I know, I’ve been a bit quiet recently. Partly I’ve been recovering from (read: trying unsuccessfully to lose weight gained / liver damage sustained on) my book tour but I’ve also been cerebellum deep in research for what will hopefully become novel three (going by published books, not by drafted books – this will be number five). I’m going to keep pretty schtum about this one, mostly because I don’t know how it’s going to work but also because it could be a little controversial. Generally though I’m going to be writing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the break up of a family. It is provisionally called Caldera, which is (simplistically) what volcanologists call the crater formed after a volcanic eruption (can you spot the metaphor yet?). Yes, the main character is a volcanologist. I’m also writing about my hometown Aberdeen during the period I was growing up, something I’ve never tackled before. I’ve written about Aberdeen, and I’ve written about the 80s and 90s, but never together. I’ve been listening to a lot of early REM.
Another first for me is the scope of the novel. Caldera will cover 35 years in a woman’s life. Considering First Time Solo covered barely six months, this is a whole new challenge. It has however some unexpected benefits. Since one chapter cannot roll straight into the next each section must stand alone. From a drafting point of view this has been unexpectedly freeing. For example the prologue is set in Japan in 1980. I could draft this while researching chapter one proper (1988). Now I’ve begun work on 1988 while beginning to read about what will happen in 1990. In a book like First Time Solo that was impossible because conversations, emotions, fights would spill from one day into the next. With Caldera, themes, characters and motivations continue from one section to the next, but cause and effect gets a few hundred miles down the road before we pick them up. It’s helped break up the process. I don’t feel like I have to understand everything before I write a paragraph. I also don’t need to think of the writing as ‘so many thousand words’ – instead it’s two or three scenes and then rest.
What’s most exciting is that the feeling has returned. The Feeling. Other writers – nay, other creatives – know what I’m talking about. The day that laziness and resistance give way to an urge to work and work hard. Anything else that takes time away from writing is resented. Teaching? Don’t want to. Exercise? Fuck that. A shower? Can I take my laptop with me? I recognise the symptoms. Fortunately not as intense as Virginia Woolf, but I know what follows – little sleep, some weight gain then some weight loss (stop exercising but then forget to eat while drinking lots of black coffee), a complete inability to hold a conversation without saying ‘hang on’ and grabbing a piece of paper, annoying my wife by switching the light on at 3am to note something down that I won’t be able to understand a few hours later and, of course, emailing everyone I know saying ‘please read this and tell me how shit this is, how much I’m wasting my time and why I should pack it all in.’ Did I say this was exciting? Yes, this is the exciting point. All the horror is still to come and right now it’s like falling in love. I can’t think about anything else and I’m already boring all my friends. Please let this one not break my heart. Please let this one not be a load of wank.
Those eagle-eyed and paying attention will have been counting novels. Three? First Time Solo is one. Caldera would be three. Number two? Number two (Silma Hill) is the other reason I’ve been quiet and will continue to be quiet for a little longer. In the meantime I’m going to put up a book review of Anneliese Mackintosh’s astounding debut Any Other Mouth which I finished reading this afternoon. If you click back a bit you’ll notice a review I did of Chiew-Siah Tei’s second novel The Mouse-Deer Kingdom.
Work has also been ongoing with In The Empty Places, and we have so far announced the involvement of writers Rodge Glass, Rodrigo Hasbún and Kirsty Logan as well as artist Monica Metsers. Keep watching this space for more announcements.