It’s always been an ambition to write a proper novel. I say “proper” because the novels I have written have never been, in my estimation, properly done. Even the first, which I technically sold to a publisher, wasn’t ideal. There are others, in various states of revision, in files on my computer or printed out in heavy folders stuffed into various boxes. None were good enough to send out but, then, I don’t know if I ever took it too seriously.
There are two ways to write a book. The first is called “pantsing it” or some variation of the term which means “doing it by the seat of your pants”. That kind of novelist sits down, writes a chapter, and then keeps writing until they hit THE END. There are some really famous writers who do this but the most famous, perhaps, is Stephen King.
Of course, King would probably deny that he writes like this. He has all manner of explanation about how ideas live inside his head for years before they suddenly burst out, ready to be typed out in manuscript form. I admire King but I think too often his writing displays his “1000 words a day then quit” mantra. For every good book he’s written, there are a couple which just become sequences of backstory with nothing to propel them forward. The last I think I read of his that felt like that was Under the Dome. I gave up when it was obvious he really didn’t want to move the narrative forward.
Anyway, I’ve always been that kind of writer. It means I really struggle with plot and I guess that’s often really obvious given the books I’ve written. I’ve also relied too much on my ability to write funny lines, rather than funny stories. I have great scenes but no forward momentum. I’ve envied the great comedy writers like Tom Sharpe or David Nobbs who could come up with brilliant scenes that are riotously funny.
It’s strange because all of the above is not generally how my brain works. I tend to be hugely analystical. I like structure, which is why my ambition has always been to become the other kind of writer, which is the person who plots things out in advance. I love police procedurals where there are clever twists or a kind of high-level intelligence running through the novel, so you feel that everything is organically one. This school of writing takes you deep into narrative theory: Joseph Cambell’s mythology and Dan Harmon’s story circle. It’s the stuff of acts and narrative arcs and ‘the hero’s journey’.
My problem is that as much as I love reading about this stuff, I have always struggled to put it into practice. I guess I haven’t the patience to shuffle notecards around for weeks on end. I just want to get to the writing, which is the bit I really love. It’s why my recent work has tended to be short. It’s why I wrote a book of letters, where the only structure was in the sequence. Or I draw cartoons where the structure doesn’t go beyond the single joke. The only exception to this, I guess, was The Snoot, where I did create a narrative over 160 drawings. Even that, however, was really just a short story/poem. Not having created a really well plotted novel has always been my one big regret.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. It’s why this blog hasn’t featured too many cartoons and why, perhaps, it might have felt like my mind is elsewhere. It has been. I’ve been immersing myself in books that claim to have the secret, though, in truth, they all seem to labour the same “secret” given different forms.
All that is a long way of saying that I’m probably going to be doing more writing in the near future, to see if I can rediscover my spark. Unless the urge takes me and I want a break from thinking, I’ll be easing off the cartoons, though not the blog. I think I made my point (as much to myself as anybody else) this last fortnight about Private Eye. I don’t know if it’s just bad luck or something I’ve said in the past but there’s clearly no way in hell I’ll ever get a cartoon in that magazine. It’s a really big regret in my life, being from early youth, a huge fan of British satire and thinking PE was the pinnacle of what I set out to do. Either I’m not good enough or I’m not in the right place. Either way, I’m stopping wasting my time exploring that route.
I’m not saying I’ll be any better writing a story of some kind but writing has always been my first love and I’d like to concentrate on it more seriously for a while.
Anyway, to mark this new direction: a couple of the lesser cartoons that were rejected… I’m saving the better cartoons for another time/purpose.
2 thoughts on “Focus”
I think you’ve said here before that your fans are fairly evenly divided into fans of your cartoons and fans of your writing. I doubt it will be a surprise to you if I say I definitely fall into the later group. I’d thought when youd talked here about your past work and successes and your struggles to get your cartoons published that its seemed that, objectively, youd had greater success in your career with writing. What I’m trying to say (in a very waffley, roundabout way!) is I’m pleased by this new direction. Cant promise I’ll read a future novel though I’m afraid….
I think that’s a compliment. 😉
I’ve always said that I cartoon for myself. It’s my hobby. Writing was always my profession but due to home circumstances (the whole “carer” thing I’m going through) I don’t really have a day that’s suited to writing (needs a few hours of clear writing time a day). My life really suits cartoons, which is why I’ve gravitated more towards that. I would like to write a book. Specificially, I really want to write a science-fiction book and have 20,000 words of it done but haven’t had time to finish it. I’m just eager to spend more time doing that and stopping mopsing about the crapness of the cartoon situation might allow me to do that.
As for anybody reading it: I have no assumptions that way either.