Although the living room is still closed most of the time, I’ve been tagged by Jacki Donnellan (in a rather flattering write-up – thank you, Jacki!) in the My Writing Process blog tour, so I’m opening the door to write my post. The meme asks that I tag three other writers I admire to post about their processes, and it turned out to be tricky finding writers who haven’t already done it! For that reason, only one of these writers has been tagged afresh; one has already done her post, and one once did one but has since deleted it… but I’m linking to her anyway because she’s brilliant! I know I’m breaking the rules, but I do that with memes… I’ll tell you a little more about the writers at the end of the post, but in case you want to jump straight to them, the three writers I’m tagging are Emily Cleaver, Valerie O’Riordan and Shirley Golden.
So now to the questions…
What am I working on?
Mostly, I’m working on a novel, currently called ‘The Space She Filled’. I’ve been working on the bugger for about six years and it’s getting quite close. It’s a magical realist story about the relationship between a comic book artist and his central character, who disappears from the pages of his finished manuscript. I’m at the stage where you cut vast chunks of prose and start to panic that there’s going to be nothing left. Apart from that, I’m not working on anything too much at the moment. This year has been full of real life, and that’s meant that my normal short fiction and blogging work has been on hold for a while.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Now that’s a hard question! Memory is a recurring theme in my work, and that’s largely because I have a peculiar relationship with mine. My short term memory is very good, and aspects of my long term memory are pretty functional. But my memory for plots and characters, amongst other things, is dreadful, and this includes my own. This means I have to be creative with my process – more on that later – and it also means that memory is something I’m constantly exploring. If I take my general genre to be magical realism (although this isn’t the only genre I work in), I think it is this marrying of the slightly unreal with stories of memory that makes my work slightly different from other work in the field. That said, I wouldn’t say that my work does differ wildly from others in its genre, beyond the obvious stylistic differences. I hope my work has a unique voice, but I wouldn’t like to claim that it’s particularly unusual.
Why do I write what I write?
Neil Gaiman once said something along the lines of, ‘I write to work out what I think about things’. This is almost certainly a misquote – certainly I can’t find the real quote now – but it sums up my own relationship with writing. Even when I’m not consciously exploring my own position in the world, that’s what I’m doing when I write. I think probably most of us are. Memory, consciousness, reality and sleep are recurring themes in my work; these are all areas that interest me and that I enjoy exploring through fiction. I rarely set out to write about a specific topic: I write what’s in me. In short, I write what I write because I am who I am.
How does my writing process work?
My writing process is basically an elaborate way of dealing with my terrible memory. I take copious amounts of notes, lose them, rewrite them, and stick them all over the walls. Sometimes I refer to them, sometimes I never look at them again; often I look at them and have no idea what they mean. I plan everything meticulously and then I put my headphones on and disappear into an ocean of words and take very little notice of my plans. When I emerge, I go back to the plans and tweak either them or the writing until both look like they apply to the same piece of work. And then I rewrite and rewrite, find I’ve over-written, and cut back. It’s a long and not very efficient process, which I hope I’ll hone over the years. Certainly as it stands now, it’s not an approach I’d recommend!
The Writers I’m Tagging
I met Emily when I joined my writing group about five years ago. She lives in Oxford so we don’t often see her at our meetings in London these days, but she’s still very much a part of the group. I admire Emily’s writing enormously. She has a wonderful voice, and writes with a precision and control I envy, painting vivid scenes and characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading her work. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@EmilyCleaver). She’s the only writer I’m tagging in the way you’re meant to!
I’m not quite sure where I first came across Valerie, but it was probably on Twitter, where I’ve met so many of the wonderful writers I’ve come into contact with. Over the last few years, I’ve been exploring flash fiction a lot, and as someone who has won the Bristol Short Story Prize with a piece of flash, Valerie has been an inspiration to me. She is brilliant at travelling to great depths with few words, and does so with warmth and flair. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@valerieoriordan), and you can see her My Writing Process post here.
I definitely met Shirley on Twitter, though I’ve no idea when. She’s another writer who’s highly skilled at telling big stories in a small amount of space; I particularly admire her Twitter stories. It’s hard to tell a story in 140 characters, but Shirley manages to create characters and details that are much bigger than the words they’re told through, leaving just the right amount of room for the reader to infer the deeper story. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@shirl1001), and we’ll have to imagine her writing process because she’s already done this thing once and we don’t want to make her do it again!