Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Category: Novels

The Terror of the Finished Manuscript

Yesterday morning I made the last couple of tweaks to the first complete draft of my new book and I am now in a state of high anxiety, a state that I anticipate being in for the next few months at the very least. There’s a lot said about the terror of the blank page, although I’ve never really found this an issue. The question has never been “what on earth do I write?” but “which of the many things buzzing around my head do I want to pick?”

The real terror, to my mind, is the terror of the finished manuscript. What if the thing I’ve spent over a year of my life on turns out to be shit? The MA programme at Bath Spa was a wonderful safe place to try out stuff without fear of embarrassment, but I’m now about to start the long process of sending this thing out into the real world. Here’s a chronological list of things that could go wrong (all of which I am envisaging right now):

  • Beta readers hate it – since these are friends and family, this could be especially awkward
  • No agent will touch it
  • An agent will take it on but won’t be able to sell it
  • It’ll get sold to a rubbish publisher
  • It’ll get published and ignored
  • It’ll get published and reviewed badly
  • No-one will buy it
  • People will buy it but will start looking at me in a funny way

And that’s just the first few that came into my head.

The worst of it all is that I suspect it doesn’t get any easier. Why am I doing this again?

Work Still In Progress

I had a plan. I was going to finish this novel by the end of 2015. Then I was going to give it a quick whizz through and send it out to a couple of trusted beta readers so I could have it ready to chuck out into the world some time in the first quarter of this year.

Then December came along with all that December brings with it and I ended up not writing a word between the end of November and the beginning of January. And the problem was that I’d left my main character on the cusp of the BIG REVEAL which would explain pretty much everything that had happened in the rest of the book.

This was a problem because during December, when I wasn’t able to find the time to sit down and write, I was constantly going over the big reveal in my head and planning how it was going to unfold. Over and over again. The result of this was that by the time I sat down to write it, it already felt as if the big reveal had been going on for a month and I was frankly bored of the whole thing. I ended up with a horrible, clunky mess.

I guess it all comes of not plotting. I somehow imagined with this book that at some point I’d sit down and work out what was going to happen and why, but somehow I never actually did. I raised this with my tutor at Bath Spa and, to my considerable surprise, she told me that if I felt comfortable with not plotting, I didn’t actually need to. So I didn’t. And I was very pleased to find out recently that Ian Rankin feels exactly the same way (and, it turns out, for much the same reasons).

The downside of not plotting is that you tend to end up with a massive tangle of stuff to explain at the end. This is really good if your aim is to confuse the reader, which I guess is the case in the kind of mystery novel I’m working on. However, the time has to come when you do have to sort it out, but – and here’s the tricky bit – without looking as if you’re sorting it out. I suppose it’s analogous to the problem with exposition at the start of a novel. It’s probably necessary for you to explain, for example, that your characters have three arms, are the size of ants and live on a square planet called Zöbsqurtz, but do you let that emerge during the course of a (possibly rather stilted) piece of dialogue or do you just come out and just say it? Or do you incorporate some kind of device like Douglas Adam’s Hitch Hiker’s Guide?

Anyway, I ended up disposing of the large clunky explanatory mess (and one entire character, who now no longer needs to make an appearance at all) and I’ve now got a slightly tighter, slightly less clunky explanatory mess. The really good thing is that I’m happy enough with it to put it to one side and continue on to the spectacular final scene, which I’m enjoying a LOT more.

85000 words down, maybe 5000 to go. Let’s say we’ll do this by the end of January, right?

You’re on.

Spelk, The Nottingham Review and Other Stuff

A casual viewer of this blog over the last few months would scarcely guess that it’s been running pretty much continuously for seven and a bit years. Time was when I’d be constantly bombarding you with reports about things I’d had accepted or published, to say nothing of the occasional interview or even a review or two. I recently got invited to a couple of events for book bloggers at the Groucho Club, and I felt too embarrassed to go because it’s been so long since I last reviewed anything here.

Still, even though the blog is a bit thin on the ground, I have been writing stuff. TTAAAP is now over 77000 words long and is nearing the final showdown. I’d love to share some nuggets of information about the process I’m going through with it, but it feels a bit presumptuous to do so. I still feel like a complete beginner with this. Perhaps I always will. One thing I can say is that I had a massive wobble last week when I discovered a plot hole the size of a small crater and it seemed like I was going to have to unpick a considerable part of the book in order to fix it. Fortunately, I managed to find an acceptable way of filling it, and I think I can now see my way to the finish. Just one detail to sort out, and we’re done. Then one last edit, and it’s over to the beta readers.

In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of acceptances for short stories. My cheeky little ultra-short, “Graffiti”, has been taken by Spelk, and my slightly longer story, “Phosphorescence”, has been taken by The Nottingham Review. “Phosphorescence” was actually shortlisted in the 2012 Bridport Prize under the name “The Joy Inside”, but it’s been struggling to find a nice home ever since. I’m quite fond of it, even if I still don’t quite understand it. You’ll see what I mean when it gets published.

Some Rather Important News

embracebookslogo_reasonably_smallPeople who follow me on Twitter may have spotted this rather enigmatic tweet that appeared late last Wednesday afternoon. Time to explain, I guess.

The reason for my tweet was that I’d just put the phone down after a rather significant conversation with Steve Haynes of Proxima Books. Steve is the editor responsible for this new science fiction and fantasy imprint within Salt Publishing and he’d just called me to tell me that Proxima were very keen to publish “Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens” in print in the summer of 2011. Not only that, but Salt themselves are very excited and intend to throw their whole weight behind the project!

This has all happened remarkably quickly. My initial submission to Proxima of the prologue plus first three chapters (equivalent to 15 episodes of the online serialisation) went in precisely a month ago, on October 15th. I did this hours after spotting a tweet from Jane Holland, the lady in charge of Embrace Books, the sister imprint to Proxima, calling for submissions. Steve Haynes got back to me a few days later with a whole slew of comments, saying that if I could address these, he would be very keen to see the whole manuscript.

At this point, the main problem was that I was still around 10000 words short of the end, but it was too good an opportunity to miss, so I knuckled down and bashed out the remaining words at near-nano rate, made the edits and re-submitted just over a week later. After an agonising wait, I got an e-mail to say that they loved the manuscript, which was followed by an even more agonising wait whilst I waited to hear if it was going to be a digital-only or a print publication. Then last Wednesday I got a voicemail asking me to call Steve because he had some good news for me – and the news was that it was indeed going to have a proper print run.

It’s hard to describe just how excited I am about this. Ever since I bought my first Salt book, I’ve wanted to be a Salt author, because their books are just so damned good in every respect. It is, however, more than a little weird to imagine that something as daft as Mrs Darcy is going to be published by them. Unbelievably cool, though.

The other thing that I’m excited about is that my editor at Proxima seems to like the book for all the right reasons and he really does seem to be someone I can work with. And in many ways, Proxima is just the right place for Mrs Darcy – a science fiction and fantasy series with the Embrace Regency romance imprint as its next-door neighbour.

But the thing that I’m really pinching myself about is that for once in my life I seem to have set out towards a goal, devised my own pretty unconventional tactics for getting there and somehow made it. What a strange year it’s been, eh?

Oh, and I nearly forgot. Meanwhile back at Rosings, there are some misunderstandings