Zero words given.

I don’t count words. I do at the end. Sometimes I even forget to put page numbers down.

I’m intrigued when writers post things like :’Phew! 10,000 words done! Here we go!’ and so on. This may be a trivial post; just something to bounce readers of your FB along or to garner congrats but I don’t understand it; relative to me of course.

Most days I don’t write at all. When I do I’m content if I think I’ve written as well as I want to, if I’ve moved the story along, gotten to a point when it would be right to stop. My days are too busy with getting along in my own household to spend it writing.

My children and my wife are both at home with me all day so uninterrupted writing is impossible. In fact writing a couple of sentences at a time without some discourse going on is difficult. For example in the few minutes of writing this I have been asked to draw a circle around a piece of pipe, someone yelled ‘Can you hear me?’ and someone entered my room to ask if I knew my other son was double-jointed. Oh, and do I know where the dogs are and can I bring someone outside a bowl of warm, soapy water. All while I can be seen sitting at my desk with my headphones on and tapping at my keyboard. In fact before I finished that last sentence I’ve been asked to put together a shopping list and told we have to go to the plumbers to pick up a 45 degree corner joining pipe.

All of this is just to say that’s probably why I don’t bother counting words or chapters (I don’t put chapters in until the end either) because when I do write I know it won’t go on for long. This is my own fault in that I cannot write in the morning or at night. I write in the afternoon; when everybody else is also doing things or wants my participation. And I imagine that is how some of my reader’s lives are. Would I rather count 10,000 words as an achievement, or just one good page that I’m happy with and hope someone else will be too? I’m pretty sure readers don’t count the words. But they do number how much time they would need to spend caring about what they read. Or they can read a novel about another Roman general again.

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One week to publication. The Draughtsman.

I’m not a political person. I can play devil’s advocate and I can be the staunchest of supporters, but what I cannot stand is hypocrisy. And who does? Well, all of us do, including me. It’s the nature of the modern world. Can’t exist without it.

Apart from what I hope is a dramatic work one of the driving aspects of The Draughtsman is that it doesn’t matter about the period of the story; much of what occurs is relevant today.

Ernst Beck, my protagonist, works for the company now labelled as, “The Engineers Of the Final Solution.” The company that built the ovens for Auschwitz.

I mostly read non-fiction, essays and biographies, and I find these generate more ideas for me than fiction. The Draughtsman came from some of Hannah Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism” and especially the concept of the “banality of evil”. A book that could have been written yesterday. Unfortunately.

The focus of The Draughtsman is the SS plan to construct an unprecedented design of an oven to work on a mass scale, an automated oven as big as a building that would never stop burning. It is the complicity of the company, the dilemma of one of its workers, that is the principle. The oven is just my Maltese Falcon, the McGuffin. It’s also real.

I’m sure you could list dozens of examples relevant today that aren’t hypocritical, companies and practices you don’t condone, that you’re not complicit with, but I’ll give you a big one that you are part of.

Your phone, your laptop, so-called green cars, are running on Lithium batteries. But the nature of mining for Lithium is environmentally destructive, hazardous, so we go elsewhere. And, yes, it’s as bad as you think it is.

It would be almost impossible for us to live as we do without Lithium, yet it cannot be produced ethically. By being the consumers of what we now consider essentials we are complicit. But if it was not us that used these products, if they were only used by corporations, governments, banks, not in our hands, there would be outcry in the streets.

Are the workers in the factory of Topf and Sons, the draughtsmen, complicit in the worst of the Nazi’s plans simply by doing their jobs, fulfilling their contracts? What could they have done? What would you have done?

There is a line I use often in the book: “And that is how it was done.”

It’s used to show how easily regimes function, even when they are not classified as regimes, and it’s exemplified by another line: “The people would police themselves. We would all become cameras to show the transgressors. Judge each other without being asked to do so. This the future.”

And, like using the oven in the book, I’m using Lithium for the same analogy.

“The will of the people” is not a mandate. It’s an excuse. From Brexit to border walls it’s an excuse. And that is how it is donethe draughtsman cover

The Draughtsman.

 

the draughtsman cover

 

So I’m finally about to get the first reading copies of The Draughtsman. Cover’s pretty nice if predictable and by that I mean what else were you going to put on the cover of a book set at the end of the second world war that features the ovens of the concentration camps as its main story.

This book took a lot out of me. I never intended to write a holocaust novel and built it up to purely examine how one would feel, how we would look at, someone who designed the ovens for the camps and somewhere in there is a message about corporate responsibility and social responsibility that has modern parallels from both sides of the coin. I hope. Through edits some of the subtlety and objectivity may have got diluted for a wider audience but that ain’t a bad thing in the long run because it’s come out fine in the wash.

What struck me recently was with the whole Apple situation and their tax bill and the countries they choose to work in based on tax avoidance and cheap labour is what makes the book relevant. You can argue that capitalism has no morals but who decided that? What if you put up your hand and asked: why not? What makes this OK? You could also argue that in some countries child sex is not frowned upon so should we open up brothels there ourselves to take advantage? What constitutes morality? Why is business immune, unaccountable?

I don’t need to point out hundreds of examples, you all can reel off a dozen yourselves where companies and the governments they hold up screwed you and your country and others all because business doesn’t have a morals department. We accept that the law must have a moral vacuum but why should we accept this from multi-nationals who, in the eyes of the law, are considered “individuals” only when it suits them? It’s a tired argument and none of us has anything new to say on it.

