Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Writing and the Forth Bridge

My novel course with Curtis Brown has finished and I’ve begun to edit my manuscript. It’s a very absorbing process and has demanded much concentration. My main focus has been on the opening act of the novel. When I began to write the story, I was embarking on a journey towards an ending that I hadn’t yet imagined. Reaching the end of the novel gave me two things. Firstly, the sense of accomplishment of actually getting there. And secondly, the realization that I needed to go back to the beginning and revise it. This suggests that novel writing is similar to painting the Forth Bridge.

However, it turns out to be a bit more difficult than just going back to the start and repainting the bridge. The beginning that you wrote all those weeks before, may not now be the best place to actually begin the story from. So I reread the whole manuscript and made notes about what parts worked well and what parts worked less well. And after a lot of debate with myself, I realized that my story really started at chapter five.  So I rewrote that as chapter one. Then I had to rework the following chapters to include information necessary for the plot that had been in the previous chapters one to four.

The rereading also showed me that I needed to extend and deepen several of the characters. I made detailed notes about their motivations and desires. This was very helpful as it also led me to some new plot ideas. The manuscript was also too long. The advice from Curtis Brown was to cut a sub-plot and a minor character. I did this, which also involved a good bit of rewriting of the first act of the novel.

Now I’m editing the second act. The course called this, using a cake-making analogy, the great soggy middle. This is where the jeopardy for your main characters tends to diminish and readers may lose interest. But my second act seems to be in somewhat better shape than my first. The rewriting I’ve been doing on this so far has mainly been pruning unnecessary scenes and revising the tone of those that I’m keeping. But, I shall be doing some new writing here too as another of my fresh plot ideas is soon to be introduced.

Overall, I’m repairing the most obvious defects in the first draft of the novel. The result should be an improved second draft that works pretty well. I hope to achieve this by Christmas, then have a break and come back to it in the New Year with fresh eyes. Then I will reread it from start to finish and hopefully create a third draft that is in good enough shape to send out to an agent. In the end, this makes the rewriting process much more like rebuilding the Forth Bridge than repainting it.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Helicopter Money

The big excitement in our house this week is the arrival of my £100 pre-paid Mastercard. I’ve been given this by the Northern Ireland administration. It isn’t a prize, but a gift. And all residents over 18 are receiving it. The card can be used in any NI shop. But the money must be spent by 14 December. T is looking at my card enviously. She applied for her card a week or so before I did, but hers still hasn’t arrived. Now I have to decide what to do with the money. Have you spent your helicopter money yet? If so, what on?

It’s not an easy decision. There are so many options. A slap up meal in a posh restaurant? Or basic foodstuffs? Or something for the house? Or something from my local bike shop? Or do I donate it to charity? To help my decision making, some shops will be happy to exchange it for a store-card with a much longer expiry date and even 10% or 20% on top. There are some exclusions: you can’t exchange the card for cash, or spend it in a bookies, or on your mortgage, or for paying a fine, or on car tax and insurance.

There is a long history of giving money direct to individuals to stimulate the economy. This is often done in developing countries, especially those with fragile systems of administration. The small amounts of money that are given directly to the poor get spent in local markets and this has a multiplier effect. I was on the Board of Concern Worldwide for many years and oversaw a number of these schemes. They were a very effective way of helping the poorest of the poor.

The term ‘helicopter money’ was coined by Milton Friedman (Margaret Thatcher’s favourite economist), as if the money was being thrown out of a helicopter to the citizens below. But in some war torn states, this is how it might actually be done. I recall that during the Iraq war, the Americans were paying certain tribes not to fight against them. Shades of Catch 22.

I’m still pondering what to spend my helicopter money on. For a treat, or on necessities? Maybe this year, for once, I might be buying my Christmas presents early. But I’d better make my mind up soon. Before T gets her hands on it.