About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Friday 18 January 2013

Dual-Citizenship and the Novelist

When a writing project is going well, the novelist lives in two places at once: the world of the novel and the so-called real world.  Sometimes the veil which separates these two realms all but vanishes.  You start seeing your characters on the street.  You hold conversations with them while you are on the train to work.  It's as well to have your mobile phone out at these times, so that the people in seats nearby can reassure themselves that you're just another idiot conducting their private life a bit too loud and publicly, rather than a weirdo.

So at the moment I have dual-citizenship.  I divide my time between Liverpool and Lindchester.  With forays into Manchester to convey to my students the thrill of writing, of course.

I'd have to say, 2000 a week is not enough to do justice to Lindchester Diocese.  Still, it's probably true that the art of good storytelling is basically the art of leaving stuff out.  The word length constraint means that I can't include every character every week.  Last week, for example, we saw nothing of Jane Rossiter.  She makes a reappearance this week.  But we will see nothing of Miss Blatherwick or the precentor.  You will be meeting the bishop and his wife; but I still have the dean and the rest of the cathedral community waiting in the wings.  To say nothing of the diocesan staff.  Oh Lord.  And so far I've only got one parish priest, Fr Dominic.  The tale is top-heavy.  It spends its time toadying to the Close, not showing you the coalface of parish life.

In a way this is inevitable.  I've been moving in cathedral circles for the last seven years.  The rhythms of parish life are no longer in my veins.  Someone tweeted me helpfully to point out that Dominic ought to be fretting about the new electoral roll.  Of course!  I hope you will continue to alert me to this kind of thing.

But on the other hand, does it matter if this narrative spend most of its time up on the hill?  Again, it's a question of leaving stuff out.  We aim, as dutiful novelists, to leave out all the stuff that's not actually part of the novel.  I suspect the main characters will turn out to live in the Close.  Another consideration is that novels tend to concern themselves with crises and tension, with the mucky bits of the human heart and human relationships.  This is why on New Year's Eve I show you the drunk priest slandering his bishop, not the other hundred holding Watchnight Services, or tucked up in bed and getting woken by fireworks after two hours of chaste sleep.  I wish them well, but I'm not that interested in writing about them; or you, I bet, in reading about them.

The other thing I'm keeping my eye on is the amount of dialogue.  Personally, I love dialogue.  I love reading it, I love writing it.  But it's a bit greedy of words when words are limited.  I've been making extensive use of authorial summary, telling not showing.  (GASP!  Look away, creative writing students, or you'll pick up bad habits.)  This allows me to convey great chunks of information economically in highly condensed form.  I am supposed to let the reader work things out by drip-feeding information obliquely, and by many cunning sleights of hand to absent myself from the page and create the impression that I'm not actually writing the novel at all.  But bollocks to that.  Tell not show, that's my watchword.  

Where was I?  Ah yes: we do need a bit of dialogue to leaven the lumpen prose.  I've attended to that in Chapter 3, which I will unveil for your greater edification at 7pm this Sunday.

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