Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Note on Distraction

I'm currently midway through a new draft of The Unquiet, the next Charlie Parker novel. At this point in the writing, progress slows a little once again. I find that I can only really concentrate properly on revising one chapter each day. If I do more than that, the revisions to the second chapter suffer. On the other hand, time is pressing, so I am trying to do more than one chapter each day, recognising that some progress is better than no progress at all, and it will make the next draft that little bit easier. Still, there is a always a nagging voice telling me that I should be doing more . . .

Then again, life seems intent upon providing welcome distractions and, although I'm reasonably disciplined, I am quite happy to do other things if the opportunity arises. Hence last weekend, when I should have been slogging away at my rewrites, I was in Barcelona, courtesy of my lovely Spanish publishers. Two days of that trip were justified by publicity for the Spanish edition of The White Road (El Camino Blanco, for all you linguaphiles out there), and let me tell you now that the Spanish press ask kind of difficult questions. It's an indication, I think, of the seriousness with which they approach genre fiction, and crime fiction in particular. None of the reporters seemed to have any doubt that mysteries were capable of tackling big themes and that viewpoint was reflected in their questions. Frankly, at one point I openly admitted to wishing that I was a bit smarter so I could provide answers that did more credit to the questions, which moved from issues of race and history, through moral philosophy, and on to the existence of God. The interviews were challenging, and kind of exhilirating, the pleasure dimmed only by my pathetically poor Spanish, an obstacle which required the presence of a very tolerant interpreter to overcome.

Of course, this is just a pathetic attempt on my part to explain away as work a splendid five day break in the sun. Okay, so I did my interviews over two days, and gave a talk at a fabulous little bookstore called Negra y Criminal, but none of those duties hardly counted as work in any real sense, and the event at Negra y Criminal in particular was an unalloyed pleasure. Yet I have to hold up my hand and say that the two days that followed passed in a blur of Gaudi, Picasso, and lots of football and tapas. There, I've admitted it. I feel better for that now. I've let you all down, I know, by not sweating over a keyboard. I'd like to say right now that I'm sorry. I'd like to, but I can't.

But there are other distractions that I can perhaps justify a little more easily. My British publishers are setting up a microsite (a mini-website) to go with The Book of Lost Things, and I've become quite fascinated with the process, in part because it involves deconstructing the book, something that I've never done before in quite this way. Essentially, I've gone back and found the originals of the tales that inspired sections of the book, as well as the little bits of Greek myth, Roman history and British poetry that David, the child at the heart of the novel, uses to create the alternative world into which he is drawn. The originals will sit alongside sections of the novel on the website, and I'll try to explain the connections between the two, and why certain stories and images were chosen over others. In a sense, the creation of the site has enabled me to examine the way in which the book itself was created. In turn, I'm learning a little more about myself as a writer and recognising how decisions that seemed somehow "natural" at the time, for want of a better word, were actually the product of a complex unconscious process. How could it have been otherwise, I suppose, in a book that is so personal to me, and in which so much of my own childhood (and adulthood) has been mined to bring it into being?

Over the coming months, I'll be writing newspaper articles on the links between fairy tales and childhood trauma, and on the importance of David's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to the book. I'll continue to add to the microsite, and to my own website. I'll also continue to write this weekly piece, for it too is a distraction of sorts, but not all distractions are counterproductive or unwelcome. They help to give me a little distance from the book on which I'm working, to put it into perspective, and this column, like the deconstructive process for the microsite, has given me insights into my work by forcing me to examine, and to put into words, things often left unsaid. For that opportunity, and for taking the time to read this column, thank you.

This week John read

Last Ditch House (manuscript) by Shane Dunphy
True Grit by Charles Portis

and listened to

He Poos Clouds by Final Fantasy
Espers II by Espers
No You Won't by The Walkabouts


luisalfredops said...


Thank _you_ for writing this weekly piece, and in general for your website. I discovered your books some weeks ago (I already read the first three Parker's in spanish, and I'm buying _El camino blanco_ soon - and the rest of your books in english, since it seems you write faster than your translators), and then I entered your website. During the last days I've been reading the different sections, which are really interesting.

Thanks again, and good luck with _The Unquiet_. LAP.

Tom Hyland said...

Thank you for sharing that your latest work deals with personal issues from both the child and the man. Trauma, in its many forms, forces us to either forgo our personal pain and to act through a process of learning and sustaining; or it smothers us in false ego and assumes that no other human being can possibly understand. The one makes us stronger. The other... destroys.

JT Ellison said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip.
I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to do this column. It's fascinating in all respects -- between views of John the Writer, John the Philosopher, John the Teacher and John the Appreciator of books and music, all facets are well worth exploring every week.

Tim said...

I loved True Grit, but another novel by Charles Portis, Dog of the South, was insanely funny. If you ever get the chance, give it a read!