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July 2010

June 2010

Wake up and re-write

Whenever an editor or agent is lured into listing the things which put them off a manuscript, it seems that well up the list is a novel which starts with someone waking up. And top of the list is the subset of these which start with the protagonist waking up with a hangover or a head wound. "But - but - but -" thousands of aspiring writers cry, and they have a point. What about Kafka's The Metamorphosis, just for a start, when Gregor Samsa wakes up and discovers he's become a beetle? Indeed, the unrevised version of my new... Read more →

Writing for radio part 5: editing

The first pass revisions of my story for Radio 4 were the usual ones. First, once I had the story down on the page, it was about adjustments to the structure and spacing of the piers of the bridge: this is where being able to spread the pages of a short story out is wonderful. In such a short story, and one to be read aloud, there isn't space for anything structurally complex, but it's an oldish man remembering his youth: was the frame the right width (length?); did the sense of the speaker's 'now' fade in and out at... Read more →

Heisenberg's taste in tapestries

Talking to the Richard III Society today, I was reminded of the moment when I got the answer to the problem of how to write A Secret Alchemy. In a TLS review of two books on the Dark Ages, the reviewer R I Moore said this:Historians have to live with Heisenbergian uncertainty: they cannot simultaneously plot position and trajectory, without distortion. The forces that make for change are always more important for the future, and therefore in retrospect, than they seem at the time… At the time, the blinding light that it shone showed me why I didn't want to... Read more →

Writing for radio part 4: writing

It sounds a bit obvious, but I realised that knowing my radio story would be spoken aloud and heard, not written and read, did change things. I write in first person most of the time, because it's so much easier to find the right, particular, different voice and the plotting problems it leads to are usually surmountable. If I want more than one viewpoint I'll have more than one first-person narrator. But I'd been flirting with the idea of writing this story in third person with a shifting or even omniscient point of view, since it's a while since I... Read more →

Not just better but also richer

In among radio stories and marking OU assessments, a wodge of editorial reports, and assorted domestic stuff, I still have to find time to revise the current novel. This is not a mere editorial hop-and-a-skip through, sorting out typos, but heavy engineering. The novel's a single story, quite heavily plotted and almost thriller-ish, told by alternating first-person narrators, and I've decided to change the narrator for one of them. So I don't want to change the plot if I can possibly help it, and this is where my novel-planning grid comes into its own: I filled one column for the... Read more →

Writing for radio 3: meeting

I walked down the hill in the sunshine to meet the producer of my story for Radio 4 - let's call her Rosamund - trying to assemble my thoughts about what and how I write, in the hope that I'd be ready to hitch that onto what she wanted. With any new piece of work, but particularly one which is being written to contract, there's always a finely-balanced decision about how much to play to your strengths, knowing that it's a safe(ish) bet that you'll get an okay story, and how much to challenge yourself in the hope of getting... Read more →

Writing for radio part 2: thinking

So, halfway back up the A23 to London from my research trip to Brighton, I had what I was fairly sure was a viable idea for my first ever story for radio. Pier Productions' brief for this trio of stories, 'Lost in the Lanes', gave me my central problem, and I had 2000 words to solve it in. Next had to come Who? and Why? And in beginning to think those out (dream them up? But it felt more like 'discover them'...) I realised I absolutely knew where the story ended both physically and emotionally, because it's bedded in the... Read more →

Writing for radio part 1: the call

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a radio producer who I'd sent some work to - the same producer who commissioned Kellie Jackson's story last year, which Kellie guest-blogged about here. This producer is commissioning a series of three stories from writers new to radio, and would I be interested in writing one of them? As so often, the timing was quite tight, with the recording due at the end of June, for transmission in early August. And as it's part of a set of three the location and theme were set. We talked on the... Read more →