Saturday, 14 May 2011

Writing a Novel (Part Three): Good Days and Full Bin Days

Since handing over 15 Days without a Head to my publisher, I've been sitting down each day to write what I hope will become my next book. Some days the writing flows and I get lost in the story, sailing through a thousand words and barely noticing the time passing. Others are more difficult. When I'm not sure where the story goes, or when the words on the screen feel wrong.
Having a Full Bin Day
I call these Full Bin Days – when each page is metaphorically torn from the typewriter, screwed up and tossed in the bin. These are the days when writing anything feels like an act of faith, continuing to type even though your brain and every cell in your body is telling you it's a waste of time. 

On these occasions, I find it sometimes helps to remind myself that I'm not alone – that better writers than me have suffered days like these. Over the years I've amassed a collection of quotes to help me through such dark hours of doubt. I thought I might share a few, just in case anybody out there might be having a Full Bin Day too …

"Most days feel useless. I don't seem to accomplish anything – just a few pages, most of which don't seem very good. Yet, when I put all those wasted days together, I somehow end up with a book of which I'm very proud. Somehow I've now written eighteen books." Louis Sachar

"If you're going to make a living at this business … you have to realise that a lot of the time, you're going to be writing without inspiration. The trick is to write just as well without it as with. Of course, you write less readily and fluently without it; but the interesting thing is to look at the private journals and letters of great writers and see how much of the time they just had to do without inspiration. Conrad, for example, groaned at the desperate emptiness of the pages he faced; and yet he managed to cover them. Amateurs think that if they were inspired all the time, they could be professionals. Professional know that if they relied on inspiration, they'd be amateurs." Philip Pullman

"There's a lot of hard graft along the way. It feels precarious. I suppose it's like sculpting. You keep working away at a formless blob until some kind of form emerges. What keeps you working is the certainty that there is something in there." Julie Bertagna

"No topic is perfect. You just have to shut up and write." Natalie Goldberg

"She said, 'The way to say something is just to start saying the start of it, then everything will come out.'" From Clay, by David Almond

"It's important to write regularly. Discipline is as important as talent, perhaps even more important – a lot of books don't get written simply because talented people never sit down and actually write." Robert Cormier

"I've listened for years to the reasons why the book is not being published … he wants it to be perfect, so it will never happen. If you look at the first copy of The Big Issue, it is rubbish compared to what it has become. It was done very quickly. I didn't want it to be the best magazine in the world. If I had, I would still be waiting to launch it." John Bird, founder of The Big Issue.

And finally, my favourite, from The King himself:

"Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position." Stephen King

Friday, 6 May 2011

Taking a Dark Ride in the Owl Bookshop

Action shot: me buying a copy of Dark Ride
On Wednesday evening I returned to the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town for the launch of Caroline Green's debut, Dark Ride. I met Caroline for the first time at Miriam Halahmy's book launch last month (Yeah, I know, a writer's life is just one party after another). When Caroline told me that Dark Ride was about a girl who meets a strange boy living in an abandoned fairground, I knew I wanted to read it. Seaside towns, especially out of season when the piers and fairgrounds are deserted and desolate, always feels like they are full of stories, and this one sounded great. 

Miriam Halahmy with chocolate!
Once again the bookshop aisles were packed with people. I managed to catch up with a few friends, including fellow 'Edgar', Miriam Halahmy, and was able to present her with the chocolate I owed her for the interview she did here last month. However, collect too many writers together in a room lined with books, and strange things start to happen. When I found myself standing with Candy Gourlay, Nick Cross and Sue Hyams, excitedly developing an idea for a picture book about a sheep serial killer, I knew it was time to leave – but not before getting my book signed. The line was long and unruly, but it meant I got to meet the queue-jumping Anthony McGowan, and discuss tea and ukuleles while we waited.

Nick Cross and Candy Gourlay, before the serial killer moment

Caroline, still smiling at the end of the queue!

I read the first four chapters of Dark Ride on the train home and was so engrossed I almost missed my stop – the sign of a good book I think. But don't take my word for it. Check out the trailer and read an excerpt here

Dark Ride is available now, published by Piccadilly Press.