Friday 27 March 2009

This is where it started

Well, it isn't. The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes as a title started a couple of years ago because I liked the ambiguity. Then it got bottom-drawered whilst I wrote Songs from the Other Side of the Wall.

This is, however, where Agnieszka's blog began.

23 FebI guess I’ve cut things fine, and part of me wonders if I should maybe have planned for a bit of a break. The part of me that won, though, knows this is the year I can’t afford a break. 2009 is a year of unique opportunities for writers and small presses seeking to exploit their flexibility and focus as the giant monoliths of the publish industry struggle to change course.On Friday I submitted the rewrites of Songs from the Other Side of the Wall to Harper Collins. 21 versions after I sat at a laptop in Caffe Nero outside Piccadilly Station in Manchester last March, I’m finally happy with it. Next week I’ll begin the two-track process in earnest – submitting it to agents on the one hand, and on the other preparing it for publication print on demand on October 9th.On Saturday I began The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes. The story’s been on my mind a lot over the last couple of months, of course, and I’ve been building up the world in which it takes place all year, posting teasers on the group site on Facebook. But I’m finally starting to give the story some structure.I feel a bit ambivalent about doing too much preparation. After all, this is an interactive project. I want readers to tell me what they like and what they don’t – to suggest where I expand and where I cut back, to send me in directions I hadn’t anticipated. On the other hand, whilst the text evolves between me and them, I’m still the storyteller, and they’re still looking to me to keep them entertained.And all the time I’m aware of what Tom McCarthy said just before Christmas. There’s nothing exciting on the internet in terms of literature not because people haven’t got ideas to exploit the technology, but because where they do, the writing’s basically poor. It would be all too easy to end up with a big shambolic mess. And for all it’s interesting to see the rewriting process in action, what’s really interesting is the way I change my mind about story. No one really wants to spend months wading through page after dull page of leaden, lumpen sentences describing precisely nothing but the introspective agonisings of yet another middle class male in mid-life crisis.Feb 24thI’ve already found the form in which I’m writing dictating in ways I hadn’t expected. I chose my theme – the internet, appearance and reality, celebrity and the “ways in which people do, or don’t make their mark on the world” to borrow a phrase from my fictitious artist, Ludwig. The marriage of form and content made perfect sense. But the interactive element, before I get round to any interactivity, has started to play a part. I have a very clear central story: the search for a defining image that’s also – to provide an emotional core to the story – the search for the lead character’s missing daughter (and the questions the parallel raises about why the world goes nuts for one young woman and completely forgets another). But he undertakes this journey in the company of a very disparate group of characters. And that’s where I’ve found myself being led by the form. As a storyteller I want to take Dan, my protag, from A to B. I don’t want to mix things up and risk them being confused. But, rather like the dungeon master in a role playing game, I want to give my readers a wide palette of companions for him, forces they can marshal as they choose. So, in drawing up a brief dramatis personae, I’ve found myself with ten or more characters of equal standing, wildly different from one another, all of whose lives have been touched by Agnieszka in some way or other. I’ve got my favourites, of course – the Banksian artist, Ludwig and his dominatrix PA, Bitch Zero; the teenage vigilante and wannabe Buddhist, Skag, for example – but I imagine the readers will have theirs – and by having a pool to draw on, I’ve given myself the freedom to respond to readers without undermining the basic arc of the story. So with any luck I’m in enough control that the writing will never be rudderless, but not so much that I lose the fun of the thing.26 FebI’m beginning to get really excited now. I’ve been working really hard on the supporting materials for the book – the things that bring its world to life. Today I’ve been doing some physics and thinking about art. I’m starting to get a sense of this book as a living, breathing being, with a bunch of bodyparts that are all starting to work together to make a single being. And as I start actually writing, it’s so exciting to see how the story touches on parts of the world I’m creating in other parts of the group.On a separate note, the question keeps hovering in the back of my mind – to Twitter or not to Twitter. In a way it would be a nonsense for a project like this not to have its own Twitter. On the other hand, I have two half-hour blocks of time during the day when I’m online to upload materials and answers/responses to comments and questions, and/or hold Q&A sessions. Which means I’d end up treating it as little more than another blog. If I haven’t made up my mind by the time I start writing I’ll ask you guys, and maybe hold a poll.27 FebToday it’s the enormity of the task ahead that’s grabbing my attention. I’ve been writing up a timetable of my publicity aims and how I’m going to achieve them, and it’s beginning to dawn just how much work is going to be involved in reaching the numbers I want to reach. It’s not wholly bad of course – I have a manageable schedule and by and large what will make it grow is extra demand on my time, and that’s only going to happen if people pick up what I’m doing.What this is teaching me is the importance of working smart. With my other commitments, I have two hours a day to give to this project. Three quarters of an hour will go on writing. That gives me eight and a bit hours for publicity work – including answering questions on site AND keeping up with e-mail correspondence about this project and the progress Songs is making. There are times when that sounds scary little!! It’s not of course. I’ve discovered this week I can happily rattle off four or five press releases in half an hour; I can write and record a podcast in 20 minutes. The key is being focused. I’ve been saying for the past two months that what sets apart the author doing it for themselves from the publishing house is focus – leanness. Now it’s time to put my effort where my big fat gob has been :-)


  1. So can you really pull all this off while holding down a full-tme job? I find it difficult enough to get my blog done (although a part-time Master's on top of my work and baby commitments does complicate things a little). Aren't you tempted to cut back on paid employment?

  2. Yes - it takes about two hours a day (one hour writing, one hour netting). I would love to be able to cut back on paid employment - as soon as someone pays me to write I'll be there!!