Our Stuff and Our Things

Our Stuff and Our Things no longer:  welcome to Landing Gear

11 October 2012 | Comments (0)

Three people have now read my new novel-in-progress, and everyone seems to be in broad agreement - it’s ready.  However, two of these readers had difficulties with the title (including my agent).  They both felt that ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’ sets up certain expectations - quirky, urban, young people, or quirky, urban, family saga.  The truth is that my novel is those things, but it’s also weirder than that.  I want to the book to work, obviously, and the title for any novel is crucial.  So… Landing Gear has arrived.  I think it probably works better.  I think.  We’ll see.

I’ve had a website built for the new project, a kind of umbrella site that pulls together my digital fiction ‘Flight Paths’, the novel ‘Landing Gear’, and my new digital fiction collaboration with Andy Campbell, ‘Duel’, explaining how these three fictions work together to tell a larger story.  The main purpose for this website, at this stage, is to have a page that my agent and I can show publishers and anyone else who is interested in this project.  It’s not for readers yet, not really - ‘Flight Paths’ has its own website, ‘Landing Gear’ is not online, and ‘Duel’ is represented by the project’s blog only for the time being.  The project overall has retained the title, ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, but if that proves to be too confusing, that will change too. 

So, if you are a publisher, and you want to take a look at this project, the novel and the prototype first episode of ‘Duel’, you know where to find me.  Or, if you don’t, find the project here.

When Real Life Meets Fiction

21 September 2012 | Comments (0)

Two things have been in the news in the past week that bring to mind events in two of my works of fiction. 

Last week a body landed in a street in Mortlake, southwest London.  It transpired that the body was that of a man, North African or possibly Congolese or Angolan in origin, who had stowed away in the landing gear of an airplane.  While many of the newspaper reports focused on the horror of waking up to find a dead man crumpled on your street outside your house, others explored the risk demonstrated by the stowaway’s breach of airport security, back in the country where he boarded the plane.  Of course, this story replicates the story I’m currently exploring in my new novel, ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, and the digital fiction Chris Joseph and I are working on, ‘Flight Paths’.  In my version of the life of a stowaway, he gets up and walks away.  If only that was true for the man who fell on that street in Mortlake.  Here’s an interesting report on the story

As well as that, yesterday the news reported that a British soldier in Afghanistan had gone into labour and produced a baby, having not realised that she was pregnant.  This story unleashed a media stream of concealed and unknown pregnancy stories.  In my novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, Sally Naldrett, the main character in the book, conceals her pregnancy.  Since the book was published, various readers have queried whether or not this could be possible; indeed, most women’s experience of pregnancy, my own included, precludes the idea of either not knowing you are pregnant or being able to hide it.  However, as the stories in the press revealed yesterday, it is actually much more common than anyone would think possible.  One radio report I had mentioned a study in Wales that concluded that 1 out of 2500 pregnancies are concealed or unknown.  Sally Naldrett’s concealed pregnancy is a true story; she really did hide her pregnancy from Lucie Duff Gordon, despite living in close and continual proximity with her.

Our Stuff and Our Things: second draft finished

7 September 2012 | Comments (0)

After the great response from the editor to whom I showed the first draft of ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, I worked a bit more on the manuscript, and then sent it off to my agent here in the UK, Rachel Calder. Rachel’s response was less positive than the editor’s - the things that the editor loved wound up the agent.  Rachel gave me a great set of notes, along with a series of comments made on the manuscript itself.  I showed the notes to the editor, in order to get her response to Rachel’s response.  Doing that helped me a) not panic, b) remember what, exactly, I want this novel to be about, c) find a way through to a new draft.  Then I went away on holiday, carrying the manuscript with me to Scotland and Spain while not even glancing at it once, all part of allowing the discussions to percolate.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working on that draft, and it’s done now, and so I’ve sent it back to Rachel, with some notes of my own.  So, we’ll see.  I’ve also sent the manuscript to another friend, Aamer Hussein - Aamer has basically read everything I’ve ever written, for which I’m eternally grateful, and his opinion is always useful and interesting. I’m in slight danger of too many cooks here, but so be it. 

As well as that, I’m making progress with the website I’ve commissioned Andy Campbell to design for the project overall, a website that will, basically, allow publishers to understand how the digital elements of this project, ‘Flight Paths’ and ‘Duel’, relate to the novel itself.  It’s a simple but good-looking website that, I hope, will act as a kind of calling card as I explore whether or not publishers are interested either or both the novel and its digital companion. 

So, that’s where I’m at.  I’ve got a new job, news of which is still under embargo, and that starts week after next.  Andy and I continue to work on ‘Duel’; over to the ‘Duel’ blog for an update on that.

Our Stuff and Our Things:  first draft finished

4 July 2012 | Comments (0)

I finished the first draft of my new novel, Our Stuff and Our Things last week.  This happened more quickly than I anticipated - the final section of the book was much easier to write than I thought it would be. I finished the draft.  Not without feeling a bit amazed.

The book is odd.  It has a complex relationship with its two companion works, my on-going project Flight Paths, and my new digital fiction project, Duel.  But it needs to be able to stand completely independently of these two digital projects - it needs to work as a novel for people who aren’t interested in media-rich hybrid forms of literature that have to be viewed on computer screens - it needs to work as a book.

