So here is a second blog writing about writing since I don’t have time to do any story writing because I need more pondering time than I have currently. Hopefully, I will become more self-aware or something as a result.
I was born in a time when people thought a bit more before they started writing. Writing and editing involved pens, paper, typewriters, ribbons, envelopes, stamps, someone else to illustrate or take photos using chemicals and ink, correspondence and meetings with publishers and/or printers. The whole thing involved lots of people, cost money and time and also people had thought out opinions rooted in history. So writing things down was all round a more considered process. I am from that time and I have a proclivity towards pondering anyway, so I tend to think a long time before I write anything down.
I might have started in a different epoch but I also live in Nowadays. And Nowadays are technologically wonderful for writing; you can press ‘go to’ and add or take away as you go along. You can publish a real three-dimensional book for no upfront cost and all from the comfort of your kitchen table. So you can do it anyway you like. While Mrs. Gaitskell and Dickens wrote some very fine novels by chapter for magazines and it was a wonderful discipline, I like being able to change characters, names, motives and structure whenever I feel like it. And I do.
After a great deal of pondering I started typing ‘Changing the Subject’ with a block-busting best seller in mind. Who reads books? Mainly 30 to 50-year-old women. What do 30 to 50 year-old women want? If adverts, and eavesdropped conversations are anything to go by, women want to look and feel like younger women. So I thought up a plot where that happened, in a guilt-free, positively altruistic, way. Where do most women live? In suburbs, like most other people. So where do they read? Travelling to work. So I put my woman’s home address in the suburbs with a job in town. But then Sue Duggen popped up, and she was not a demographic but a person. She enjoyed her young body for a much shorter period than I had anticipated and was far more willing to travel and use violence and other people to get out of scrapes. Looking and feeling younger, if younger women are anything to go by, is not all it’s cracked up to be and did not solve any of Sue’s problems, apart from some dodgy joints. Then, if she was to be representative the majority of suburban women in their Fifties, Sue would have had to vote for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Brexit in 2016. What would such a person make of the years in between? Or the people who are actually young nowadays? I am political, I couldn’t ignore that. So I have ended up with something that is very far from a potential best-seller. Oh well.
I don’t know how other writers plot everything out beforehand, what if their characters turn out not to be the sort of people who would do what you planned? What if you have a better idea part way through? Most frightening of all, what if your plan leads you up what turns out to be a narrative dead end? No; ponder, type, ponder, repeat that is what makes me feel comfortable.
My next book, Hausa Blue, is about young people who are actually young and I have made a conscious effort to put some men with more to do in this one. I didn’t mean for there to be so few men in ‘Changing the Subject’, or for them to be peripheral, that’s just the way it worked out. But the next one has got some men, who do stuff, as well as women. I wonder how that will turn out?