I have been tagged by Guy Haley as part of some meme making its way around the internet in which those who write answer a set of ten questions, and then pass on the disease to three more. Tagged with me were Nick Kyme and Andy Smillie, and my own choice of victims follows at the end.
1. What is the working title of your next book?
The Last Century of Everything. It’s previously had the working title The Samizdat, and might yet come to be formally known as The Last Century of Everything (Or; the Samizdat). Or it might not.
2. Where did the idea come from?
From mention of the use of armoured trains, and other elements of mad Asiatic adventure, in the Russian Civil War in the non-fiction book The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer, somewhat enlarged by various of Peter Hopkirk‘s books about Central Asia (from which Palmer himself first learned of the actual ‘bloody white baron’, Baron Ungern von Sternberg, and which I in turn first learned about from Palmer’s book).
3. What genre does your book fall under?
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Shit question, no fans. Ask a question about the book.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Man flirts with nihilism; author struggles desperately to avoid giving impression of same.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Make me an offer. Do you want to buy one, or do you want to sell it for me?
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
How many of the people answering this have had to respond that they are still writing it? I are ditto. I began writing it three years ago, with about six months of reasonably frequent attention at that point, followed by long periods of only occasional additions, then a more concerted effort to finish it over the past three months or so – this would probably all add up to about six months or so of work were I to have worked on it more or less exclusively at the manageable pace of twenty hours or so a week. I have written approximately 120,000 words, only about half of which I envisage using in anything like their current form; perhaps another 20,000 or so represent passages that will still feature, though heavily altered, the rest being jettisoned entirely, with perhaps another 20,000-30,000 words to be written on top of that. Those parts which I consider more or less finished, such as those I’ve posted up here, have probably been substantially redrafted anything between three and five times, and modestly revised anything up to fifty or sixty times. I have a habit of writing in waves, starting each time from the beginning, repeatedly editing that which I’ve already written.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is very problematical. I was talking with Gav Thorpe (who I’m going to tag at the end of this; sorry Gav) after his recent appearance at Sheffield Library. Agents and publishers these days typically ask that submissions be accompanied by a list of three or four (generally contemporary, recent) writers/books in the same genre to which the submission can be compared. Apparently Gav had gone off on one about this in his seminar at the library, and it’s something I am likewise less than enamoured of. This is part of matching unpublished books to likely demand in the marketplace, which is an important consideration for all concerned, but which leaves us all having to hope that the unsubtle attempts to categorise or quantify a book which it produces don’t end up excluding something less obviously commercial, or less akin to that currently in vogue – i.e. that the search for the next big thing doesn’t risk overlooking exactly that, simply for a lack of obvious signs of being like the last big thing. The two very rarely look alike.
What other books would I compare it to? I don’t know; I’ve really been struggling with that. I have posted a sample online here – you can leave your suggestions in the comments.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Okay, I didn’t read through these questions before I started answering them. The following was originally written as part of a very lengthy answer to question number two:
Elements of the writing style reflect the conscious attempt to emulate three books. The first is The Grapes of Wrath, which I abortively began reading around the same time I read Palmer’s book (and which, coincidentally, I happened to have finally finished two or three days ago), which provided me the idea of using, variously, geographical descriptions – compare the opening paragraphs of The Grapes of Wrath with my own faltering attempts at an opening, here – and the introduction of whole classes of people, rather than individuals, often to open chapters and notably using a journalistic style of prose (less so in my case). The second is Gloriana (or, The Unfulfill’d Queen), by Michael Moorcock, whose use of elaborate descriptive lists serves to make what is actually only slightly fantastical seem very vividly so, and which again I have attempted to emulate at obvious points in the first few chapters. The third is The Brothers Karamazov, which is characteristically Russian in its obsessions and philosophical overtones, and which also provided the template for the fourth of five section motifs I aim to employ – that of using an analysis of a character to introduce events, as Dostoevsky does with his introduction of the brothers. (The fifth ‘motif’, incidentally, employed for the remaining segments of the book, is simple descriptive prose and action.)
This all sounds very pompous, especially since I’m highly unlikely to successfully emulate any of these. Not that it really matters.
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
You can read parts of it here for free. I have been toying with the idea of doing this for a while and being tagged by Guy just made me realise I might as well, so I have.
