Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Au tour de ma tête, more or less.

OK, so, my friend Janet got me on this blog tour thing. Thing is, I'd like to say I'm not writing these days. Much. I've got a new and demanding job, and I'm dog tired all the time. I've also got a lot of things I ought to be doing - not least, this year is Scotland's chance of independence, a chance I've been waiting for and claiming to be working for for forty years. But I'm not out on the streets campaigning, because I'm too tired.

Or so I say.

And yet, I came back to my lodgings on Monday night, sat down, and wrote three thousand words. I got up this morning at sparrow fart, and wrote another five hundred before wolfing down some breakfast and running out to work.

What am I working on?

So what (the fuck) is this all about? It's all about a novel. It's all about a novel which bit me in December, and hasn't let go. In two and a half months I've written 66,000 words - that's not far off a thousand words a day. That's (for me) fast. Unprecedentedly, startlingly fast. I mean, I've been working on one or another extended narrative piece - nominally novels - at any time in the past two decades. But typically it takes me several years to finish one, if I finish it at all - there are half a dozen unfinished train-wrecks littering my hard disk now.

This isn't a very sophisticated narrative. It has a third-party narrator - not strictly a Victorian omniscient narrator, I don't look inside the characters heads (much) - who isn't unreliable and time is more or less linear without any flashy-backies or other tricks. It plays no post-modern games. It's just a story such as people read when they're not trying to be intellectual.

I hope.

Sort of.

I'm not certain that it's any good.

So what's it about? It's about how a society moves from a tyrannical, feudal society to something a little bit more enlightened. Not very much more enlightened, it's not in the least utopian, it's not in any way presenting my view of a good society. It's a story about social process. But, people don't read stories about social process when they're not trying to be intellectual. So it's a romance - sort of, I don't know yet whether the protagonists end up as a couple and if they do they'd be a turbulent couple - set in a mildly fantasy universe. Without magic, because magic, in my opinion, tends to ruin plots, and without dwarves or elves or orcs or stuff, because what's interesting to me is how folk - ordinary human folk - work with other ordinary human folk. My folk are not all good. In fact, none of them are entirely good. That is what is interesting.

I hope.

The problem with writing a story about social process is I've got two whole chapters which are just process, and I worry that they're dull. One is a public meeting about how to organise the community, and that's essentially blocks of speech from different characters outlining different options. The other is a sort of a court of law, about the disposition of property. It's hard to make these dramatic. They aren't dramatic. They're process. Forging the new Scotland will involve a lot of process, too. Much of it will be dull. But we will have to go through it if we're to achieve a better state.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don't know. Probably not much. Most people who write fantasy fiction - at least if they are writing anything more than commercial pot-boilers, are, like authors of science fiction, both commenting on the contemporary real world society in which they live, and also making some sort of a statement about what they view as a good society - whether that be reactionary and hierarchical (Tolkien, for example) or radically open (Ursula le Guin).

In my small way I'm sort of doing that, although my end state - a sort of proto-constitutional-monarchy - is a very long way from what I consider a good society. As I say, it's not about end states. It's about process.

Why do I write what I do?

$DEITY knows!

It's almost certainly pointless.

Probably no-one will read it.

The only novel I've had published (which I think is actually quite good, despite its cringe-making cover) has sold very poorly.

How does your writing process work?

Well, we're talking here (mostly) about stories. Narrative. I would say that on the whole I don't write stories. Mostly. Mostly I write polemic: writing intended to persuade. Journalism, in a loose sense. About politics, especially rural politics, about the environment, about the (mal-) distribution of wealth, of housing, of land. About how the land is used. About cycling. And about software, which is my profession but also my passion. And, because I'm mad, also about madness.

But really, writing a story and writing a polemic have a lot in common. You wake up with something you have to say, that won't let you rest until you've expressed it, expressed it in the best way you can with as much skill as you have.

That's what I do. I write because I'm driven to. Because I can't not.

Oh, how does the process work?

That's a different question. I write in a very basic text editor, chosen because it's basic. It edits text. There are no fonts or formatting or bold or italic or big or small. Formatting is all automatic, not something I think about. When you're writing, formatting is a distraction: something which just gets in the way.

When I've finished writing I run a bunch of scripts I've hacked up over the years which take my plain text and render it into something resembling a finished work. But I don't tweak: the stylesheet is the stylesheet is the stylesheet, and as it dictates so shall the text appear. Getting the stylesheet right has been, of course, a job in itself, but it's a job I've done and don't need to keep adjusting.

I store my work-in-progress in a revision control system - specifically git, because I'm used to it and like it. It means that if I change my mind about something and want to go back to an earlier version, that's easily done.
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