So I wrote a book about a man who designs ovens for Auschwitz.

 

Ahh, publishing.

It’s been 2014 since Road to Reckoning came out and people may be wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to that debut author? Where’s his new book? It’s over two years since his first. Who are you talking about? Where’s my burrito?”

But if you think about it I finished that book in 2012. To fit into a publishing schedule books are given a date that can be one or two years from the time it was finished, contracted, edited and proofed. So did you think I just sat on my behind for four years?

I’ve written three books for publishers in that time. And yet, here we are mid 2016 and none of them have come out. Why? It’s that scheduling again and also the crazy world of publishing. See what I didn’t realise is that publishing is quite a fluid career path for editors and directors. They move on, leave (even die) and when that happens a lot of bumpy things also happen that affect the writer as well.

Like many creative industries when someone leaves for a role in a competitor they get a period of time before they start their next position where they don’t do anything in that industry; for competition reasons, maybe poach their favourite authors/editors, take manuscripts they’ve been looking at with them and so on. So let’s say they get three months between jobs, guess what also happens? Your book stays right where it is for those three months. All the books they were working on get pushed back for the next person to deal with, and another publishing schedule, and don’t forget new books from other authors are also hitting their desk, contracts stipulating publishing dates looming from the backlog of books already on the cards and we go on and on.

So I have a new date for Jan 2017 for the first of these books, now called The Draughtsman, which is set in Germany at the end of WW2, but because that book was due to be published in 2016 my others have also been put back so in theory a book I finished in Jan this year may not see the light of day until 2019.

All of this is very disheartening, mainly as it means I haven’t had a book published for three years despite writing them and kind of leaves the point of gathering a reader-base in the dust. And even though I’m thinking of starting a new book shortly it’s difficult to motivate when it might not come out for four years. And who knows? The people I’m working with now might have all moved on by then.

An Elephant walks into the room.

I never sit down and think about writing a novel, about what to write. I wait for the story to come to me. When I finish a book I’ll hang around and wait for a story to come. After writing eight novels (five already published and the others to follow) I’ve got the method down pat.

I never worry or think about it but know it’ll come when I’m ready. Just relax, deal with the other shit more than I do when I’m writing.

I know how it will come. It will be by accident. I’ll be browsing for something else, watching the news or a film and something will just pop out, maybe not even related, just a phrase, or a footnote in a book, an object in the background and I know it when it comes. If I can spend more than ten minutes thinking on it, getting excited about the possibilities and the journey that might be ahead then I know I’ve got it. If it doesn’t still hold me after that or the morning after or the week after, if I don’t dream about it, then I know that wasn’t it, that maybe it was someone’s else’s story and I just tapped into it along the path to them.

Sometimes I know I can’t write it. I can’t afford to invest in something that might take me five years, or travel too much, study too much. It’s got to be something that I can do in about eight months or I won’t be able to feed my family. There are no rich patrons in my life. I’ve got to consider that sometimes I can’t afford to write and when you think about it maybe no-one ever can. Or can’t afford not to.

So I never really have much to say. Blogging ain’t my thing. But the strangest thing came to me today and I’m going to think about it over the holidays and new year. It wasn’t there yesterday.

I’m not doing this right am I?

I’ve just sent off my eighth manuscript to my agent. I still get nervous about this. Mainly because I never know if what I intended the story to be about will actually come through.

I only use two pieces of writing advice. One is from Virginia Woolf:

“Allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken. Suggested not stated.”

The other is from Nabokov:

“Get the main character up a tree and once they are up there throw rocks at them.”

I think that’s about the only advice I need to know.

The thing is achieving this is subjective. I believe in writing a story, a novel in which something most definitely happens, that will entertain, and this is the backbone. I’m not interested in reading a book which is wonderfully written but if you picked it up and shook it not much story would fall to the floor. I want someone to read a story that compels them to read on, and not in a high-octane thriller way, just the journey of the story. But I also hope that under the story are themes and meanings that readers will discern beyond the story. And that’s where I get nervous. Have I done that? Will anyone get it? What the hell were the sunken themes anyway?

My ambition is that a reader will assume what the book is about and then finish it with a completely different take. The book will have two faces, and hopefully the reader themselves will start the book with one face and finish it with another. That something changed as they read.

If I were to generalise I find that people who read what most of us might consider ‘trashy’ fiction do not like ‘change’ in their real life and they do not like it in their entertainment either. You have met these people. They live in the same town all their lives proudly, travel (if at all) to the same places, work the same job, fear influxes and generations like creeping diseases personally assaulting them. They can be nice or they can be the worst person you ever met. But commonly you’ll find their bookshelves and music/ DVD collections full of good, safe standards. There is nothing wrong with this and maybe I’m the fool for trying to give something else in the experience, foolish because my books do not sell or I should write bestsellers about detectives and maniacs or shout about my books from every platform I can.

The thing is I’m the worst self-promoter. I want to be a writer not a hawker. I do my best but as my nature is resolutely inclined to be selective and quiet, social interaction and media is an anathema to me. The natural state of social media to be upbeat seems often diametric with the writer as a serious entity any more and the PR unable to be anything but exuberant seems more like a child smashing the wrong puzzle piece into place: “Wow! Check out the amazing new thriller by…” And it turns out to be about a serial killer who eats children and wears corpses as hats. I don’t get it.

I’ll get my coat. French exit.