Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Lightbulb Moment; Or, How to draw attention to oneself on the bus

It's been a good day, as the old geezer in the fire safety ads used to say after bringing the horses home from the show and before dozing off in his armchair and burning the house down.

These kind of days are few and far between, so you need to treasure them when they strike. It started with a pre-work doze on the coach in this morning. In that fantastically hazy realm between consciousness and sleep, I had what is commonly known in the trade as a lightbulb moment. This one didn't just light up, it exploded and had me wide awake, staring at the headrest in front of me, while the woman in the next seat glanced up from her paperback and gave me a look that made me check to see if I'd left the house naked.

I'm about 8,000 words or so away from finishing the first draft of Quackenbush, the young adult novel I've been dabbling with for the last couple of years. A few months ago, I hit a wall. A bloody big one. I'd opened the book with a prologue and when I posted it in Litopia for feedback last year, I kinda new what would be coming. The opening was set 35 years ago, with an action scene that introduced a young Quackenbush, before fastforwarding to present day and the start of the story proper.

The problem was, as integral as Quackenbush is to the book, and as cool a character as I think he is, he isn't the main protagonist. That is young Tom, and the way the book is structured at the moment, the reader doesn't meet Tom till page 10, which is not the greatest idea when trying to persuade an agent to, in the words of Mr Cox, move to the couch with his or her mug of coffee in one hand and your manuscript in the other.

Dump the prologue was the general consensus. But writers are a precious lot, fond of their babies. And, goddamit, I liked it. The events in the prologue are fundamental to how Quackenbush becomes the man he is, and crucial to the bond that develops between between him and Tom. I was loathe to lose it, even though I knew, deep down, that it had to go. I tried to focus on the rest of the manuscript, completing parts that I'd left hanging because extra research was needed, but it was no good. I had to sort this prologue issue out in my head.

So I've waited. Other projects have come to the fore, some have been completed, and others are still hanging around like an irate zombie who's been locked out of the mall while his mates are enjoying a feeding frenzy. And still I've waited. Until this morning.

The answer to the prologue dilemma is so bloody obvious I feel somewhat embarrassed for not having realised it earlier. A dynamic opening? Check. Straight in with Tom, strutting his stuff? Check. Managing to hold on to the events of the old prologue, in a roundabout way, and so give the reader the information they need about Quackenbush? Check.

It's a huge relief. And I'm chomping at the bit to get started on revising what I have of the draft, and then completing it. But I'm going to wait, at least a few days, to let it all stew. It's been rattling around in what passes as a brain for long enough, a little while longer won't harm it.

So, score one for Wednesday. The feelgood factor was improved when an email dropped in the inbox from my publisher for The Manx Giant. I fired the manuscript off to him about five weeks ago, which marked the first time he'd read a word of it. The days ticked by and I heard nothing. Holidays, I thought. Or maybe he's ill. Or so tied up on another project that he's had to forsake everything else. You can't help but start to fear the worst.

Today, I got his reply. He likes it. In fact, he's very pleased with it. He wants to meet up to discuss a few minor points, but he's happy. I'll be starting on the next draft this weekend, and the finishing line feels very close. Another big relief.

So that's it - two major scores in one day. I'm not naive enough to expect more fireworks soon. I'm only too aware that the literary gods have cocked up and they'll be arguing amongst themselves as to how some halfwit writer managed to get lucky twice within a matter of hours. They won't let that happen again soon.

Finally. a heartfelt thanks to all who attended the Olive Lamming Address to the Isle of Man Literary Society last week and had to endure my ramblings for the best part of an hour. I didn't mean to go on that long, honest. But, well, you did ask me to talk. And anyone who knows my father will be aware that us Quirks do like a good natter...

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