What else might pique people’s interest? I dunno. It’s a book; you might enjoy it. Some people like reading. It might have a nice cover – let’s not pretend people don’t make an awful lot of their choices based on things like that. Mostly, I would hope – though can have no certainty and, as the author, certainly no objectivity in stating – that it’s intelligent without (for the most part) being pretentiously or intrusively so, somewhat fantastical without, likewise, demanding you be the sort of person to normally read ‘that kind of book’. I’d hope that the title might pique people’s interest, too. I’d like to think it would make them think they’ve heard of it before. Some things just always make you think that you have; and I’m always trying to find them.
If that doesn’t pique your interest, it’s got pictures of naked ladies in it.
And I wrote most of it in my pants.
Okay, that’s that. To ensure the cycle of abuse continues I shall have to tag Gav Thorpe, as promised, Graham McNeill (because I’m lazy and unimaginative) and Christian Dunn, because he made the mistake of mentioning his new novel in a tweet that happened to stagger in front of my eyes at just the wrong moment.
EXTRA: More on those here mentioned (just because the questions made me think about it…)
Michael Moorcock always writes brilliant openings, including what is probably my all-time favourite – the opening to Elric of Melniboné: “It is the colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody, and from the loose sleeves of his yellow gown emerge two slender hands, also the colour of bone, resting on each arm of a seat which has been carved from a single, massive ruby.” The use of the present tense, which isn’t continued beyond the first chapter, creates a weirdly static effect, like a world frozen in time, which is significant for an introduction which describes a future that seems to have already been decided. Picking up Gloriana again now to find a suitable example for this post, I notice how similar the two introductions are, actually; Gloriana begins likewise in the present tense, though like Elric of Melniboné does so to give more of a general impression of things as they have long been, and but for disaster should yet long be. My use of the device is not quite so identical to his as I’d remembered it being. To my continuing irritation, I have not yet found a suitable opportunity to steal the device of having an opening chapter in the present tense. You can read the opening pages of Gloriana
Steinbeck’s writing of The Grapes of Wrath went hand in hand with journalism – documenting, like the novel, the effects of the Dust Bowl and the great migration west by much of America’s agrarian population – though I’m not certain which came first, as such. The structure of The Grapes of Wrath is quite formal. The chapters which I have called ‘journalistic’ alternate with those narrative chapters following the Joad family themselves. The journalistic chapters are full of Great American Images – highways and truck stops and roadside diners; homesteads and farms succumbing quickly to mechanisation, working men in peaked caps and overalls, and a country much bigger than its people. It’s reminiscent of the fine romantic journalism of, say, National Geographic. It would not take a genius to conclude that the American photographer briefly encountered in the first chapter of my book is related to this in both function and influence.
The Dostoevsky influence is more allusional. The Brothers Karamazov is far too long, complex and varied to have inspired direct like for like instances in the way the other two have, but I found in his style something I felt I could (or could try to) use for myself. Dostoevsky’s life divides quite clearly into two – the period before his time in a Siberian katorga (effectively an imperial-era gulag), and the period after – the before in which he was an angry young man and social revolutionary, and the after in which he seems to have become more of an Rowan Williams-esque navel gazer who seems to have loved particularly the meekness of religion. It worries me that I can see how one would become the other. Dostoevsky wrote at a time before ‘psychology’ as a concept had entered common use but his depictions in many ways clearly rely principally upon it. The ‘landowner’ for instance, is introduced as “a strange type, yet one pretty frequently to be met with, a type abject and vicious and at the same time senseless. But he was one of those senseless persons who are very well capable of looking after their worldly affairs, and, apparently, after nothing else. […] I repeat, it was not stupidity – the majority of these fanatical fellows are shrewd and intelligent enough – but just senselessness, and a peculiar national form of it.” Successful use of biography as a literary device relies on at least some balance with this kind of insight which is what particularly struck me about Dostoevsky (this is also somewhat Dickensian) – the distinction forms one third of my own tripartite mantra: character, not biography – and so I’ve tried in places to do likewise. The book opens with a quote from Dostoevsky, and he himself is mentioned, which I think is probably a very clumsy way of making allusion to an influence, so it may have to go.