Tuesday, 26 February 2013

5 stages of rewriting - with a toothbrush?

Re-writing is “like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush." (Pete Murphy)

I am celebrating, because three weeks ago my task was to rewrite my teen thriller of nearly 30,000 words in 24,000 words without losing any of the plot or characterisation.  

I also had ten areas of doubt expressed by my editors to take into account. In my view, three weeks is not a realistic deadline for such an activity and I felt it was a good excuse for panic. 

Every writer has their own way of dealing with that kind of panic. In case it's helpful for my readers to know, mine involved the following stages:
Make a copy of the 'original' to work on. File the original.
Start slowly on page 1, take into account: 
-   the editors' doubts/comments
-   the removal of as many characters as possible (I have a tendency to include lots of 'bit parts')
-   these questions at each 'scene change': 
    What is this scene for? 
    What are the motives of each of the characters in it? 
    How does it progress the plot?
-   Check the details. Use the toothbrush. Don't panic.
This slow revision gave me a good idea where conversations or actions could be squeezed or dispensed with altogether (the ones that had to go were, as always, the ones I loved most).  Change the text colour of these passages.
Print out and go through again, rewriting the coloured bits (for me this is much easier on paper).
Go through again on screen and incorporate the rewritten bits. The main problem at this stage was remembering what was still in the plot/characterisation and what had been ditched. 
Go through again (!), trying to read it as a reader would, who knew nothing of the story. I was looking for any unexplained motives or non sequiturs in the plot.

And, after 21 days of being convinced there was no way I could pull it off, I sent off the new draft manuscript by email at the weekend. 

Phew! Panic over. Basement floor (almost) pristine. Toothbrush thrown away. (Thanks, Pete)

horses on Solway sands
Now I have emerged from my three weeks of self-inflicted solitude (with a couple evenings off to see friends and a walk on the beach nearly every day). 

skeins of geese flying north up Solway coast
(they are there, in the pale blue bit of sky!)

And the sun is shining (this is the Cumbrian riviera, don't forget!), the geese are arriving, and the pigeons are cooing. The garden is full of snowdrops and the fields of lambs. 

Just in time! This weekend Words by the Water begins in Keswick (I am chairing four of the author talks) and The Boy with Two Heads is a year old! 

Life is amazing ...

Friday, 15 February 2013

It all began 3 years ago today

Three years ago today, Suzanne Short (a Year 10 student from Cumbria) started out on a strange and wonderful adventure. You can read her story in my time-slip novel, The Boy with Two Heads. Her best friend is Bernadette, known as Bernie. This is an extract from Bernie's blog:

From Bernie’s Blog. Feb 15th 2010, Monday 
School trip to Greece, Day 4 
Athens. Hotel Artemis.

Where do I start? 
Poor poor Suzanne. Will she be OK? Why did this happen? And in a country where I don’t understand anything! 
So… Concentrate! Start at the beginning … 
This morning we all got our backpacks together with packed lunches from the hotel, and water bottles, and questionnaires, and all the usual tourist stuff. And Suzanne seemed a bit quiet. Yesterday she was leaping around and like ‘We’re gonna see where it all began.’ Meaning the Olympics, of course. She’s obviously still obsessed, even though she gave up the idea of competing because of bloody Ian. 
But today she was really quiet. Then she told me that Ian had dumped her. Up at the top of the Stadium! By text! Right in the place she’d been so excited to see. ‘Where it all began’. 
And now, maybe where it all ends.
Pause for tears. Oh help …
Right. Trying to get it together now. 
We were all crossing the road along the open end of the stadium. We’d all got across except Suzanne. She missed the light so she could take a last photo. I was just teasing Gina about there being no cake in the packed lunch, when I heard a screaming noise from an engine and a load of shouting. I turned round and saw that Suzanne was lying on the tarmac near the pedestrian crossing. The traffic was stopped dead. A motorbike was on its side in the middle of the road and Mr Green had his arm round a man’s neck. ...

Panathenaic Stadium pedestrian crossing

And this is where Suzanne's story began, on the pedestrian crossing by the Panatheniac Stadium in Athens. (As you can see, crazy motorcyclists are not a common occurrence.)

Friday, 8 February 2013

Ancient naked statues - modern dressed lambs

I know, I know. It's been nearly three weeks since I posted anything. But a writer's work is never done!!

And I've been working hard. I have strict deadlines on the third draft of my new story for Cambridge University Press, and putting together my page at ContactAnAuthor, and preparing a school talk, and getting ready to chair four sessions at Words by the Water Literary Festival in Keswick. (How did I get myself into this?)

And I wouldn't be blogging now, but I couldn't resist answering a question I was asked the other day. It was about the statue we used on the cover of The Boy with Two Heads. The question was: 'Have all the statues had their heads broken off?' That gave me an excuse to find some photos of him - and other such appealing creatures. (Most of them did have their heads broken off when they were found, but they've been mended now.)
the Youth of Antikythera
from the Wikipedia article

The head of The Boy stars in my posting on February 5th, 2012 (almost exactly a year ago – how odd…), but there I only show his face. As you can see, his body is too muscular for my 13 year old hero.

I give two links there to a lot more information about the statue, including:
He stands nearly two metres tall (not counting the plinth) in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. He is known as the Youth of Antikythera, as he was found just off the island of Antikythera, in pieces on the sea-bed, in 1900. Because of the other things from a shipwreck found nearby, archaeologists say he came from the west coast of what is now Turkey and was probably made in 340 BC or so. 
[On his Wikipedia page, where this picture can be found, he is called the Antikythera Ephebe. The word ephebe is still used in modern Greek to mean a teenage man or youth (now pronounced 'ephivos' – the v in Greek looks like a b in Latin-based alphabets, so that is how it is often said by non-Greek speakers).]

The Youth is one of many similar statues that were made from about 450 BC in a pose still popular today. They were more lifelike than the previous, archaic naked males (reminiscent of Egyptian kings), and always had their weight on one leg. 

Hermes and Dionysus
Praxiteles' Hermes in Olympia
This marble statue is the Hermes of Praxiteles (the sculptor), honoured with his own room in the museum at Ancient Olympia. He was also made in the 4th century BC (although this may be a copy made around 325 BC), and is holding the infant Dionysus. He is very similar to the bronze Youth, and was found in Olympia, where much of The Boy with Two Heads takes place. The Hermes is mentioned as being at Olympia by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD. The fact that he was found, as described by Pausanias but under a thick layer of river clay 1,800 years later, is the kind of thing that makes the hair on my arms stand up. 

the original David,
from the Khanacademy webpage
Michelangelo's David (1504 AD) follows the same artistic tradition. On this website you can see a replica of the David where the original was once placed (it is now in the Galleria dell'Accademia). There is a vertiginous 360 degree facility to look at the whole Piazza della Signoria in Florence. 

But no mention is made in the text of David's Greek forebears among the ranks of naked male statues.

Enough of that ...

I downed tools this afternoon and went for a walk in the sun, and look what I found in the field! Instead of creatures usually-clothed-but-naked-for-the-sake-of-art, I saw creatures that are usually-naked (well, sort of) but-clothed-for-the-sake-of-warmth ... in plastic coats. 

Somehow that took the edge off the excitement of seeing my first lambs this year. 

Back to work!