I showed an early draft of the middle section of the book to my Canadian agent this past winter; at that time I thought the middle section was the opening of the book.  Her reaction was the opposite of reassuring.  But her rather harsh words of criticism made me rethink the structure of the book and made me realise that one of the many things I was doing wrong was that I was writing the novel as though it was a series of screens, as though I was writing for the computer screen, in fact. (I wrote about this here in an earlier blogpost: ‘first person bad, third person good’.)  So I rewrote and restructured and re-conceptualised.

When I got to the end of this new draft, I thought I had better show it to someone other than my agents first. I didn’t want to make my Canadian agent read a new version of the book until I felt more confident about it.  Most agents put up with having to read many drafts of the same book as it makes its slow progress from total crap to half-way decent.  But it can’t be much fun, and in a world where you need your agent to be as confident as possible about your book, I thought it would be a good idea to do as much work as possible on the book prior to showing it to either of the agents who work on my behalf in the industry, let alone the one who had read the first draft and said, basically, ‘ugh’.

So, I wrote to an old friend of mine who is a respected, experienced, and adept editor; she’s read manuscripts for me in the past.  I’m paying her to read it; expertise like hers is hugely valuable.  And, luckily for me, she had a bit of time this week.

Waiting to hear back while your manuscript is being read is one of the most painful and difficult and entirely inevitable experiences a writer can have.  Combined with the almost epic bad weather we’ve been having here in England this summer, near-continuous rain and cool temperatures, I have felt myself wilting since the day I sent the ms off.  Last night I reached a nadir - while getting dressed to go to my publisher’s annual summer party, I put on my pyjamas and got into bed instead.

Then this morning, an email from my editor friend.  Reader, she ‘loved’ it.  Reader, she had good things to say. 

Our Stuff and Our Things - first person bad, third person good

20 April 2012 | Comments (0)

I’m working on my new novel in the normal one step forward, five steps backwards, I’m a genius, I can’t remember how to write, kind of way.  As always, I have issues when it comes to figuring out voice in these early drafts, in particular, whether to use first person or third person, or a mix of the two.  This was a major stumbling block for me during the writing of my last novel, The Mistress of Nothing.  Turns out that it’s a stumbling block with this new book as well.

Before Christmas I had a working draft of the first part of the novel, an eighty page chapter with which I was rather pleased.  In it, I’d used an almost random mix of first and third person, as well as past and present tense.  Needless to say, on reflection, spurred on by the incredulous horror expressed by one of my agents upon reading it, this didn’t work. So I’ve embarked on a complete rewrite, which I’m about half—way through. 

The story of Our Stuff and Our Things grows out of my digital fiction project ‘Flight Paths’, created by me and Chris Joseph.  When it comes to works of multimedia that reside on screens, like ‘Flight Paths’ and ‘Inanimate Alice’, I’ve found that the first person works extremely well.  There’s something about the intimacy and immediacy of the first person that works well for text on a screen; it’s the voice of the character, speaking directly to you as you click and scroll and navigate your way through the story.  Many of the multitude of episode 5s of ‘Inanimate Alice’ that have been created by students around the world use the first person.  ‘Flight Paths’ uses two first person voices, interwoven to tell a story.

So I suppose it was only natural (read: not thought-through) that when I embarked on writing a novel that takes as its starting point the ‘encounter’ between the two characters from ‘Flight Paths’ - Harriet and Yacub (he falls out of a plane and lands on her car) - that I should continue to write using their first person voices, voices that I could hear very clearly inside my head.

But it doesn’t work.  If there is one thing that long-form prose fiction offers above all forms of story-telling, it is the ability to provide psychological insight, to go inside characters’ heads and bring forth their memories, their perceptions, their ideas.  Writing in the first person has severe limitations when it comes to opening out and exploring a story through an ensemble of characters over time.  So I’ve ditched it. 

Hard work.  As @touretteshero, the brave young woman campaigning to raise awareness of Tourette’s Syndrome, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week:  Biscuit.

Our Stuff and Our Things 1

13 January 2012 | Comments (0)

I’ve been working on my new novel, which is called ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, for about a year now - had a good chunk of writing time in May/June/July last year, and am embarking on a new chunk of time now.

The story takes the premise developed in my digital fiction, ‘Flight Paths’ and develops it further.  It tells the stories of the two characters in ‘Flight Paths’, Yacub and Harriet, and it tells the stories of a number of other characters as well.  At the risk of over-complicating this description, if not the project itself, the novel will have three chapters that will be published in bound book and ebook format, and one stand-alone chapter, a multimedia digital fiction I’m working on with Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods, called ‘Duel’. 

The weird thing is that I am finding the writing process fun.  Really a lot of fun.  I have no idea why this time around it is fun.  Maybe it’s because ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ was such an epic research job, and while ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’ does require some research, it’s nothing compared to MoN, where I even attempted to learn Arabic (six months of 1-1 lessons:  I know four words).  The writing process - and this peculiar experience of ‘having fun while writing’ - reminds me a little bit of when I wrote my novel ‘Weird Sister’.  That was the only other novel I’ve ever written where I knew pretty much where to start, where to go next, and how to end, before I started writing. 

Hmm.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.  Or maybe not.

So, doubtless now that I’ve written this blogpost, it will all go horribly wrong.  But I just wanted to put it on record - writing can be fun.  There, I said it.