100 untimed books: steps

92. steps
92. steps

I’m going to walk the Camino Inglés to Santiago de Compostela next year. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so they say. The Camino Inglés isn’t anywhere near that long – it’s less than a hundred miles, in fact. Last time round I walked five hundred miles of the Camino Francés, but these days I have a full-time job.

Anyway, I reckon the journey starts with a decent guidebook.

100 untimed books

Unknown unknowns

... things go whooshing past
… things go whooshing past (the peloton sweeps round the Woking one-way system during the Tour Series 2013)

Wheels (that’s still its working title, and it’s still not going to be its real title) is rolling along quite nicely, sitting just under fifty thousand words. Much of what’s there at the moment is dialogue, stick figures having witty conversations in a thick fog. I’ll have to go back and put in the descriptions later.

So far, so familiar. What is a new experience for me is writing a first person narrator who’s… not unreliable, exactly, but not at all objective. True, I ended up with something similar in Speak Its Name, written in claustrophobically tight third person with a point of view character who wouldn’t come out even to herself. The difference is, Speak Its Name didn’t start out that way. It started out with multiple points of view, with multiple foibles and inconsistencies, but where I always knew what was ‘really’ going on.

Cutting everything down to fit into Lydia’s point of view was interesting. There are things that I knew and she didn’t. The most significant one is that Becky isn’t a trinitarian. If Lydia had known that – well, she’d have to deal with that, and it would add a huge chunk of drama onto a part of the book that really didn’t need any more drama. So I know that, and so do some of the other characters, whose thoughts on the matter we don’t hear, but Lydia never finds out.

Writing first person from scratch, I’m having to spend all my time in one character’s head, and I keep discovering things that he doesn’t know, and can’t know. He’s self-centred and often oblivious to subtext and body language. A friend read through the first couple of chapters few days ago, and made a throwaway comment about another character’s ‘flirtatious wink’.

‘Hang on,’ I said – to myself, ‘that wasn’t flirtatious!’ I wondered if I ought to clarify that it wasn’t flirtatious, and, if so, how.

Except the more I thought about it, the more I realised that… yes, it does make an awful lot more sense if she is flirting with him. Which puts a whole new complexion on the first half of the book, and leaves me with the problem of how to have her get over him, but it also makes the end a lot more convincing.

So now my challenge is to incorporate this new knowledge into the draft. My narrator can stay oblivious, but I can’t.

J. K. Rowling, symbolism, and context

I thought that I really ought to write something about the recent kerfuffle around J. K. Rowling’s revelation that Remus Lupin’s lycanthropy is a metaphor for HIV, which I thought we all knew already, but apparently not.

More specifically, I thought that I really ought to write something about the claim, which took me right back to the Dumbledore-is-gay revelation, that if she wanted to write a gay character she should just write a gay character and stop fannying around with all this symbolism.

Then I thought that I really couldn’t face writing something about it.

Then I remembered that I already had.

Section 28 was in force when I was at school. This is what it said:

a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”

Local authorities are responsible for, among other things, public libraries and state schools, and one of the effects of this was the complete absence of LGBT characters in children’s and teen literature that was written or published in the UK. We didn’t have the British equivalents of David Levithan, Alex Sanchez, or Nancy Garden. Nobody would publish them. The one book with any queer characters in my school library that I remember was Dare, Truth or Promise – written and published in New Zealand. Mentioning Nancy Garden above reminds me that the school library did have The Year They Burned The Books. Oh, the irony.

(Somebody asked me which book that was in. It’s kind of a spoiler, but if you click on the tweet it should take you to the question and my answer.)

And it took a good few years for the UK teen publishing world to catch up, and yes, I do have a horse in this race:

Which is not to say that I think that it was a good idea to come out now (pun not exactly intended, but I’m not deleting it now I’ve noticed it) and say what the symbolism actually, like, means. If the reader didn’t pick it up the first time round then bashing them over the head with it isn’t going to help, and it’s just going to annoy the ones who got it, didn’t like it, and were doing their best to ignore it.

