This is the first in an occasional series tracking my thoughts as I write my next novel. Expect ideas, speculation, research, and thoughts about the process itself. Sometimes I will ask you questions to help with my research. Please help if you can.
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The working title of my new book is ‘Threads’ but it could just as easily be ‘What the hell is going on?’
I’m approaching it as if I were a painter preparing a huge canvas. Some parts are just marks, placeholders for sections not yet written or only vaguely outlined; other areas are light colour washes showing that somebody will stand here – there will be a window there – this will become a different city – whilst others have already received a first coat of oils revealing a face, a landscape, a meal. All these images float across the space and nudge each other like the gliding parts of a digital jigsaw.
I’m doing it like this because right now, in this world of Brexit and he-who-shall-not-be-named, so many people are complaining that they don’t know what the hell is going on. Neither do I. And my academic critical training is not much help in working it out, so I’m going for the vaguer more wishy-washy stuff. What can I bring to the surface if I open my mind to methods and approaches I have disdained before?
That is why, every morning, I work back and forth across my literary canvas, strengthening some parts and scraping away or overpainting others. I annotate it with smells, sounds and colours to be described in more detail later. There are some parts which are pretty much set by now – I doubt I will change the dimensions of the picture because I know the time frame (June-November 2016) and I know the countries where the story happens. I think I have the characters decided, although each of them has proved to be quite the shapeshifter. Only a week ago, after a period of meditation followed by freewriting, I discovered one character waking up to find that her hair had grown much longer while she slept. That was as much a surprise to me as it was to her!
This sounds chaotic, but next to the narrative that I’m cultivating in the myriad files and folders of my Scrivener garden, I also keep a detailed Excel chart of where and when everything is at any one time. This way, I never lose sight of the overall picture. Many entries in the chart are only pencil marks on the painting at the moment, because they’re waiting to be worked up into a scene once the area around them has settled, but others are almost complete.
I like doing it this way. Not only am I creating a story, but I’m excavating one too. I’m reading widely and following trails. When I hit a new field of enquiry I research it, but I might also try to dream an answer, or meditate it into being. Sometimes that works and sometimes it just feels plain ridiculous. But the whole thing is hugely enjoyable, and I have allocated as much time as I need to finish it. Maybe it will be ready next year, maybe the year after. Who knows? So, on I go.
I plan to share my thinking while I work, and I’ll write about my research too, so please follow me for occasional updates. People I’ll be writing about include David Abram, Paul Stamets, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and lots more. The next piece will probably be about Esalen.
And sometimes I will have questions. If you have answers, I’d love to read them. Either leave them in the comments, or contact me privately.
Here is my first question:
Do you enjoy watching live webcams of wildlife? If so, which ones and why?
Thank you! I hope you’ll make the journey with me. With luck it will be pretty interesting.