Three Things: November 2018


With thanks to Paula of Book Jotter for hosting—new participants always welcome!

Reading: This month, I read a lot of proofs of things that aren’t out until January, which is frustrating because it means I can’t sell them to people right away. I also did an extremely silly and self-indulgent thing: on a Friday that I took off in lieu of overtime pay, I walked into Crouch End and bought *checks notes* eight new books. There’s a Waterstones there, but I went to a little place round the corner called House of Books which must have some kind of deal with distributors, because, like Minster Gate Bookshop in York, you can get quite a lot of titles from particular publishers (especially Gollancz, Wordsworth Classics, and Vintage Classics) for £3 each. Reading as a bookseller is so often a question of being entranced by proofs for the Next Big Thing; selecting books purely for pleasure felt like such a glorious luxury. From that pile, I’ve already read Out of Africa, by Karen Blixen; The Ship, by Antonia Honeywell; and Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre. Every one of them is wonderful. (Reviews forthcoming.)

Looking: I am OBSESSED with Dynasties, the new David Attenborough series about animal families. The first episode, which is set in a troop of chimpanzees, is positively Shakespearean: the shocking physical violence, mob psychology and cunning strategic moves wouldn’t be out of place in a production of Coriolanus. Several episodes since then, including the one on emperor penguins, have been less obviously political tragedy but still extremely moving. The most recent, on painted wolves, was another family saga of inter-generational rivalry (a matriarch’s daughter forms another pack and challenges her for territory) and bloody vengeance (one pack kills a pup from the other group in battle; it was Titus Andronicus with dogs). Riveting.

Thinking: There hasn’t been much time to think recently. I can feel whatever thoughts are generated pinging around the inside of my head like trapped moths. Mostly, at the moment, I’m trying to get up the gall to write the chapter that includes the key scene of my novel-in-progress. It’s not a sex scene, before you ask, but it’s going to be awfully difficult and I think I’m psyching myself out about it, a little. I know how to lead up to it, and I know how to approach the scene itself, but I need whoever reads this book to be really convinced of the protagonist’s state of mind in order for it to make sense, and I can’t quite let go and trust that I’ve done enough. Any advice?!

9 thoughts on “Three Things: November 2018

  1. I always find it really difficult to write pivotal scenes. I think one way to move forward is to accept that the first draft is going to be rubbish, that it won’t have the resonance etc that it needs, but to push and write the scene through regardless (rather than stop starting) to preserve the emotional unity of it, even if the words are all wrong.

    1. Perfection is the enemy of completion, for sure. I’ve already tried to write this once before and got it all utterly wrong – have since reassessed the plot point with a friend/writing mentor, changed a lot about it, and hopefully will have a better run this time…

  2. I haven’t been faced with that kind of challenge but I’d say take a deep breath and dive in. You can always revise it. Whenever I circle round something I’m anxious about, overthinking it in my typical fashion, it begins to loom larger and larger until I’m in danger of backing away. Good luck!

  3. Glad you had the chance to pick up books for pleasure! Viper Wine sounds unique. When it comes to writing pivotal parts, I find it helpful to plot the basic points down on paper; then I make a list of ideas of different ways to connect them, including specific details or emotions I might focus on. It doesn’t help much during the first draft, but it can be useful as a guide for revision when certain parts just aren’t working and you need alternatives.

    1. Viper Wine is totally incredible. People who liked Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver or Luther Blissett’s Q, or even Alvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death, would probably get a lot out of it.

      That’s a useful idea, thank you.

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