June 25-27: Faulkner, transplant surgery, Matt Goss’s dad


Tuesday, June 25

A long phone conversation with Joanna about the book.

The good news is she likes the general idea, the writing, and the main protagonist; but she is struggling to work out how she would pitch it to an editor. In other words, it’s classic Brownlee – everything bar the kitchen sink has been chucked in, resulting in about four different plotlines, some great set-pieces, but no defining focus or genre.

William Faulkner, in the process of killing his darlings

She is not the first agent/editor to make this observation about my writing. But I’ve always worked on the premise that if you come up with a killer idea, the characters and plot will look after themselves. What usually happens is they start take on a life of their own so that, by the end of the book, the original lean concept has mutated into something flabby and unrecognisable.

To be honest, Joanna says nothing I did not already know, deep down, about the book and its flaws. I just needed someone to make it official – which is why I think I have made a good choice with my new agent.

So, it’s once again time to take Faulkner’s advice and kill your darlings. (Or not, as the case may be: we have agreed that a character who was originally bumped off should not only make a Lazarus-like return, but play a central role in the rewrite.)

Despite the work that now lies ahead, I am both encouraged and relieved.


Wednesday, June 26

Having pondered the matter overnight, it is clear some major plot changes are required. Gird the loins and begin rewrites.

A solid four-hour stint sees me reach page 50, but it’s too easy. Changes are cosmetic rather than drastic; a nip here, a tuck there. For now the only pain is watching a hard-earned 76,000 word count sink below 74,000, and knowing it will only get worse before it gets better.

The author begins rewrites

Looming over my head is the certain knowledge that soon the operation will become akin to transplant surgery as I attempt to cut out diseased organs without nicking an artery and killing the patient, all the while hoping and praying that the replacements are not rejected.

A  bike ride to clear the head; but while labouring up a hill it suddenly strikes me that the character I planned to bring back from the dead must be erased from the book entirely. A pity, because I rather liked her – but in this brave new world she no longer has a place.

This is truly a merciless profession, filled with cold-blooded psychopaths.

I still have a long way to go to reach the gleefully murderous levels achieved by the writers of Gomorrah, however. The second season ends with most of the population of Naples dead, and even Don Pietro lying in a pool of his own blood and brains.

Molto brutale.


Thursday, June 27

To Carlisle for a press photoshoot with PR guy Glenn, with whom I’ve been working informally for the last few years. Business is booming, so we’ve decided to officially join forces and become the Saatchi & Saatchi of the Border City.

I’ve supervised plenty of photoshoots, but it’s a different matter when you’re on the other side of the lens. Maintaining a convincing smile is near-impossible, while the moody look just exacerbates the jowls. Pictures are taken outside the castle, and in the subway leading to Tullie House Museum. From what I can see of the rushes, Glenn – early 40s and wafer-thin thanks to his ultra-marathons – looks like a well-preserved Matt Goss and I look like his dad. I await the prints with trepidation.

European heatwave horror

In Germany the autobahns are melting due to the European heatwave. It’s hot here, too, by Cumbrian standards: 25 degrees according to the readout in my car. Is it kaftan weather? No – I shall keep the Grand Unveiling for another time.

Back home, I fiddle about with rewrites for a bit but then more Day Job stuff interferes – this is turning into one of those irritating days when there is a lot of fannying about without anything meaningful actually being achieved.

A stern letter arrives from G’s school. Having volunteered to serve drinks to parents and teachers at the Junior School Ball last week, she and her Year 9 friends took the opportunity to shark some of the left-over wine. Following a high-level disciplinary hearing, they have been sentenced to three hours in “Headmaster’s Detention” on Saturday morning.

I forward the letter to Grandpa Brownlee, who replies: “Waste not want not was my motto too.”

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