Sunday, November 25, 2007


This week has been spent attempting to get to grips with the script for the proposed film of The Erlking. I've never attempted a script before, and it's been a frustrating task at times, largely because my way of writing isn't easily compatible with the process of putting together a script, and a film.

Initially, I wrote an outline set in England shortly after WW I, a period that I find fascinating, as someone on the discussion forum pointed out recently. As I
said in my reply to that posting, I think my interest may be due in part to the sense that this was a country in shock, trying to come to terms with a loss of innocence, perhaps, as well as the more immediate loss of a generation of young men. Anyway, the outline incorporated a number of the other stories from the Nocturnes collection, told as tales within tales.

That version didn't quite work. I'm not sure why. It was interesting, but it wasn't The Erlking, and something of that story's mood was lost in the translation.

The second version returned the original short story to its fairy tale
roots. Essentially, it took up the tale two generations' later, and again included some of the other stories from Nocturnes, but this time they were integrated a little more smoothly into the overall narrative. The outline was 16 or 17 pages long, and included snatches of dialogue, mainly for my own benefit as they allowed me to move the story forward. I sent it off to the various parties involved in the film, and then the problems started.

When I write a novel, or a short story, it is an essentially solitary exercise. I write alone, with no input from others along the way. I slowly write a first
draft, usually over a period of six months or more, and then go back to the beginning and start rewriting. I do this, over and over, until the agreed deadline for the book is imminent, and then I deliver it to my agent and my British and American editors. They are the first people to read it, and only then will anyone else start to have any input into the book.

Other writers approach the process of writing, and delivering, a book
differently. Some will deliver a manuscript after only one or two drafts, trusting in the editing process to sort out any problems at an early stage. I know of one very famous writer who finishes a chapter and sends it out to his editor the following day, so that the novel arrives in bits and pieces, and is edited along the way. Another writer of my acquaintance will deliver very rough, even incomplete, chapters to her editor, so that a strong degree of intimate collaboration between writer and editor occurs.

The difficulty with scriptwriting, or any other aspect of film making, is that it is merely one part of a whole, and a whole that is very much dependent upon
co-operation and collaboration between a number of different people, each with his or her own views on what the finished artefact should resemble. Basically, the writer isn't the sole creative arbiter right from the start. There are a lot of creative people involved, and creative people have opinions. Thus, scriptwriting invites 'notes', which are suggestions from the producers or others about how the script should proceed.

So, shortly after I sent out the initial outline, the notes began to arrive. I was a bit bewildered, to be honest. I hadn't even written the script yet, merely suggested an outline, and already that outline was being tugged in all sorts of (sometimes contradictory, I felt) directions. It was like being presented with editor's suggestions based on a first draft, but that, as I've already said, isn't the way I write. It wasn't that the notes were bad. It was just that the whole idea of being guided at such an early stage, however well-meant that guidance might have been, was utterly alien to me.

Okay. Hand on heart, I also didn't really understand the notes. My bad. I tend to respond better to very specific suggestions, like the notes my editors, or copy editors, scribble in the margins of my manuscript: 'What does this mean?' ; 'Should this be mentioned earlier?'; or, my particular favourite, courtesy of an older American copy editor: 'What is a Siouxsie and the Banshee?' By contrast, the notes on the script were very general. They also, when I tried to think about them, appeared capable of being summarised as: 'We like this, but why don't you do something completely different instead?', which wasn't entirely helpful.

I made an executive decision. I decided to ignore the notes. That sounds more arrogant than it is meant to be, but the notes had caused me to freeze up.
All work on the script ceased as a consequence. I returned, instead, to The Reapers, and a writing process that I understood and with which I was comfortable.

But with The Reapers delivered, I decided to return to the script, but not to the notes. Over the last week, I've worked on it in assorted coffee shops (and here I should give a hearty round of applause to KC & Peaches, which is a very lovely coffee shop/ wine bar/ restaurant at the top of Pearse Street in Dublin, close to the canal. If you happen to be passing that way, be sure to drop by.) and the first draft proper is almost complete. On Monday, I'll probably send it off to Lawrence, a bastion of goodness in a harsh world, who is destined to direct the film should the script find approval (Lawrence directed the short film on Sedlec that appears on my website). We'll meet on Wednesday evening to discuss it (oh, and to watch the Liverpool game) and, with luck, he will have liked the direction in which I've gone.

Mind you, then the notes will start again. Oh dear. And it was all going so well . . .

This week John read:

Fawlty Towers by Graham McCann
Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

and listened to:

Tacks, The Boy Disaster by Tacks, The Boy Disaster
Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Mirrored by Battles

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


THE REAPERS was sent off last week, accompanied by the usual feelings of relief, concern, fear and, well, general looseendedness. (I am a writer, and therefore I feel free to make up words and impose them upon the language.)

The book is, as I've said here before, a little different from the ones that have gone before it, although I would hope that each book has been a little different from its predecessors. It's lighter in tone, and more straightforward than the usual Parker books, mainly because the action is not seen through his eyes. We learn a lot about Louis, but not very much about Angel. That will probably be another book, written somewhere down the line. I'll probably post a section of the book on the website over the coming weeks. (I know, I know: I'm such a tease . . .) In the meantime, the final UK cover is available to view here.

What happens now? Well, my editors - UK and US - will get back to me at some point to let me know what they think of the book. My UK editor is always the first to respond. She received the book on Wednesday, and I would be surprised if she hasn't already read it, which means her initial comments will probably arrive today or tomorrow. My US editor usually takes a little longer. I think she just likes to keep me on edge. It's a cruel Southern thing.

I always experience a vague sense of unease at this point, a nagging suspicion that the book may not be very good and my editor is, at this very moment, struggling to find a diplomatic way to tell me, one that won't send me off the deep end and have me looking longingly at high cliffs, jars of pills, or razor blades and bathtubs. I don't want to deliver a bad book, and I don't think that I have, but, then again, I'm a very poor judge of my own work. I keep waiting to be caught out, to be branded a fraud. Like a lot of writers, I think, I'm always alert to the knock on the door from someone who has been sent to inform me that a terrible mistake has been made by my publishers and, as I have always suspected, the people who hated my work were right. At that point, my furniture will be seized, my house repossessed, and proceedings set in train to get back all of the money that has been paid to me in error.

I tried to explain some of these fears to my editor when last she was in Dublin. They're pretty constant, although they're not crippling. Nevertheless, they may contribute to the fact that my pleasure at completing and dispatching a novel never lasts very long. Relief is a feeling that dissipates quickly.

So what to do now? Well, I'm hampered slightly by the fact that my house is filled with builders, plumbers and painters, and that no room is actually fit to work in at present. My notes and research books are in boxes, and my desk computer is on the floor of the spare room. The first quarter of the script for THE ERLKING is stored on it, but I don't think I can get to it for a day or two. There's a short story that I quite fancy writing, so I think I'll do that. With luck, I'll be able to start on the next novel in December. It will be a Parker book, I think, although there's an idea for a standalone set in the 19th century that has been nagging at me.

Then again, there's email to check. Maybe my editor will have written to me. That would be good.

Or, perhaps, bad . . .

This week John read:

Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne

and listened to:

The Distant Future by Flight of the Conchords
Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young
Sojourner by Magnolia Electric Company