In which nothing much happens…

Over the holiday period, I watched a beautiful film, Brooklyn, based on the novel written by Colm Tóibín. It is about a small-town Irish girl who emigrates to Brooklyn in the early 1950s. In the grand scheme of things, nothing much happens. She lives in a boarding house, gets a job, falls in love, gets married. It is, however, achingly poignant because we can all see aspects of our own small lives in it, even if we’ve never emigrated, even if we haven’t experienced the 1950s.

I am currently reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. It is a beautiful plot, set in modern day Ireland, focusing on the misunderstandings and miscommunications of an on again, off again, on again, off again (and so on) ‘couple’, Marianne and Connell. It is, however, achingly poignant because we can all see aspects of our own small lives in it, even if we’ve never lived in Ireland, even if our teenage years and early twenties have long since passed.

Yes, I have repeated the beginning of the final sentence of the first paragraph intentionally. Novels don’t need to be about dramatic events. They don’t need to be packed full of action to satisfy us. The jeopardies, the successes, the failures, the near-misses can be tiny, but if they resonate with us, they are magnified a thousandfold.

I am currently working on a dystopian novel and yes, there is action, there is suspense, there is misdirection, there are matters at stake that are more than the average person will ever experience. However, there is also the personal, the small events that I hope we can all identify with. There is betrayal, there is misunderstanding, there is anger, there is pain – the stuff of life. The plot needs that in order to feel realistic, to resonate.

I have sent sample text of Anti-Virus to a few editors this weekend and hope (fingers crossed) that I will gel with one of them and the way they work so that when I have finished my line edits, I can submit the full manuscript and wait for their response (eek!). I hope I have managed to interweave the personal amongst the political to a decent enough degree to make these things resonate in a sufficiently good way.

In the grand scheme of things, nothing much has happened this week, but I do feel as if I have made a concrete step towards publishing Anti-Virus. Anyone who has tried something new can identify with that. It’s the small things that resonate.

Don’t need Elaine. Delete her.

This is the brutal part of writing. Or rather, editing.

You’ve bled words onto the page. You’ve made your story stronger, your characters are walking and talking like actual human beings, you’ve filled the pesky plot holes and unravelled those convoluted bits that just didn’t work. You’re inching closer and closer to THE END.

And then, out of nowhere, your brain tells you somebody is surplus to requirements. You send yourself an email simply titled DON’T NEED ELAINE. DELETE HER (yes, Caps Lock was fully engaged) because you can’t just drop everything and deal with pesky Elaine right at that minute. And then… you relax. Because it was the right thing to do.

Welcome to my week. Elaine has been deleted. Actually, she still plays a necessary part, but in conversation only (it was more of a row, an interrogation, a dissection). She no longer needs to make an appearance, she no longer has a speaking part. Put it this way, if she were an actor in a film, she wouldn’t be a high earner.

This writing, and now editing, experience has taught me a lot. As I wrote in Murder your darlings a few weeks ago, Anti-Virus has come a long way since its humble beginnings. So have I. I used to find it more challenging to change things, because I used to feel so protective of the words that I had written. These days, I’m clearly focused on the end goal – getting Anti-Virus in the best shape possible before I decide that it’s ready to unleash on the world.

I’m about 80% of the way there with my paper edit (and boy do you notice typos more easily when they’re printed out, compared to when they’re on screen!). I might even finish it by the end of the day. That would be a bonus. Then it’s back to my laptop to tidy up, to incorporate all of the red pen changes into my manuscript. Then it’s hunt the editor – an exciting and scary prospect.

Let’s hope she isn’t called Elaine…

Red pen time

Actually using a red pen. On actual paper. It’s a thing.

Those of you who have been reading my weekly-ish posts (thank you), or those of you who are in the know, understand that this means one thing, and one thing only.

The Big Edit.

It’s always interesting (to me at any rate) how reading a book feels different when you are turning pages made from wood pulp rather than e-book pages. Don’t get me wrong, I have a Kindle and it has proved very useful, but my first love will always be a book in its physical form.

Editing a book when it’s in physical form also feels different. I’ve spotted typos or missing words that have passed me by countless times already. Ditto for sentences that have just been far too clunky or Frankensteined for my liking. Also, the flow is easier to pick up on (or the lack thereof). I initially started writing Anti-Virus on my commutes to and from work (remember when that was a thing?!), so it’s even more important to me that this stop-start rhythm is not embedded into my manuscript.

So far, so good. I’ve red-penned twenty something chapters so far (the content dictates the chapter length, so they’re short and snappy) and the flow feels good. My MC, Callie, feels like a real person who both delights and infuriates me, and the world in which she lives feels like now but heightened (and not for the better). It’s dystopia, what can I say? Her girlfriend, Jak, is shadowy, but there’s a reason for that. How can you know and love someone who’s never really there any more?

Have I used a lot of my pen’s red ink? Not so much. In addition to the tpyos etc described above, I’ve deleted a few paragraphs that were surplus to requirements, raised a few questions about consistency (is it traveller, or Traveller, is is Bio-Security or bio-security or even Bio Security, no hyphen, is it secret services or Secret Services, you know, that kind of thing). All fixable and none of it disastrous. To be fair, I’ve got forty or so chapters to go and it could all go Towering Inferno disaster movie wrong, but fingers crossed.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere. I’m not going to say anything like ‘2021 is my year’ because that’s tempting all the fates who have, quite frankly, been having a field day since 2020 and are showing limited signs of taking a well-earned rest so far.

But I am achieving. That’s all I need.

How about you?