Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Editing Effect

The Big Wild Read has a guest blog that authors have been contributing to over the Summer.

My entry went up today, so you can check it out on the site if you like. The only thing is, I went off on a manic ramble, so they had to edit it down quite a lot.

You can see for yourself why they had to edit it down because here, for your reading pleasure, is the full version of what I actually wrote for them:

Explosions, chases, military hardware, espionage, intrigue, deception and betrayal have all been big features of my life this week. I have to keep reminding myself that none of it is real. But it all happens every day for me while I’m working on the 5th Jimmy Coates book.

Five books into a series – you’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I’m not. Every book has thrown up new challenges and felt like a completely different experience. I suppose that’s one of the great things about being a writer – each day’s work is so new and strange to me, even though I’m constantly thinking about the same set of characters.

Today I found myself wondering exactly which route I’d use to climb over the buildings opposite my house if I had to escape assassins. In the end I decided I’d probably ring on someone’s bell and go through their house. Not what Jimmy Coates would do, but I don’t have his strength, speed or stamina. Would I make inside before my enemy saw me? That’s the stuff I worry about when I’m writing Jimmy Coates.

I can imagine how writing could easily drive a person mad. So I’ve developed a few techniques for keeping myself sane, while also making sure my imagination doesn’t become too sane. Otherwise the next Jimmy Coates book would just be about him getting work experience at an office and spending a couple of weeks doing the photocopying. Not so exciting.

So here is my list of the 7 essential pieces of equipment you need to be a writer who’s just sane enough:

1. Snacks. Each day’s snack must be different. It helps keep my brain fresh. Yesterday it was fried apple. Today it’s chilli and mushrooms on toast. Mmm… One day I’ll write a book about all my writing snacks, but I don’t want to give away my secrets just yet. So instead I mention a snack in the Jimmy Coates books every now and again. His friend Felix is a great snacker.

2. Music. I have to have music while I work but I’m very fussy about it. I can’t get any writing done if the music has words or is too slow. So at the moment it’s incredibly fast jazz – definitely not what Jimmy Coates would listen to, but he’s a bit busy running away from the secret service to listen to anything, really. And he doesn’t have an ipod.

3. Hair clippers. If I ever feel a bit tired or sick of being at the computer, I stand in the bath and clipper my hair. It’s fun, and almost like a head massage. If the secret service agents in the Jimmy Coates books did this more often, they’d be so chilled out they wouldn’t bother trying to kill Jimmy.

4. Something to fiddle with. At the moment I’m using a rubber cricket ball. Just firm enough to squeeze, just the right size to fill my palm.

5. Notebooks. Even though I type my work directly onto a computer, I do all my Jimmy Coates planning by hand in one of about 14 notebooks. Which means they’re always there for me to doodle in. I’ve done strange sketches of all of the characters in my books (except Jimmy, for some reason), and I often draw the fight scenes first so I can describe them more easily.

6. Dressing gown. You can’t write anything if you’re worried about your appearance. Unfortunately, I worry about my appearance all the time. I’m very vain. So I hide myself under a huge dressing gown. I don’t know why I’m bothered – nobody ever sees me. What am I worried about? My computer developing eyes and judging my fashion sense?

7. Maps of the places you’re writing about. I really need a new Atlas. The one I’m using still has a big black question mark where Australia should be and ‘Heyre Be Monsters’ over the whole of Africa. Not helpful.

My first book, Jimmy Coates: Killer was easy because it’s set in London, where I live. For Jimmy Coates: Target I needed a good map of France, and also I used a place that I’d been to, so that made it easier.

Jimmy Coates: Revenge is set mainly in New York, so I went over there to have a look at the place. It’s not bad. Then I used Google Earth while I was writing to remind myself of the exact layout of all the locations.

I did a similar thing for Jimmy Coates: Sabotage, which is coming out on October 1st. That one is set in New York, London, France, Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, Iceland and the middle of the North Sea. I’ve only been to 6 of those places, so I needed to rely on maps, photos and, of course, Google Earth.

But now things are getting trickier. JC:5 (the title is still a secret) features a lot of action in Western Sahara. I’ve never been there. And it looks like Google Earth’s satellite went a bit wonky when it flew over that part of Africa.

That’s why I’m back with the Atlas, and my imagination.

Time to get out the hair clippers…

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