My Writing Process …. Blog Tour:
Today is Blog Tour Day. Yip, rolled around again. I’m glad to be back with this update of my previous My Writing Process Blog. My thanks to Amanda Addison for inviting me. Amanda’s current work in progress, Picasso, Cream Horns and Tulips for Alice, is a bitter sweet tale of first love tied up with the life-changing experience of finding your own creative identity, “through being an artist…being someone who notices things,” Grayson Perry, Reith Lecture 2013. This is acted out through the interweaving stories of the two main characters, Mathew Andersen, an 18 year old art student, and his mother, the forty-something Sam who is drawn back into her artistic past. The backdrop is Great Yarmouth, the North Sea, Brighton and Amsterdam.
Find more about Amanda (in whom writing and sewing truly meet, believe me) and her other work in progress here:
Here are my answers to the Writing Process questions.
1/ What am I working on?
I have now finished my second novel, Terminal City. I’ve had feedback from my keen team of first readers, and I am in their debt.
Terminal City is a crime and relationship story set in Vancouver in 1939 and 1959. The 1930s and 40s were the same noir period for Vancouver as they were for LA and San Francisco, the other great West Coast cities of North American. But these cities have been written about from James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler on. Vancouver hasn’t. It’s a period of bank robberies, murders, town hall, police and business corruption, and of campaigns by the ‘right-thinking’ to establish order and conformity. What if I united the criminality of the pre-war years with the white bread and complacency of the late fifties? What if a fading Hollywood star returned to where he had begun, a dying and wealthy man’s desire for vengeance was re-ignited, and a death long forgotten resurfaced? What if lives around them were disrupted? What might all be hiding from the wilder days of their youth?
I’m also, along with Amanda and others, judging the current Rethink New Novels Competition 2014. We met recently to eat Japanese food and make decisions about who will be published. The judging process has been one big informative spell for me and I’m glad to have been a part of it. As a previous winner myself I know what a difference it will make. I’m happy to know that two currently unsuspecting writers will soon be hearing good news, and, severe critic as I am, sad that so many others will have to be disappointed. So much work, such dedication.
East Hastings Street, Vancouver in 1959, the scene of some of the most important action in Terminal City.
2/ How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Terminal City is a crime story, but at its heart, and at the heart of my previous book, The River and The Sea, as in just about anything I’ve ever written, lies a desire to tell a story of how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other. I see this as the one great theme of literature, presented a few million different ways. It would be this emphasis on the very personal relationships of the protagonists that would make my concept of a crime story different to others of its genre. In Terminal City there is the potential crime of a death twenty years before. There is also the crime of a love betrayed and the lover used. If someone willing allows him or herself to be taken advantage of… have they been betrayed at all?
3/ Why do I write what I do?
This feels very much linked to the next question: how does my writing process work. I’m interested in that old banal subject that all of us, we human social animals, are interested in: people, and especially other people. But I need to see them, and show them, in context. My interest in that necessitates them speaking a language I understand, and them living lives I can relate to. I can’t do gladiators or sword and sandal of any kind, ancient Egyptians, Anglo-Saxons, hobbits, magical schoolboys or any of the many imagined entities of superstition: they are all too far removed from my own limited experience for me to have empathy. I just don’t care. Others clearly can. I can’t. A period and location not my own but one with which I can have some understanding, and people whose ambitions, beliefs, hopes, desires, failings I can relate to is what I’m after.
Not really a deviation: I have a wire fox terrier called Finn. Finn has no interest in chasing balls. He won’t swim. He just wants to relate to people and other dogs. I’m a little like Finn. Less dogs, more people, maybe. Here’s a recent photo of Finn. He’s handsomer than I am. Younger. More hair. He’s got it all.
As I say it’s all really about people. Other writers I’ve been influenced by, those I remember and the myriad I’ve forgotten, are writers of the dilemmas and conflicts of flawed, recognizable, believable human beings.
Writing immerses me in a world that is related to, yet different to, my own, with interesting people doing interesting and sometimes dangerous things. Occasionally physically dangerous (a firing squad, shot or blown up in WWI, cold and hunger in The River and The Sea; alcohol and drugs and syphilis, a blow on the head in Terminal City ), but also dangerous in their relationships with those they care about, and/or who care about them. Psychologically I’m involved enough for it to matter, but ultimately I’m safe. Disaster may affect the protagonists but not me. I can even, cowardly, chuck it in and walk away. What’s not to like?
The photograph without which The River and The Sea would not exist.
4/ How does my writing process work?
The process so far has been to get excited about some discovery I’ve just made, and find I want to dwell in that place more and more. With The River and The Sea it was when I found the road sign on the Kamloops – Ashcroft highway describing the town of Walhachin that for a brief pre-Great War period had bloomed there, to vanish at the outbreak of that war. I re-peopled it with its real former inhabitants as best I could from on-line research, reading what little was available, and visiting the site. I wanted to take it further, and added characters of my own creation who would… yes, of course… need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other.
Errol Flynn, the original of Terminal City’s Rory Devlin, on board the Zaca, the boat he came to Vancouver to sell when he was ruined and dying.
With Terminal City it was reading of the death of Errol Flynn in Vancouver, a city whose history I was already studying. He had come there in October 1959 with his 17 year old blonde girlfriend to sell his last possession of any value, his much-loved yacht, the Zaca. What clinched the desire to write something set around this incident was reading that Beverly Aadland, the blonde supposed bimbo, never sold her story, maintained her dignity, and seems to have truly mourned the fading roué that was Errol Flynn. It was an opportunity to spend time in that pre-skyscraper city in which I was already involved, see its first tall buildings go up, ride in its cars, feel the tram tracks on its streets, hear its music and its people speak.
Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland, 5th May 1959. Errol Flynn was purportedly to have said: ‘I like my whiskey old, and my women young.’
So it’s excitement about some real location and/or event, followed by a need to see the people involved as best I can. During this research characters fitting the location and period develop, begin to take on desires, hopes, failings. They make decisions: some pan out, some don’t, but the characters, if it works out how I want, are off and running, growing into what I hope will eventually by a coherent novel-length narrative.
These initial stages are happy and free. Then comes the harder work of putting these scenes, already existing in notes, written sketches or just inside my head, down in the most original, involving form I can come up with. It has to have a destination, which I know before I begin this stage. That could be five or six months work, but of course the thing has been floating around somewhere in my head for a couple of years by then. Once that draft is in place then pleasure returns: the polishing, honing, paring, the re-writing, aiming this time round, maybe, for something a little neo-noir, a little Dennis Lehane, a little Gone, Baby, Gone meets Gone Girl? Basta! Basta!
Flynn and Beverly, Vancouver Airport, October 1959. Nearing the end.