Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Holy Grail of Writing

Monday the 10th of September was a special day in London for me. Not only was it my opportunity to join the thousands of fans cheering the Olympic champions, it was also my opportunity to see to see what I refer to as The Holy Grail of Writing. I went to The British Library, for the very first time, in London to see an exhibition called "Writing Britain".

From the Library's website.

From William Blake to the 21st-century suburban hinterlands of J G Ballard, Writing Britain examines how the landscapes of Britain permeate great literary works. Over 150 literary works, including many first-time loans from overseas and directly from authors: sound recordings, videos, letters, photographs, maps, song lyrics and drawings - as well as manuscripts and printed editions.

My reason to go to this exhibition was twofold. First was out of curiosity to visit the British Library, after all they hold first and second editions of my book, "Step by Step Guitar Making", and secondly and most importantly, I wanted to see the exhibits of successful writers notebooks. As a not-yet published author of novels I thought it would be inspirational to see how others, who precede me, went about putting down their thoughts and  ideas on to paper. I was so reassured as a writer when I saw, for instance this page of typescript, with corrections, from J G Ballard's "Crash". It could even be one of my pages of writing. 

This example, as are others, are photo'd from the book "Writing Britain" which I purchased when at the exhibition, paid full price for the hardback.

 These pages are from GK Chesterton's "Napoleon of Notting Hill", he wrote with pictures as well as words, the expressions on the faces tell a lot about the characters. In this notebook extract he is writing in pencil which probably allowed him to sketch and write at the same time without having to cart ink and pen around with him. The use of a pencil is unusual compared with the other exhibits that I saw which were written in black ink. This fact is also interesting as pencil manufacturing went back as far as 1565 in Cumberland and by 1662, though inferior to the British pencil, were being mass produced in Nuremberg.

Sketching with a pen wasn't a hindrance for John Betjeman. This is his sketch of Dalston station in London. The station was closed in 1986 and now, sadly, no longer exists. It was destroyed in the building of the East London Line extension which forms the new link from Dalston junction to Croydon.

There were at least one hundred exhibits of notebooks and pages from notepads on display. I used up two fountain pens worth of ink while taking notes on ten pages of A4 paper.

There was a policy of no photography in force and probably for a good reason, most of the writing could suffer from exposure to the light given off from camera flashes, which would have been necessary due to the very low levels of light. This in itself gave me a problem, till I get my new glasses I am reading with 1.5 eyes. The surgery on my right eye has been a success, even improved, unfortunately the doctor does't operate on spectacles.

Some observations about the writing on display, The older the writing the smaller and neater the writing. All written in ink, which probably obviated the use of pencil due to the required accuracy and readability of the prose. Maybe the possible cost of paper had an influence of the size of writing, some as small as our equivalent font size 4. The example of Charlotte Bronte's writing from "Shirley"  chapter 2, first page shows her perfect, almost copper plate, style of writing. No corrections or changes shown in the example. Compare that with the example from J G Ballard's example above.

Seeing a first-hand slice of  writing history, from Shakespeare to J K Rowling, has re-kindled the desire to continue with my writing. As I wandered round the exhibition during my two and a half hour visit I experienced one of those rare, "Coming Home" feelings, I truly believe I belong in the world of creative writing.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hackin at the Hooptedoodle

The picture below is my first novel, working title,"A Rose for Ruth" and represents ten years of work.

Printed at 1.5 line spacing on A4 paper there are 547 pages and 150,881 words.

The first ten years were the easy part, I am now working on reducing the size of the MSS down to sub 120,000 words.

The real work will be to make what's left well punctuated, have no spelling mistakes and most importantly of all, be a good read.

Last week I visited with The No. 1 Writers' Publishing Agency. Kay advised me that most action adventure stories run up to 120,000 words. A quick press of the button on my computer revealed that my story had 150,881. What to do I wondered, especially since writers such as Jane Austin had used some of those very words, though not necessarily in the same order or quantity.

I looked again at random pages, beautiful prose I observed, (am I biased?) but what to cut and how? I have found Elmore Leonard's advice stark and simple, especially when he says that "readers skip through novels, but they won't skip dialogue", reassuring since when I first started writing, my good friend John, advised me to use dialogue to tell my story.
I subtracted 120K from 150K and saw how to go about it. I am 20% over target so the simple thing to do, initially, is to remove 20% from each chapter, but which of those beautifully crafted words to chop.
By now, most of you writers reading this will be shouting at the screen, dump the parts that have nothing to do with the progress of the story. Fair enough, but just as in black and white photography, when done correctly, can be beautiful, some current photo's of my grandsons for instance,  most people, with modern digital cameras, by default,  take photos in colour.
So, this brings me to the crux of the matter, how much colour to leave in the story and how do I blend the B&W with the Technicolour.
Comments are welcome.