Lawrence Burton, my friend and author of various very good things, tagged me in a “meme” for writers. I’m meant to have tagged other people privately, but unfortunately my limited net access for the last couple of weeks has precluded that. If you’re a writer and read this, consider yourself tagged if you want to be. Millennium has also done an entry in this.
1 What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few projects at various states of completion. The Faction Paradox novel, Head of State, is currently with Stuart at Obverse Books, who will be editing it. I suspect there’ll be at least one more (quick) round of rewrites to do on that. Other than that, I have four main projects that I’ll be getting back to over the next few weeks — a book on 60s music from LA, which is my priority as it’s been Kickstarted, a series of essays on Cerebus, which I hope to finish before November, a book on Liberalism which I want to get out in enough time before the next election, and How To Build Your Own Time Machine, a “young adult” (children’s) book. There are other projects, some of which I’ve already started, that will be done once those are off my plate, but those are the main priorities right now.
I’m also working on an opera with Plok, David Allison and others, and have some other musical projects I’m planning to work on as and when I have time.
2 How does your work differ from others of its genre?
It depends on the work. I don’t know to what extent the novel is actually different from anything else in its genre, because its genre is basically just “Faction Paradox” and there are so few examples of that that it’s hard to find a coherent genre identity. I think, though, that a general strength of my fiction is the ability to write in the voices of protagonists who are very different to me, and Head of State has many different narratorial voices — at one point there is, if I remember right, a stack of six unreliable narrators, of different levels of fictionality, telling part of the story. I don’t think that’s something that’s been done in any other FP books.
As for my non-fiction about music, I suppose the big difference is my authorial voice, Certainly both the people who really hate my work and the people who really love it seem to point to the same things — the rather sarcastic humour, the willingness to be dismissive about work that is only worth dismissal, the intrusion of my political views, and so on.
My other non-fiction — the essays about comics and science fiction — is I think sui generis. A couple of the other members of the Mindless Ones collective do something similar, and Andrew Rilstone, Millennium, and Lawrence Miles have a little overlap, but I don’t know of anyone else who does precisely that kind of thing.
3 Why do you write what you do?
Ninety percent of what I write is because I have to — because there is stuff I have to say that I *need* to get out. A story idea will arrive, or I’ll be angry about some political event, or I’ll notice a connection between two pieces of music, and I’ll have to get it out. I’m not very good at writing to briefs — as an example, when Phil Purser-Hallard asked me to pitch for one of his Tales of the City anthologies, I immediately came up with what I think was the best story idea I’ve ever had (that will be in Tales of the Great Detectives, out very soon from Obverse Books). On the other hand, he also asked me to pitch for another anthology, which required the use of a specific character, and a specific setting. It took me months to think of anything, and when I did it was possibly the poorest idea I’ve ever had,
The other ten percent of what I write is for more commercial reasons. If I have something to say about almost every Beach Boys song, or a Doctor Who story from almost every year, or whatever, I’ll find something to say about the other ones so I can turn those opinions into a book and make some money from them. I hope I do a good enough job on that that no-one can tell which bits were less inspired.
4 How does your writing process work?
It varies depending on project. For the music books, which are mostly chronological looks at a predetermined set of songs, I just start at the beginning, listen to each song, and write about it. I usually don’t have to do much research as such, as I have a very good memory and have read pretty much everything on the bands I write about, but I fact-check as I go.
For fiction, I like to sit down and start at the beginning, without an outline, just an idea of where I’m going, and work through to the end, then do a very light rewrite. Usually my rewriting consists of little more than fixing very obvious mistakes and inconsistencies — I write fairly clean copy for the most part — but sometimes it will be more radical (I rewrote the whole ending of my story for Tales of the Great Detectives at quite a late stage, as I’d completely muffed it on the first draft, now it’s one of the better bits, I think).
For the Faction Paradox novel, because I was a first-time novelist working on someone else’s intellectual property, I had to write to a chapter-by-chapter outline I submitted. That was a fun challenge, but it felt like walking in shoes that were two sizes too tight and made it take much longer than it otherwise would.
For my essays on SF and comics I like not even to have an idea where I’m going. The improvisatory nature of those — and particularly trying to improvise a whole book structure on the fly — is the fun thing about them. They do, of course, require some revision before the books are done, but the whole point is to try to get as complex and interesting a structure as I can without planning.