This blog appears to be turning into a doodle repository. Notebooks for Project T and (new, yet to be announced) Project K.
About a year ago, I managed to break into a combination lock suitcase (answer: it’s very easy, if time consuming) but I’ve never had a go at picking a door lock before. I wanted to know how this might be done. Lock picking is a hobby for many. There are tonnes of videos demonstrating various locks and techniques. So, I asked a lock picker what this lock is and how I might pick it. He obliged. It turns out that this is a euro-profile pin tumbler lock. They started being used about 150 years ago, are primarily found in Europe and can be picked with modern-day pick sets. And, it really doesn’t look too hard to do.
I visited three locations in London at the weekend.
They feature in the novel I’m working on.
I wanted to get the details right. Or at least noted down to use later if needed.
As I took notes and photographs of these ordinary places, I was reminded of James Hart Dyke’s paintings in his Year with MI6 exhibition from 2011,
…There is a sense of mystery, the secrecy, the subtlety, that sense that you look at a scene and it actually isn’t quite what you think it is or has an aspect that you’re not aware of, which comes through rather strongly.
It also makes clear that this isn’t James Bond racing around conducting his own operations as he sees fit. There is a strong aspect of the everyday about it,” Sir John Scarlett, former head of MI6, said of the exhibition.
That’s what I’ve learned most during this process. To see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Frederick Forsyth on writing. From a 2010 interview with DNA
In the early stage of thinking up a plot, I can be anywhere: on a fishing boat in the tropics or walking the dogs – and thinking, When my son was a toddler, he once asked me what I was doing, and I said I was working. And he said, “You were not working, you were staring at the wall.” And I said, sternly: “That is work!” link
Photo of a wall in Dakar to stare at by me.
Sometimes I think I’ve spent the best part of the past year reading nothing but advice on how to write. Paris Review interviews, Stephen King, obscure wee blogs, and dedicated writer’s advice websites. I stumbled upon this nugget this morning. After reading it, I completely re-wrote my opening scene for a future project,
4. Open your book with an action scene. Don’t put biographical information or exposition in Chapter 1 (do that later). Introduce the crime—which tells you the stakes—and introduce the hero and villain, and even some obstacles the protagonist may face. Don’t sacrifice style—use metaphors and good language—but stick with action. link
Sometimes I think I must be one of the thickest, slowest, most disorganised writers on the planet. Other times, I figure this slow learning process is just ‘the process’.
Photo of Ngor, Senegal by me.
This is the thing with writing a novel, at least one of the things. You read something in the news. Have an idea. Make a connection. And it’s as if it was designed to fit into your story all along.
There are records of dreams we recounted to each other in the mornings. The transcriber knew us so well, he or she was able to read and duly note our moods. Some even took sides in family arguments, noting on the margins of the transcripts who they thought was right. It’s like having had a one-sided relationship with these invisible broadcasters of our tormented souls. link
I’ve lost track of how many news stories I’ve adapted for my novel. They’re all completely unrelated. Some serve to inspire an idea, others work as a plot device. I guess this might be one of the tricks of creative writing – that of being open to suggestion. Of not being fixed in thought or slave to a pre-planned plot.
Photo taken by me in Byumba, Rwanda.
On writing and notetaking. From a 2006 interview with Joan Didion in the Paris Review,
…you get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something. link
Photo of shoes outside a shop in Hà Nội by me.
You want the reader to be blown away by how much you’ve learned. You have to resist that urge. Save the bragging for when you’re writing an essay like this one—where I can’t resist telling you that for The Martian, I worked out my Mars missions’ orbital paths and necessary launch dates. It took me literally a week of hard work and I had to write my own custom software for it. But the only thing the reader saw of all that labor was “It took 124 days to get from Earth to Mars. link
Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is full of excellent advice, but three months for a first draft… Oh, to have a work rate like that and retain some semblance of a ‘normal’ family life.
I don’t know if other writers work this way, but I have so far found that working concurrently on two radically different book projects suits me rather well. As soon as the non-fiction project goes out the door for edits or whatever, I get my head back into the other fictional project. In the process, I ‘forget’ about the former and concentrate on the latter. And I have a fresh eye when the former eventually comes back to me. A slightly schizophrenic way of working maybe, but I’m finding it wholly agreeable.
The plan is to have Project T’s premise, plot, pitch, synopsis and first three chapters written and in a fit state to send out within the next three months. The first two points on that list are already finished (subject to many unexpected, interesting changes no doubt).