Feeling Happily ‘Validated’

Another intense Saturday tutorial yesterday — so much so we over-ran by an hour, which no-one seemed to mind. Seven 2,500 (mostly) readings were followed quickly by intense bursts of feedback from 12 people (including Alison).  It’s quite draining and even my very fatty Hale and Harty (sic) all-day breakfast at the Exmouth Market cafe didn’t give me the afternoon snoozes.

It’s absolutely fascinating how different the novel extracts are in both style and subject matter. And they’re also all very good. You get the impression that people are thinking that they’ll use the opportunity to show others how well they can write. I was wondering about spatially mapping where the different novels fit on a two dimension matrix (in true Boston Consulting Group fashion). I couldn’t decide on the axes but I thought of something perhaps fairly crude like the commercial to literary spectrum and putting it against something like narratorial viewpoint — empathetic with one character or quite distant. You’d then have some boxes like ‘commercial realism’ (comedies of manners, thrillers), ‘commercial empathy (chick-lit might fit but there’s other categories like horror perhaps), ‘literary empathy’ (bit like Ian McEwan stuff) and ‘literary detached’ (your experimental stuff perhaps). I think we’d have a fairly equal spread between the first three categories, less so in the experimental one.

We got some good debate going where, unlike the first session where people tended to reach a consensus, we had some disagreements — particularly over Jennifer’s now-infamous prologue but also topics of disagreement in virtually everyone’s pieces. This is really good as we have to develop our own individual voices and this almost, by definition, means that other people would prefer we do things a different way.

In my reading Charlotte didn’t like the slightly more lyrical writing at the end where I got into high-flown wine-taster mode whereas most of the other people who commented said they really liked it. After last session where I read mostly dialogue or fairly functional description I wanted to submit something where I could indulge myself a bit but I stopped almost in midflow because of the word limit. (I actually deliberately ended with something a bit ambitiously descriptive as I knew that would be the point at which Alison would start her comments.) I know where Charlotte’s coming from in suggesting the concept’s cliched but I think I was writing in the voice of the character who would buy into those cliches. I’d put some deliberately dreadful cliches from Fawlty Towers and the Audi adverts into Gordon’s idiom.

We’re always going to disagree somewhat about style. After all, if a writer really believes in his or her style then they will likely to be pretty evangelical about it and want to offer advice to others that would have the effect of promoting their own preferences. Both Rick and I suggested to Nick that he might want to trim down some of the discursiveness in his characters’ voices but Eileen disagreed, saying she loved the realistic impression this created. Both viewpoints are valid and it’s up to Nick to take whichever advice best furthers the intentions he has for his novel.

I was really eager to look through the comments on the scripts of my reading as I find them incredibly valuable. Quite a lot of people had picked up on faults that were related to the artificiality of writing to the word limit. I severely under-wrote a scene with James and Emma that interjected into my longer exchange between Frances and Gordon and I could have flagged the change of POV and given more clues to the reader a lot better. I had some suggestions about putting the scenes together and making them more fluid with characters coming and going — and this is something I may well do when I redraft it. There was also far too much exposition in some of the dialogue, which was picked up by some. Again I’ll plead word limit but I should have thought of a better way round it — was that exposition necessary in the piece at all?

I put in a mixture of description and dialogue and interior and exterior and I was very pleased when I had feedback that suggested that the writing of all these had largely been successful. Odd as it might seem, that session seemed to validate to me that I was a credible member of the course — able to produce work that bore comparison with that of the others — and, therefore, also a credible novel writer. Theoretically this shouldn’t have been in doubt because of the selection process for the course itself but producing something which is, at least, competent and well received is a good confidence booster.

At the end of last term I was getting a bit fatigued with the two nights of class a week but I’m now really quite motivated. I’ve enjoyed a lot of what has come with writing and researching the novel — going to the Tate Modern, getting a few books on modern art, thinking about wine and music. And perhaps the best stimulus of all is the encouragement of coursemates and I hope I’ve been able to return some of the favour to them in small part with some of my feedback.

People didn’t really warm to my characters and Guy said that I’d well and truly ‘skewered’ them all, which I took as quite a compliment if I’d manage to do that in 2,500 words. What I’d like to achieve is for the reader to form knowledge of the character that the characters don’t (yet) have themselves. Some comments were that the dialogue was a bit ‘soap opera’  like  — possibly the pub situation influenced this. I don’t really mind that sort of flavour comes across, so long as it’s a comparison with a soap opera with good dialogue — because good soaps can feature vivid and realistic dialogue. I also like a soap’s blending of comedy and tragedy. A couple of people also said that the writing was very visual and reminded them of a BBC drama series. Although I think that I do this unconsciously, it’s probably the effect I’d aim to achieve — I do imagine the scenes visually when I write them. All this feedback makes me wonder whether I should be aspiring to write ‘Coronation Street’ rather than a novel!

A Useful Resource for Novelists?

“Most of the time I just lie there and make lists in my head. I grunt once in a while so he knows I’m awake, and then I tell him how great it was when it’s over.”

I was watching an old edition of The Book Show with Mariella Frostrup and they asked novelist Tony Parsons what was on his bedside table.  Among other books he said he found ‘Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivation from Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between)’ by  Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss to have been a fascinating and invaluable resource, particularly for a male novelist (and it’s not just about women it has plenty in there too about men).

I found this interesting review from The Guardian — which cites the above quotation from the book, which I thought might not be out of place in a novel.