The writer’s blog tour

Last month Chris Miles tagged me in the Writer’s Blog Tour. The idea is that Writers challenge some colleagues to answer the same four questions on their Blog, after which they are allowed to Tour the local milk bar, where there are usually at least two Lemon Calippos left, unless the damn School Kids have cleaned it out first.

Which means I need to get cracking.

What am I working on?

I once argued that typing is not writing in the same way that a bottle of tequila is not a jug of margaritas, but in both cases it seems that a really ardent commitment to the former can, in a very real sense, do the trick. So to stick to work I’m currently adding words to today, the list is:

  • a young adult novel, working title The Orchard Underground, in which a kid discovers a giant, wonderful secret under his boring home town, and then realises that one of them will destroy the other and only he can choose which
  • a children’s adventure book series, currently untitled and in its very earliest days, involving twin ten year-old detectives, a mystery granddad and, possibly, capes
  • (very much for my own amusement) a TV series in which a spectacularly inept documentary film crew follows, and generally terribly exacerbates, a series of bitter interpersonal feuds

But.

You know when you’re working hard, on something you love, and you’re totally into it, and then … BAM, you suddenly wake up to find you’ve been staring out the window for ten minutes with a completely different thing dancing around your mind?

That. All the time. So before, after, during and far too frequently instead of work on my current projects, there’s a non-stop burble of ideas, sentences, names, images, scenes, stories. Some have pretty clear shapes, but most don’t. I’m working on those, all the time, right now as I type this. While I’m toasting the sandwiches. As I’m filling the margarita jug. Which is a metaphorical margarita jug. It definitely is.

*throws hanky over webcam*

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

I don’t have an easy answer to questions about genre, and it’s mostly, I think, because I haven’t got one, yet.

If I were a more ambitious, career-minded writer, I’d have a chosen a genre and readership long ago, worked hard to write good books to appeal to those readers and established myself as a known and respected writer of, say, true crime cookbooks or celebrity animal autobiographies.

I admire writers like these, both because they have a clear sense of what they want to achieve and because — and I can’t stress this enough — their books are actually in bookshops, on bookshop counters, in bags on the way home from bookshops and on nightstands, where a receipt for $24.95 makes a natty bookmark.

I haven’t worked like this, at least not yet. I’m a genre and readership pinball: to pick a few examples, I’ve written a science-fiction comedy novel, a series of columns on the subject of doubt, a children’s adventure story, a regular sports column (don’t ask) and, most recently, a three-year, PhD-length set of online therapy resources for young people who have had an episode of psychosis.

But all of those projects inform each other, and they’re all informing the YA novel and children’s series I’m working on now. It’s important to be across the genre you’re writing in — there’s nothing artistically or commercially helpful about spending a year writing a book to discover that Rainbow Rowell wrote the same thing only better a year ago — but I like my influences to be far broader. The books I’m currently writing are influenced by Axe Cop and Jorge Luis Borges and tsunami videos and a drawing my son did of a robot chicken being piloted by Princess Bubblegum and a picture I found on the net of a motorbike grown into a tree.

Someone can tell me later how that story differs from others in my genre. Although if all of that turns up in Rainbow Rowell’s next novel I’ll be livid.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I can. I am always — every minute of every day — aware of the unfairly luxurious nature of my career. I’m not working hand-to-mouth, so I can choose my projects. I can’t justify that colossal, unearned privilege, so I try to make what I do worth it. I write only what I love, what other people might love, what I haven’t already seen elsewhere and what I think I might be able to do well.

Beyond that — because of that — I don’t question. Douglas Adams once said he didn’t know what he seriously thought about something until he’d worked out exactly the right joke to make about it, and I expect I’m similarly afflicted. I can’t seem to help writing comedy, but the subject of that comedy usually turns out to be something I care about far more than I realised at the time. I think maybe I write comedy as a form of compassion, not to prick holes in something but to empathise with it, so I’m never tempted to put myself above it.

I also quite like cocks, so there’s a lot of that in there too.

How does my writing process work?

This is where, ideally, a sequence of neat, informative and confident dot points about my daily routine would arrange themselves. The first would read:

  • 5am: idea, first thousand words

and the last:

  • buy castle, retire

I’m a lot more chaotic than that, and if there’s a single most important thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s that that works for me. I plan, write and edit my current novel using a random combination of cardboard system cards, a loose, wall-sized whiteboard that sits on my lap, a folder full of scribbled notes, various files on my laptop and a wall covered in blu-tacked reference images. Some days I need them all: some I sit and type like a demon. Some days I make a hundred words in eight hours: others I watch the Daily Show and try on every hat in my house three times until I hate myself, then sit down and turn out a thousand words in forty five minutes.

If I get stuck, I change tack. If that doesn’t work, I open a new file and start typing absolutely anything until it does work. If that doesn’t work, I get the hell out of there. Some days it’s better if you don’t touch anything.

And then I keep doing that. It’s messy and unromantic, but it works, at least until I think of something better or become a shepherd.

*

Now my favourite part of this exercise, in which I get to tag three other writers to answer these questions. Here they are:

Amy Gray is the author of most of the best columns getting written round these parts, and is also my only trusted source of news on Japanese dating sims.

Siv Parker is a writer and screenwriter whose hypnotic tweetyarns have been haunting my Twitter feed in a way that makes me crazy that I didn’t think of it first.

Josh Vann is a designer, illustrator, teacher and writer currently collaborating on the graphic novel The Spider King, about which I am so excited I can barely even.

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