Saturday, 4 April 2009

Files and folders

I spoke to Chris Riddell today. He and Paul Stewart have returned from their UK tour. Chris is always full of enthusiasm for what he is doing and always eager to know what I'm up to. Usually, a lot less than he is.

So what is the next stage of a book - what comes after thoughts and notebooks? Anything half decent from the notebooks quickly becomes a file on my computer. There is a file titled The Jet Brooch (see last post). These files cluster together into folders. There was (and still is) an Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror folder. The same for the Black Ship and Tunnel's Mouth.

In these folders are more stories than I ever use in the books. There are stories that for one reason or another I just felt needed to be bedded down for a little longer. If I have a story that I like I want it to be the best I can make it or I would rather wait until I can fix whatever bothers me about it. And so there is a Tales of Terror 4 folder filled with these spare stories that need a tweak of some kind.

The story that provides the setting for each of the Tales of Terror books has been the one I have most enjoyed writing. This is because it really develops as the book develops. The short stories have characters that make fleeting appearances, but Uncle Montague and Edgar, Ethan and Cathy in the Black Ship and Robert in Tunnel's Mouth are more rounded characters that hopefully grow as you read the book and get to know them. It is vital to me that the device of having a narrator and a storyteller does not become simply a contrivance. I want that story to be just as strong as the others.

This wraparound story is the key to the book and it is this plus a couple of the other stories that I showed to Bloomsbury to give an idea of how the book would end up. With Uncle Montague I more or less wrote the whole thing first, but because there is a format now, I can write the rest of the book under contract (and the accompanying deadline of course).

This process of thought-notebook-file-folder is the same in a novel like The Dead of Winter. It is just that whereas I was writing notes about individual stories, the notes where more to do with the solving the problems of a sustained narrative, so there were notes about characters and locations and what I would call the stand-out scenes - the ones that move the story on and need to be spot on. These scenes are the ones you hope are going to stick in your reader's mind.

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