Monday, 6 January 2014

Working Process Blog Tour #mywriting process

tired woman 

          Today I'm taking part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour.
          I was invited to take part by my friend and fellow Scattered Authors Society member, Karen King.
          Thanks Karen! - and you can read Karen's Writing Process Blog here - 

1/ What am I working on?
          A couple of things. Not long ago I finished a book, set in the 19th Century, about a boy escaping from bad treatment. He runs away from a farm in East Scotland, where he's been bound 'apprentice' - but, in truth, is little more than a slave.
          He runs without any idea of where he's going - and falls in with a couple of border collies. The dogs recognise him as a stray pup and take him under their paw. The boy, liking their company, follows them.

          The dogs are making their way, alone, back to their croft on the Isle of Mull. I've read that herd dogs really did make their own way home, like this. It's a book I greatly enjoyed writing and researching. (For more about this book, follow this link.)
          It's with my agent at the moment. I mention it here because there will certainly be more work to do on it, whether my agent can interest a publisher or not. If no publisher will take it on, I shall self-publish, but even so, it will probably need another edit.

          The other book I'm working on is rather different from my usual vein. It's probably an adult book, though perhaps might squeeze under the wire as a Young Adult. It's set in the present day, and has one really wicked, heartless female character. On her agenda, as I write, are fraud, theft, murder and some psychological torture to pass the time.
          The other characters in the book are completely unsuspecting - lambs playing with a tiger.
           The book doesn't have a title at the moment - I'm not sure if I can finish it - and I don't know how it's going to end. Or who's going to survive. But I am following the characters with interest!

2/ How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Elfgift by Susan Price
          I was once re-reading a book of mine, Elfgift, because I was going to be using it in a workshop at a school. It had been years since I'd written it, and it was almost like reading a book by someone else. I noticed something I hadn't even thought about while writing it - how much it focused on how things felt. How heavy a helmet was, how rough ground makes you stumble and twists knees and ankles. It seemed to me that not many other books I've read in the genre - and I've read a lot - are as insistent on how it feels to be in that world.
          Not very long after - a month or so - I met a journalist who was writing a review/article about me. One of the comments he made was, 'I like the physicality of your writing. When you write a battle, you never forget that swords have weight, and when you hit someone, it jars up your arm. And that a battle is noisy, and tires you out.'
          I thought: so someone else thinks that of my writing too! I felt quite proud.
          It is something I try to bear in mind when I'm writing. I was once reading a historical novel where a troop of soldiers, carrying the very long rifles of their period, climbed a steep wooded hillside in the dark. The writer summed this up in a line - 'When they reached the top...' It was a good book, but for a while I was completely distracted from the story. All I could think of was: Has the writer never climbed a wooded hillside in the dark? Even without a rifle? I thought there should have been a mention, even if only a brief one, of the low, unseen branches, the thorns, the briars, the hidden logs underfoot, the twigs thrashing back into their faces - all the things that would have made it difficult.
          In oral story-telling, there is a formula, repeated whenever the hero or heroine has to climb a glass mountain, or travel seven miles of steel thistles - 'That's easy to tell, but hard to do.' When I'm writing, I try to keep in mind that what I'm making my characters go through may be easy for me to write, but a lot harder for them to do.

3/  Why do I write what I do?
          When I'm asked this, I always remember C. S. Lewis' maxim that a writer writes 'from the permanent furniture of their mind.' So if you have a lifelong interest in sailing, then sailing ships are going to appear in your work.

          I have a lifelong interest in folk-lore and mythology, in tales of ghosts and witches, shapeshifters and the supernatural... So these things tend to feature in my work rather a lot.
          The other side of magic and the supernatural set in the past is often tales of technological wonder set in the future, so I've also written the Sterkarm books, which pitch 16th century rievers against 21st century 'Elves.' They're out of print - though my agent and I are negotiating their republication.
          I also wrote the Odin's Voice trilogy, which tells of a
'Odin's Voice' by Susan Price
future where there are colonies on Mars and  people worship the ancient Greek and Nordic Gods.

          So Mythology got in there again! - The other books in the trilogy are Odin's Queen and Odin's Son.
4/ How does your writing process work?

          I usually start with an idea, and then ask myself questions.
          The Sterkarm Handshake started with me wanting to write about the Border reivers, but without writing an historical book. How could I put the characters from the 16th Century side by side with characters from the 21st Century? - With a Time Machine.
          Okay, but where would the Time Machine have come from? Who would have developed it? - A Multi-National Company. Who would be using it to take fossil fuel from the past, so they could sell it in their own time.
          Okay, but what characters will I need to tell this story? - Some characters from the 16th Century side. Say, a Border Reiver chief and his son... And some characters from the 21st Century side, say a company executive.
          I then do a lot of research and thinking, to build up an idea of what this world is like. What would they wear, eat, drink? What are their houses like, and how are they furnished? How would they spend a typical day?
          Some events in the story will arise from this research, but I don't usually have a very detailed idea of how the story is going to work out.
          I generally write about three-parts of a draft, and then try to work out a plan for how it's going to end. As the ending comes more into focus, I nearly always have to rewrite what I've already done. I will do at least three rewrites anyway, and probably more.
          I don't have set writing hours, and sometimes don't write anything at all for days. Then I might write all night. Sometimes I have to go to a pub and write there, to get anything done. It always seems easier to write away from home, for some reason.
          The first draft is a slog. Rewrites are much more fun - because by then the worst of the hard work is done. The plot works, more or less, and I can go deeper into the character's motivations, or pile on atmosphere... Getting a plot to work, for me, is the worst part of the work. I look forward to the rewrites.

Next week I hand over to Catherine Czerkawska, an experienced and powerful writer of plays, short stories and novels. Read her blog here.


Karen said...

Hi Sue, a fascinating blog, I was really interested to read about your writing process - your YA sounds very intriguing. I hope you finish it!

x Karen

Joan Lennon said...

Always fascinating to hear about other peoples' processes - and reassuring that I am not alone in the self-inflicted chaos of the first draft! Thanks for posting! Onwards!

Susan Price said...

I don't know how you'd do it without that self-inflicted chaos, Joan! - Even the Gods formed their new world out of Chaos! (Pretentious? Moi?)

Joan Lennon said...

Mais non - c'est vraiment vrai - sacre bleu - toot suite, both feet!

Jenny Alexander said...

Your method's pretty much the same as mine Sue, specially the not writing for days then writing all night part - but I like the first draft much better than redrafting. It's more exciting. Once I know what the story is, it feels a bit btdt and I want to start another one!