Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Guest Blog from Paul Burman

Paul Burman is the author of The Grease Monkey's Tale, which is featured in the new selection of titles. Published by Paperbooks, this title is Paul's second novel with the company, not to mention also being included in Legend Press' fifth collection of short stories, 10 Journeys, with At the Rawlings' Place. Here's a piece from Paul, giving us a rare insight into what it takes to be a published author.

This morning, I was held responsible for someone’s house being a mess. Instead of doing housework across the weekend, they’d got caught up with The Grease Monkey’s Tale and hadn’t been able to put it down – things had slid from there. They’d needed to know what was going to happen to Nic the mechanic, and so the cleaning and tidying, the vacuuming and polishing, had gone to scratch and they’d spent too many hours on the sofa reading.

It was the finest of compliments and made my day. And it capped a great week for The Grease Monkey’s Tale with over a hundred sales (that I’m aware of), a number of people describing it as a thriller and a page-turner (which I’m thrilled by), and the announcement that it’d be one of six titles in the forthcoming Exclusively Independent promotion.

Very often, though, such compliments are followed by a conversation about writing and one question in particular: How do you go about the process of writing?

For many years, the answer would have changed from one manuscript to another as I experimented with writing the best novel I could – a compulsive read for the reader, a compulsive buy for the publisher and something I enjoyed being involved in from go to woe.

This question of process was not something I’d really tried to articulate before, but frequent attempts to answer it recently have helped me discover a response. Finally!

On the whole, I prefer to have more than one writing project on the go at once. It’s an approach that grew out of writing The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore and The Grease Monkey’s Tale, which I didn’t so much write back-to-back as write alternately – a couple of drafts of one and then a couple of drafts of the other, draft after draft – at the same time as trying to make them as unlike one another as possible.

With Number Three and Number Four, however, I’ve allowed myself the freedom to do this to a greater extent: I’ll spend a couple of hours on one and then a couple of hours on the other. It’s a process that keeps me excited with whatever words I’m tapping away at and looking forward to returning to the story-in-waiting. Far from making the process disjointed, it allows time for ideas to settle and for new ideas to grow – sharpens the focus in deciding what to pursue and what to leave alone.

In terms of drafting, the real sense of beginning lies, for me, in mapping out pages and pages of dot-points, exploring who the characters are and what motivates them; about location, mood, atmosphere, the different layers... trying to discover the voice that might tell the story. It’s only when that voice finally begins to reveal itself that I might start the first paragraphs for Chapter One – a matter of testing the voice and listening to it.

From there, it’s a matter of redrafting those opening paragraphs and maybe adding another couple of paragraphs, before drafting the lot again; playing with the words and phrases as I go. In this way, the story is built in blocks, tier upon tier, until eventually the first full draft is finished and I can begin working with it as a complete text – cutting, moving, adding – polishing until I can see the reflection of its narrator.

Many thanks to Paul for writing a blog for the site. Both The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore and The Grease Monkey's Tale, are available to buy direct from the Legend Press site.

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