I’ve made a new short video on the Factory Girl trilogy.
You can find it here.
At the Shrewsbury Writers’ Lab on Tuesday (the local writing group Joe Shooman and I lead, based in Shrewsbury Library) a writer asked me a question I’ve never been asked before. We began a freeform discussion on our various projects with me showing everyone my notebook, and I spoke for a while about their value. Many writers had similar notebooks, some digital some real, and an interesting discussion was had.
But the question which floored me was: “Why do you use a pencil in your notebook, not a pen?” The questioner went on to observe, “You’re not rubbing things out, you’re crossing them out.”
I pondered this for a few seconds, then confessed that I didn’t know why I favoured pencil. But I knew even in those few seconds that I never had used a pen and never would. This surprised me, and I had to tell the assembled writers that I didn’t know why only pencil…
Since then I’ve had time to think about it. I know for sure that I never could use a pen in such a notebook (although, see below). My notebooks have great significance to me. I explained to the others in the group that for me each notebook has to be a physical object, treasured, taken pretty much wherever I go, and carefully organised.
I begin with the basics of the scenario, the most fundamental essentials: characters, setting, tone. Then the ideas flow. Eventually I’ll get to the stage where I block out the plot of the novel on one page, usually no more than two lines per chapter. Then more notes, then a second version of the plot, with four or five lines per chapter. After a further period of work I’ll know I’m ‘ready’ and it’s time to organise all my thoughts, notes, ideas and plot into the third version of the narrative. This version has one page per chapter, and it’s what I use when doing the actual writing.
So, why pencil? I think pencil has one advantage for me, though it’s quite difficult to explain, and actually not an explanation; more of a metaphor. Pen, to my mind, is too harsh, too dark, too contrasty. I use a pencil because the marks – the words – are grey; ephemeral themselves. Pencil somehow symbolises the ambiguity and uncertainty of my thoughts at the early stage. I know that sounds a bit weird, but I’ve thought about it, slept on it, and it’s definitely right!
What’s really strange about all this though is that when I had the opening ‘two hour splurge’ for the Factory Girl trilogy, I wrote them with a pen! What does this mean? That the material for that trilogy was so ready in my mind I didn’t feel the urge to grab a pencil instead of the pen which first came to hand? It sounds weird, but then so much of the author’s art is weird…
When I read about the lunar theme to the new Eibonvale Press anthology The Once & Future Moon – tales either ancient or futuristic – I knew at once that I’d write a prehistoric story. Regular readers of this blog will know of my great interest in all matters of human evolution, and the meaning of the Moon to our early forebears was central in their mental frameworks. Although interpretation is difficult, there is evidence to suggest that lunar calendars were kept – bones with 28 or 29 scratches on, for instance. I decided to use this as a foundation for my tale ‘White Face Tribe.’
One of the difficulties in writing prehistoric literature is keeping all historic concepts out of it: urban life, stone apart from tools, and any thought processes involving separation from nature. But the aspect of prehistoric mentality which interested me most was the automatic self-centred viewpoint. The payoff to my tale is how the main character perceives herself and the reasons underlying her actions, which very few modern readers would consider plausible…
Readers of this blog will also know of my music and perhaps the collection of instruments I’ve built up over the last quarter century or so. One of the most recent acquisitions is a deer bone flute, made by a friend who specialises in Anglo-Saxon instruments, so I decided to use that also in my story. The flute is a beautiful little thing which plays sweetly: here it is being used in some music I recorded a while back.
The Once & Future Moon is available now from all the usual places.
Eibonvale Press’ new anthology The Once & Future Moon is out now, after a successful launch at the BFS awards in Glasgow. Edited by award-winning Allen Ashley, the collection has a number of lunar-themed stories, some set in the past, some in the future, including my own ‘White Face Tribe,’ which takes the reader back to Ice Age times…
When I came up with the idea of Kray (as Memory Seed was called in 1988) I was much influenced by James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia. The wretched inhabitants of Earth’s last city fight encroaching greenery and the weather, while the rest of the planet has been rendered uninhabitable, covered by a poisonous, impenetrable mat of vegetation from which humanity has retreated. I loved this idea of the planet fighting back, and, at the time, wasn’t much concerned with the science of it all. (Later on I would be, which led to the themes and far-future plot of Urbis Morpheos.)
In 1988 Lovelock’s work was best called the Gaia Hypothesis. It was loathed in some quarters, lauded elsewhere, often misunderstood, then taken up by New Age ‘Green’ types who also misunderstood it, much to Lovelock’s annoyance. In a minor way I was one of those irritations, as, strictly speaking, the Earth couldn’t be personified to the extent of focusing on humanity’s last city as I portrayed in my novel. Now, however, it can be called Gaia Theory, as it’s much better understood and has made predictions later shown by scientific experiment to be true.
Back in 1988 though what interested me was the plants and the weather. I personified some of my own anger here: the rage of the wind and the rain, battering people who had ignored environmental warnings and were continuing to ignore them. The noophytes themselves were well aware of humanity’s ecocidal past, as they make clear to Arrahaquen in the electronic environment of Gwmru, and to Omvendyn in my upcoming collection Tales From The Spired Inn.
But could the planet change to the extent I visualised in Memory Seed? Well, one of the most often quoted consequences of climate change is an increase in extreme weather – so, yes, it could change that much. And an increase in carbon dioxide – paradoxically given our current rate of deforestation – means more atmospheric food, which would lead to more plants if the human population crashed. Another main theme I dealt with was the pollution of the environment with chemicals (for instance oestrogen mimics) which feminise male animals. That also could happen; it’s been offered as an explanation for the declining sperm count of men in industrialised countries, so quite possibly it’s happening now.
Gaia works by positive and negative feedback. Rock weathering for instance is a carbon reducing process, meaning that an increase in the surface area of rocks which can be weathered leads over millions of years to a global reduction in temperature (i.e. less of a greenhouse effect), which is in due course opposed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by volcanoes. There are dozens of such processes, all of them created and “maintained” by life, although of course life does this without realising it. An example of a positive feedback is colder global temperatures leading to more ice, which reflects away more of the sun’s energy, which makes things still colder… and so on. Snowball Earths created by such processes are thought to have been melted by the greenhouse effect brought about by volcanic gases – one such catastrophic event may even have kick-started the Cambrian Explosion.
So, my portrayal of the planet attacking the doomed city of Kray may have been fanciful, but perhaps not that fanciful.
What does an author do with old, printed-out drafts of a novel? Some authors publish them in order to point out how much they’ve improved. Some deceased authors of great fame have them published by members of their family.
I didn’t want anybody reading my terrible early drafts of Memory Seed and Glass, so the photos in the slideshow below show what I did with them…