give away too much more about the plot for now.
Instead, I'll just say that I hope people like it. Doctor Who is, after all, one of those things that has a very large and very faithful fanbase, of whom I was very aware when writing. I tried my best to bring the wonderful Jon Pertwee back to life for a short time, and if a few of those fans agree, I'll be more than happy.
For now the story is only available as an ebook, and you know what that means: go here to see it.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Well, I haven't been twiddling my thumbs, not all the time anyway. I've been working on the Elf Girl and Raven Boy series, and on that graphic novel I'm doing with my brother, and on a screenplay with him too, and on a play version of My Swordhand is Singing, and all of these things are taking slow steps forward into the world, but they take a loooong time to actually arrive. So to the outside world it looks like I've been slacking :-(
And I did want to write a new YA novel, only the problem was, I couldn't think of one. Did I have writer's block? Maybe I did, but despite two years of failing to get a book written, I'm still not sure if it actually exists. That must sound pretty stupid, and I can't really explain what I mean. Only that I had ideas during this time, but something about them wasn't happening. They didn't develop properly, despite the fact that I tried everything I know to make them do so. I tried smothering them with attention, and I tried ignoring them, and everything in between, but nothing worked.
In increasing desperation I read everything and anything I could on creative blocks, spoke to every sympathetic author I could (thanks, people:-) ) and generally tried to figure out what was wrong. Everyone I spoke to, without fail, told me that the ideas would come back and that I'd know what to write again soon, but I'd managed to spook myself thoroughly by reading about various composers and writers who just stopped creating one day, and never took it up again. In the case of Sibelius, that was the last thirty years of his life. In the case of Rossini, most of the last forty. That scared the hell out of me, and anyway, the problem wasn't that I wasn't having ideas, but that they weren't growing like they should.
Never the most frequent of bloggers, my entries fell away to nothing, simply because I felt like fraud talking about writing when I wasn't doing it.
And then an iceberg sailed over the horizon. What I mean by this is that an idea that I've been thinking about, on and off, for seven years, finally decided to let me get a hold of it. I finally knew how to write it, having started once five years ago and having abandoned it. This time I knew it was going to be all right, and so now I'm very glad to say I've just finished the second draft of my next YA book, due out in October. Phew. It's called She Is Not Invisible.
Why's it an iceberg? Because the book has ended up being relatively short, at around 45,000 words. But there is more thinking and more planning and more research under the visible surface of this novel than anything I've ever done before. But of course, only the top 10% can be seen. I think Hemingway said something like that about all his writing, and you can be sure he said it better than me, with much more grandeur, and with a drink in his hand, too ;-)
Thursday, 31 January 2013
|Left to right:|
Mark Watson, Katie Derham, D.J. Taylor, me, Daljit Nagra,
Wendy Holden, Jenni Murray, Jenny Agutter, Sophie Ward