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Write What You Know: An Introduction To This Autumn’s Book.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been a boon to me in terms of productivity in the six years I’ve been doing it. Prior to that point it took me a year or more to finish writing a first draft, on the occasions that I finished it at all; the last two years, I’ve been able to complete a first draft in 30 to 32 days, and even Pass The Parcel (which is something of a behemoth) was mostly written over the course of two consecutive NaNo bouts. It turned out that for me, intensive day-after-day writing was necessary to maintain my interest in a project, and that the more I had it mapped out and planned in advance, the easier it was to complete the initial draft and the less of an insurmountable task editing it felt like. Other people, of course, work differently, but “knuckle down and throw everything else to the wind” appears to be my style.

There are several projects I want to write which have been laid aside gathering dust because they involve research in order for me to feel confident that they’re going to work when written, and as previously discussed my feelings towards research are not enormously dissimilar to the average six-year-old’s (and mine) feelings about tidying their room. I don’t want to do it, I will only do it if forced to, I would far rather someone else did it, and even if someone else does do it I resent that I’m going to have to deal with the aftermath.

This November I’m trying to sidestep my usual objections to research by writing something which draws on non-fact, and on non-fact in an area I enjoy reading about regardless. Less write what you know and more write what you’re interested in. In this instance, I will be returning to the same stamping grounds as Pass the Parcel, my home and major inspiration source: London.

In Pass the Parcel I envisioned a London of comparable time period, but peopled with an extended variety of sentient beings, some of which weren’t human, some of which weren’t even biological. But London itself remained recognisible to the modern dweller, and indeed I’m told that unless you’re familiar with particular “scenes” in the city a few of the references don’t quite hit home.

This time I’m planning on taking a closer look at how people think about London, and the expectations and beliefs people have about the place, whether it’s non-visitors who nourish rumours that it’s a crime-ridden hell-hole where a mugging takes place every two seconds, or dreamers who think that moving to the metropolis will be the answer to their prayers. I’m also trying to incorporate a lot more of people’s beliefs from throughout history, drawing on the urban legends and the folklore of the city which imbue The London Stone with a variety of mystical powers and see all kinds of horrors prowling the streets at night.

As with any book, this is only a starting point. The world-building will develop the nature of the place away from a base of legend and expectation to give it a sense of structure: in this case the London of the majority of the story is a non-place, a construction built on myth and lying parallel to the physical and real London we’re familiar with. It lives out of time and is all times. Knowledge really is power, and ignorance too. It is manifestly unstable, washed this way and that by tides of opinion and sudden bursts of public fear (this London, the “Ideal”, is subject to the Four Minute Warning far more frequently than the real London ever was); residency is usually a result of permanent comatose state or having been bred from the city back in the early Roman days, when the borders between “reality” and unreality were thinner.

Humankind has a continual and recurring need to control or feel that it can control its environment through its own actions. The more chaotic the environment, the more superstitious the community and the more elaborate the forms of religion or attempted environmental control through ritual. Misattribution of cause and effect are rife, and while those rituals which have grown up within the Ideal are as hit and miss as real-world ritual, real-world superstition is functional within the Ideal because it is believed in.

One theoretical alchemist mind predicted the existence of such a place, described its nature in the form of an equation, and promptly forgot about it in the pursuit of better things.

Some few hundred years later an alleged descendant of the thinker’s research partner digs up the equation again while researching a book on his supposed ancestor, and in the course of trying to explain the thing finally comes to understand what it means, leaving them stranded in this alien and theoretical world as physical entities.

The Ideal London [Working title, but I am keen to preserve it] shall hopefully be not only a weird journey through the lore of London but also an investigation of the value of stories, the hopes people put into figureheads, and the degree to which “truth” matters in people’s personal histories.

I will be trying to scared up some ephemera to help root the world and characters more firmly in my head before I start writing and to finalise the plot: I hope a few of you are interested enough by this to come along with me on the shouty and tantrum-filled process of burdening the world with the first draft in November (there will be a lot of swearing).

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5 Responses

  1. Thrilled, THRILLED to hear you’re engaging so deeply with London for your next book. Rarely have I seen my beloved home (it’s always my home, always, wherever I move) described so well as with your words. I don’t give that compliment lightly. I love how generous you are with your WiPs and look forward to seeing where it’s all going, even if I look like I didn’t see it at all XD And I’d like to offer my eye-casting services in advance if you want an edit when it’s done, yes.

    Something about the “legitimate ignoring of the rest of life” of NaNo really works for me too, and, whilst I’m going out on a limb for my writing, but definitively going with “what I enjoy” to the extent that my next project is “serious guilty pleasure” for me, being able to dedicate all the time without feeling something else ought to take precedence is invaluable, and makes me want to support NaNo in every way I can.

    • being able to dedicate all the time without feeling something else ought to take precedence is invaluable

      Yes! I think most of the time I have so many other projects going that I feel that I’m “wasting time” if I’m doing something I enjoy that much, and having the decks unceremoniously cleared of all other commitments is a wonderful freedom.

  2. mlfables says:

    Less write what you know and more write what you’re interested in.

    This, so much this!

    I’ve started doing much more thorough research, into my writing, now that I have taken an approach to writing about areas that have caught my interest (or the interest of the characters in my stories).

  3. eleniaturner says:

    This sounds incredibly interesting :) I’m a Londoner, born and bred, and I love my city. More than that, I love seeing my city portrayed in books and film. This sounds like something that’s going to be epic in scale, so good luck because it sounds like the sort of book I would want to read!

  4. Sandra says:

    I really like the sound of this! I’m looking forward to daily Del-writing updates again – following ASAH as you wrote it was great.

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