Had to smile when a kind soul wrote to me saying well done on finishing the book.
It’s a “book which no one will finish”, IMHO, for reasons given below, LOL. There are some fundamental issues with the very nature of this book and I’d like to list a few, perhaps in order of meeting them:
Not many are going to sit at a computer desk and wade through a 1500 page* book in three parts, however reader-friendly it is in blog form. On an iPad or Kindle – different other matter. There is also one that a commenter mentioned:
Read a bit, but I find the space between paras off-putting as opposed to traditional book style indentation. That may sound silly but there it is. Could perhaps get used to it. I will read some more though. [Andrew MacLaren Scott]
Doesn’t sound silly at all – it is no minor quibble, it annoys me too but what can one do? In WordPress [dot com], it’s single line spacing or double, there is no paragraph formatting. That’s the first killer. I did try e-pub but did not get too far.
2. Reading lists
People have their own reading lists, interests and style of novel, they know certain authors will usually deliver and that’s about as far as busy people can go. Sometimes, for a friend, they will ‘read into’ a book a certain way but it becomes a struggle and if they are like me and are getting the hard word from a colleague or friend, they make nice noises but go no further.
An example is some of the stories in Leggie’s first compendium – most uneven, a couple of them not bad. But not 1500 pages worth.
As a writer myself, I see major blunders in some of these stories written by people making the very errors I’ve tried to eliminate and have gone to great lengths to do so. These range from typos and grammar to plot blunders – even now I just saw a minor one which needed correcting for the umpteenth time. I wonder how much proofing and editing writers of novels do when self-published?
How much can they honestly and dispassionately do, given that every budding writer sees his precious book as his baby? And aren’t there a lot of self-published writers about now.
I’ll mention three writers – Buchan, Conan-Doyle and Chesterton.
Buchan was the British pollie in 1915 who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps before he was kicked upstairs to the Canadian Governor-Generalship. He was not a writer, which he acknowledged but his Richard Hannay turned out a winner. The harrumphing Lord Correctness was a good type of author for a rollicking book like the TNS but not so good for a series of Scottish folk tales he attempted.
In these, he’d invent characters out of his head with no backstory or tradition, such that Bill would say, ‘Well Bob, and what would you be doing here today?’ ‘Well, Bill, and I’d be …’ ‘Ponderous’ was a compliment. It was like a white playing a black or a Scot playing a Chinaman.
Conan-Doyle had that issue too. In The Bruce-Partington Plans, he was in his element. Come, Watson, the game’s afoot – perfect for the genre and style. But when he tried to write a black man in The Mazarin Stone, it was cringeworthy.
Same with Chesterton but even in the Father Browns, he was heavily contrived because he was trying to fit the plot to the message or the device. So he’d have a static device where there was a house and three characters in three different places in that house. They would then interact through a third party – just didn’t work. Not being a man of the people, as with Johnson, it’s very hard to write believable characters.
Certain authors have certain ways of writing we’d accept. I’m certainly fine at writing this blogpost, it’s my metier, but have me try to write mushy, compassionate ‘only a woman trying to succeed in a man’s world’ pieces and it doesn’t work.
Another issue is contrived emotion. A character is completely neutral for three pages, suddenly gets angry and then, with his part done, he goes back to being completely neutral for three pages. Not even Christie could write 3D characters.
I can’t write pathos, just can’t do it. Person’s had a terrible tragedy and is getting right down into deep despair. I can’t do that because in real life, it can only last half a day and then there are things need doing. Best avoided in my writing.
In fiction, my best is the sudden plot change after a passage of yawnability, the dialogue is real because it actually happened and was stolen verbatim and I do a sort of, as someone once said, ‘intellectual erotica’, heavily euphemistically suggestive in passing but rarely explicit. Many who read the blog would say thank goodness for that, it would be embarrassing. My characters are real because they’re wholesale stolen from people I know – I just write those people’s responses as the characters’.
Just one more about my fictional style – it’s so fast that sometimes people get left behind in the wake but then it drops into long, turgid soul-searching [like many of my posts] and that is something I’ve been expunging in the re-write – great swathes have gone and good thing too.
6. The matching of style and reader
This partly comes back to point 1 above, in that a reader of action thrillers, which my long book purports to be, wants a racy, hardbitten style. I can get the action moving all right by various devices, mainly just plunging in and writing hell for leather but I’m hamstrung by ‘niceness’. I don’t mean I’m nice, coz I ain’t, but my style is nicey-nicey – you see it from this very post.
And this doesn’t go down well. For example, trying to have a Peckinpah villain speak in a Raffles manner does not cut it, especially when he acts with decency in the middle of his outrages. There’s a ‘tweeness’ too which hardbitten action-horror fans can’t stomach and there’s too much horror and sex for Christian readers or genteel ladies.
So it ends up suiting no one.
7. The eternal Mary-Sue
Buchan got away with Hannay because though he may have imagined himself as Hannay, gallivanting over the Scottish moorland and saving Britain, it’s more likely he based Hannay on the Penny Dreadfuls and wanted it to be nothing more than one of those – a good read in a hospital bed or on a train. So that was fine.
The issue with my Hugh Jensen is that the opening three chapters really were me, the author – it was pretty much verbatim and my darling love in the story was She [WMBO] in real life – or rather the not so good side. The character Ksenia [‘Miss Heathrow’] later was her other side. It was only by Chapter 6 that it broke away from me, Higham, to become a developing character but many would still see it as me trying to be that character. [I wouldn’t make the mistakes he does for a start and I’m far more arrogant in real life].
There’s a section where the main male shoots an assassin in a hotel but I really did shoot that way in real life – at a target though, not at a person.
This is not helped by every female who appears being an actual person I’ve known seconded to the action. Anyone who’s lived in Russia knows there are females everywhere, all over the place, [ask Tim Newman or Tom Paine] and the accounts of female after female appearing in the book are tame compared to real life. Yet to western readers, it would seem fantasyland for males and an unbelievable plot. Right now [in the rewrite], there is a sex scene at a hotel in Tenerife [with his own true love – note that cursed ‘niceness’ again] but it actually happened, no need to invent it [see Tim and Tom again].
My early years were ponderous and headmastery [as Jensen’s are in the book] but where I had an early mid-life crisis in my mid-20s and have been travelling back and forth between Blighty and Downunder all my life, Jensen the character has his life change through events at Heathrow Airport [quite like that notion].
We all leave something behind – you’ll probably leave your fabulously expensive mansion to your progeny, but I’m leaving this book and this blog. There are other stories of course but they are peripheral.
One day, I think someone up there is going to pull the plug on online access anyway and then I shall have left nothing.
Availability to read – little point yet as, though I completed parts 2 and 3, part 1 is now being done and I’m only up to chapter 11. I’ll give notice here when it’s ready.