100 untimed books: best years

38. best years
38. best years

I picked this book up because of the title; I’ve been thinking a lot about spirals and labyrinths, and the recursive nature of experience, of late, and this does have some things to say about that.

Molluscs only ever make a single shell, but it’s one they’ll never grow out of… They are among the few animals on the planet that wander around carrying with them the same body armour they had as babies; the pointy tip or inmost whorl is the mollusc’s juvenile shell. Day by day, the mollusc shell slowly expands, making room for the soft animal growing inside.

A mollusc carries its best years around with it. It carries all its years around with it.

100 untimed books

All roads lead to Santiago

Buen camino!
Buen camino! (ignore Falconer’s Lure; it just happened to come in the same batch of post)

Over the next few months I’ll be writing about my preparation for walking the Camino Inglés, from the north coast of Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. I’m planning to do the walk in May next year, fitting it in between my stepsister-in-law’s wedding and my father’s seventy-fifth birthday party. We’ll see how that works.

I walked the Camino Frances in 2007, between university and the real world, and have been wanting to do it again ever since. However, taking eight weeks to walk it isn’t really compatible with having a full-time job, and so I’d assumed that I’d have to wait until retirement – which is a way off, and maybe even getting further away. It only occurred to me fairly recently that I could fit the Camino Inglés into a fortnight.

As always, the things I most need to work on are physical fitness and the language. Living in Cambridge, I don’t get much practice with anything steeper than the bridge over the Cam, so I’m thinking about nipping down south to stay with my parents and walk the Isle of Wight Coast Path. As for the language, I suspect that the (Castilian) Spanish that I learned last time around will come back to me, but I’d also like to learn some Galician as well, since my pilgrimage will be entirely within Galicia.

I’ll write more about this as my plans crystallise. In the meantime, my friend Jo is cycling the Camino Frances, along with her husband and another friend, as I write, and so I’m going to send you over to her blog, Wheels Along the Camino, for some stunning photos and thoughtful reflection.

100 untimed books: instructions

23. instructions
23. instructions

We didn’t have a television when I was growing up. This did not stop me collecting all the Blue Peter annuals I could find. (I collected Brownie annuals, too, and there wasn’t a pack near me to belong to.) I was mostly interested in the ‘makes’: step-by-step instructions of how to make various craft projects.

100 untimed books

Genre, revisited

I discovered a few months ago that there is in fact a term for ‘can’t call it young adult, because the characters are rapidly departing their teens’. It’s ‘new adult’, which means, so far as I can make out, ‘young adult but with slightly older characters and more swearing’.

This is useful to know. Because really, Speak Its Name is, in structure at least, closest to those old-fashioned boarding school books where we see a little bit of the main character’s family but everyone else’s is pretty much irrelevant, the focus is on a group of people of about the same age within a confined space, and all the action happens in term-time.

But with less coyness about same-sex attraction. And more swearing.

I don’t like the term much – ‘young adult’ always sounded patronising to me, and ‘new adult’ feels even more so – but it’s useful to have something to put in the search box.

Unlikely writing techniques 9: a writing hat

I keep a bottle of brandy in my desk. Not to drink – I can’t write drunk, and, as it happens, it’s the Christmas pudding brandy – but because it makes me feel a bit like Raymond Chandler.

It doesn’t make me write like Raymond Chandler, but it does make me write. Playing at being a writer does result in actual, real-world, words. It’s something about ceremony and ritual, together with not taking any of it too seriously. It’s like putting on a designated writing hat, or socks with a pattern of pen-nibs; something that says to me, and to the world, ‘OK, I’m a writer now.’

It could be argued that this dressing up lark is a bit childish. To which I reply, firstly, that I don’t care; and secondly, that one of the few points with which I still agree wholeheartedly with C. S. Lewis is on childlike things.

Anyway, the brandy has to go somewhere.