Hmmm. I was supposed to answer four questions:
* What are you working on?
* How does your work differ from others of its genre?
* Why do you write what you do?
* How does your writing process work?
It appears to me that I did some of that, but I am now setting out to get this entry more into line.
The introduction stays, partly, and that part is in fine print:
I said I would do this quite a while back, and I left the email about it in my personal email folder, marked unread, so I would keep being niggled about it. I got involved because Sandy Fussell agreed to my request to be tagged by her.
|Part of the plot plan for Mad Sheep (see below).|
It's a bit of a weird book, but it was written for kids with brains like mine.
I think that when I write for younger readers, I need to extend their view of what is normal play, what other folks are doing, inside their skulls.
For example, I enjoy complex puns, but I was probably 12 when I found out that the word games I played in my head were called puns, and lots of people do them.
That brings me to:
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Yes, I know, wrong order. See the end of this section.
Probably I had a rather odd upbringing, as an only child with, let us say, authoritarian parents, but I was left to my own devices quite a bit. Books were a convenient escape, but they didn't always tell me the things I most needed to be told.
I tell my factual stories in an amusing manner because I know that real readers like it, and because it gets right up the noses of the pompous and po-faced. I am a conservative anarchist who does not approve of blowing people up. Why? Well, it's so much more fun deflating them, and I found when I was a bureaucrat that those I designate as The Enemy are left floundering by the surreal.
I got through it all largely unscathed, but there is always a strain of surrealist anarchy bubbling away in there somewhere, a still small voice, urging me slip the line "the fen is muddier than the sward" past an alert editor. I am probably proudest of getting into an official Department of Education publication the information that a pedant is a footnote fetishist — in a footnote, naturally.
True, that isn't a pun, but since when did anarchist surrealists worry about rules? The living people read my stuff, just to see what I will do next, and the walking dead, well, they aren't my concern.
What am I working on?I started, 18 months back, on a set of ideas for books in a series, all called Not Your Usual... and there might be, if I did them all, about 30 of them. I will probably only do a few of the best ideas, and basically, I am getting towards advanced middle age, and I have a lot of partly-researched stuff that I thought I might as well share.
The plan was that they would go out as unvarnished, unedited e-books, and some of them may still come out that way, but two of them had more going for them, so I sent off two mss to Five Mile Press, just on spec, and they (a) knew me from earlier work and (b) liked the stuff I can do and (c) didn't like what I had done. They were too brief, and written for younger readers, but they had promise.
Note that I have one advantage over new starters: I have been around for quite a while, and there's a good chance of finding somebody in the firm who knows me when I try a new publisher
Anyhow, they considered (a) and (b) and said they would take them if I made changes. So I attacked them again, expanded the text, changes all of the mixed-up bits into prose that an editor cam make something out of, and submitted on one July 31 and one on August 13, each one day ahead of the deadline set out in the contract.
I haven't heard yet, but I am hoping that all will go well, and Not Your Usual Bushrangers and Not Your Usual Gold Stories will see print in 2015.
Once that was out of the way, I thought I might be able to get into doing this blog, but one of my other books, The Big Book of Australian History was to be reprinted, and we needed some changes. The original editing had been slipshod (to say the least of it!), and while a lot of the messy bits were cleaned up before printing, once we had sidelined that editor, there was one editor-inserted factual error that I had missed (I and the new editor got all of the others), and there were a number of updates that were needed, because this is history that comes right to the present.
So I got all the latest political and sporting changes done and sent off.
I will come back to current activities because that brings me to:
How does your writing process work?
For me, revising a manuscript involves making a PDF of the file which I transfer to my Samsung tablet. Then I read it and mark it up on the tablet, usually while riding a train to a country town and back, transferring the changes to the main copy on my desktop computer, converting the result to mp3 files that I listen to while closely reading it, making a new PDF that goes on my tablet and my wife's tablet, transferring mark-ups, reading through on-screen, making and listening to new mp3 files, and so on.
Why on a train? Because I can, Sam-I-Am. I am approaching advanced middle age, so I can travel all day on public transport for $2.50. I walk down to the ferry, ride to town, reading as I go, get a train to Sydney's Central Railway, and take the first country train that leaves thereafter, usually Kiama or Newcastle. When the time is ripe, I get off, have lunch, and retrace my steps. I have an ipod loaded with classical music, and I work, uninterrupted.
Most ideas come to me as I am browsing old books, old newspapers, stuff like that. If I get curious enough, the curiosity is promoted to the level of Temporary Obsession, and I start recording details in a spreadsheet, an eccentric method that you can read about here.
Why do I write what I do?
Because I can, and because people will read it in sufficient numbers for me to be making a useful contribution to the future of our society, a fair, honest and open society, where bullies are shamed for their acts of bastardry. Karl Popper cared about the open society, but I will settle for a fair society, and if I can encourage people to think, I am doing good.
Because I know my stuff. I have a curious mind that leads me to ask interesting questions, difficult questions that people of a certain calibre (the small-bores, let us call them) will find uncomfortable.
Because it brings joy. It brings joy to me, and it brings joy to the minds I touch,
Because it's what I do. Scribo, ergo sum: I write, therefore I am.
What I am going to do next.
Here is what I had in the original version of this blog entry at this point, though as I will explain, it turned out to be wrong.
I am of several minds. I may do a book, a bit like the Monster Maintenance Manual. Called (working title) Sheep May Safely Craze, it is for YAs and the permanently immature (like me) geek market. It involves sheep that wear Viking helmets so swagmen will mistake them for mad cows and not eat them, only they aren't really sheep, they just look like sheep, and they have amazing powers, a jeep that functions as a time machine and a hovercraft, and a friend called Gordon who is the same species but looks like a minotaur.
It also features the phrase "taking Gandhi from a baby" and a virtual normality machine as well as monkeys, typewriters and some rats. Not to mention some musical ravens who are hoping to get the sheep to take them to the 19th century so they can kill Edgar Allan Poe. I have 20,000 words of that written, and a storehouse of bad puns. No samples at this stage.
My next serious book is probably going to be on really peculiar medical treatments like using bacteria to kill cancers (that one worked!), doses of millipedes, scorpion oil, and electric shock or onions for fun and cures (those generally didn't work). It will be called Not Your Usual Treatments. It also looks at things like magnets, leeches and patent medicines, and it is fully researched but only in the rough-cut stage. We will see,
What I am really working on now.
Well, what has happened is that Not Your Usual Treatments took me over. It was a fat and ungainly 120,000 words of drafts and notes, so in the past week, I have kicked that into shape. It is still BIG, at 76,000 words, but there is now a coherent narrative, and the things I had in there "just because" have gone out. They are all in a discards file, so second thoughts are possible, but not to be encouraged.
That can now go onto the back-burner to marinate for a few weeks. Now Mad Sheep will come to the fore, and while I was writing this revision, I decided that I need to set the plot out in more detail in a spreadsheet. I will take some of the best pun-streams and put those in place
To help you pursue a few other strands in the writing process, I point you to an old friend, Robyn Tennant-Wood who is also Miss Ruby's Bookshop, an equally old friend, Lynne Kelly who writes excellent books on spiders, megaliths and other stuff. Robyn and Lynne, you are now tagged.