Monday, 15 December 2008

Quirky in a quandary


More job losses in publishing, this time at Macmillan, and everywhere you turn writers, agents and publishers are urging/pleading/begging everyone to buy books for Christmas. Lots of books. Shower your loved ones with them. In fact, sod just loved ones, buy books as presents for those that you hate. A work colleague you want to see suffer eternal damnation in the fiery pits of Hell? Forgive and forget, make it up with a nice page-turner to keep them company during the holidays. Throw in a mince pie for good measure.

I’d be happy if every Christmas present I received was a book (assuming I’m getting any, of course) because I don’t buy many these days, my literature investment fund having been diverted to boosting the profits of Huggies and Pampers. I’m kind of hoping my better half has been advising this fact to the usual ‘what does John want for Christmas?’ enquiries. Anyone would think I was difficult to buy for.

For my part, I’ve bought a couple of books as presents. It makes sense, even without the present state of the publishing world. Think about it – as with alcohol and chocolates, which you just know will be used, even if the recipient isn’t overly keen on them, a well thought out book is unlikely to go the way of all those useless ornaments and multi-coloured vomit-inducing socks and ties, not to mention the tin of biscuits that you’re recycling because you couldn’t bring yourself to torture your stomach last Christmas.

All this doom and gloom does make one wonder, why put yourself through the torment that is the long, painful road to publication? It’s already a bloody hard slog, even when the industry is in the groove and publishers are throwing good money after bad. Today, budgets are tight and the outlook bleak.

But still we write. Still we submit in the hope of catching someone’s eye; just a flicker, anything to make an agent do a double-take and realise that the manuscript they’re holding is the one gold nugget in amongst the piles of scrap metal submissions under which they’ve been drowning.

The fact is, a writer doesn’t stop having ideas just because the book industry is suffering. They appear, unheralded, and begin gnawing away at your subconscious. And eventually you do something about it.

With the first draft of The Manx Giant completed, I’ve started work on edits and rewrites. I’m looking at mid-to-end January to have the book polished, by which time I’d hope to have young adult novel Quackenbush at the editing stage.

All this means that I’ll need to make a decision in the coming weeks about which project to commit to next. I’ll wait until the festivities are over, but it’s a dilemma.

It boils down to one of three choices, all novels. The first is a hard-hitting crime/drama – I’ve used plain drama to qualify it, as there are no supra-genius serial killers mincing people up with skewers – and the second is based around a famous real-life 18th century character. Both of these stories are well-formed in my mind, having been on the back-burner for some time.

The third, however, is new to the party. It reared its head a month or so ago and has been festering inside my far too cluttered brain ever since. I suspect it is an itch that must be scratched; the bully that will kick its rivals into submission.

The problem is that it’s a risky idea. The general consensus is that, when starting a novel, you at least need to have a rough idea of where you want the story to go, and to end up. Even the greatest of non-planners, such as the sublime James Lee Burke, at least have an inkling of how things pan out.

Project 3 – working title Mr Stone – would have no such rough outline. It is a concept piece – a character in a particularly difficult situation, who looks for answers. The idea of the book would be for me to write it as I personally followed his search for those answers. It would be, I guess, a fictionalised journal, and one for which I would never be sure of what was going to happen next.

Is such a concept possible to pull off? I don’t know. What I do know is that either of the other two projects is infinitely more straightforward, if there is such a thing when trying to write a book.

Yet that itch is telling me that the question at the core of Mr Stone is something that might just flutter its eyelids at an agent and turn his or her head. It might just be the one. There again, I could be talking utter rubbish.

Decisions, decisions. I think I’ll consult the cats.

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