Edinburgh and novel progress

I’ve just returned from an enjoyable visit to Edinburgh for the science festival. I took part in the “What Scientists Read” panel, which was ably hosted by Sarah Dillon and Pippa Goldschmidt. It involved discussion with a pair of working scientists who had been interviewed (along with many others) for a larger project looking at scientists’ reading habits. The good name of CP Snow was invoked, of course, but you won’t get far in this sort of area without at least mentioning the “Two Cultures”, even if you dispute the relevance of such a binary notion in this day and age. I was there to add further perspective as someone who has moved almost completely away from science, at least as a vocation. The event was extremely interesting, and the discussion could easily have continued for another hour or two. My thanks to Sarah and Pippa, to my fellow panelists Sinead and Tim, and to all who came along to the Summer Hall for the item.

In other news, work continues on the new novel and so far I am happy both with the writing and the rate of progress. In contrast to my usual approach, I decided with this book to work up a very detailed chapter by chapter synopsis, which in the end became far more exhaustive than my normal attempt at an outline. Working from this document – about 12,000 words of story notes – as well as an additional 80-plus pages of additional material in a notebook- is a totally new way of working for me, and while it might not be the approach I will always take in the future, it is certainly proving to be an interesting and refreshing experiment. Rather than concerning myself with shaping the plot as I move into the story, I have a fairly solid idea of where the narrative needs to go, and what needs to be established now in order to pay off later in the text. It’s like having a detailed road map and itinerary, instead of setting out across an uncharted landscape with only a wing and a prayer. The downside is that it was months of work to produce the synopsis – as much effort as writing a short novel, in terms of getting the story to work – and there is less scope for me being able to hare off at random in the middle of the story. But so far, I am finding it liberating rather than restricting, in that I feel I am able to concentrate on the writing rather than the mechanics of the story. From the outset, I was hitting a solid 3000 words of work per day, which is much more than I can normally attain at the start of a book, when I am generally struggling to find my way into the story. In fact in less than two months work, which also included breaks for travel and working on other projects, I’d finished 84,000 words of the novel.

Of course no writer will ever tell you that their new approach has turned out to be a failure, and perhaps this won’t be the way I tackle every book from now on, but given the particular challenges of completing the third book in a trilogy, it seems to be a useful change of tack. We’ll see how it goes as I get into the final stages of the novel.

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