Monday, 15 April 2013

Guest Post: The Writing Process - John Gwynne

For this week's guest post writer John Gwynne shares his thoughts on 'the writing process' with us. If you missed my review of John Gwynne's novel Malice, you can find it here. For more information about John Gwynne and his work visit his web site.

Over to you John.

This is all pretty new to me - blogging, posts, being asked questions! When confronted with the task of commenting on ‘the writing process’ as a subject, I would not be so bold as to tell anyone ‘this is how it’s done.’ I’m still staggered that my book, which began life as a few notes on my desk, is now sitting on shelves in bookshops. And I don’t think there is any right or wrong way. It’s a creative process, sitting very firmly in the ‘whatever works for you’ department. Really all I can do is tell you about my writing process - how I have written Malice, and how it has stumbled from ideas in my head to being a real book, with pages, print, a cover and everything!

I’ve come pretty late to writing. I’ve always read. As far back as my memory functions reading and stories have been part of me. One of my earliest memories is my primary school teacher rounding us all up and opening the first page of ‘The Book of Three,’ by Lloyd Alexander. After that it was a slippery slope of Hobbits and Ring-Wraiths, giant spiders, wooden horses, dragons and minotaurs and knights searching for grails. Mixed into that came a growing love of all things historical.

Me writing came about in quite a convoluted manner. My daughter Harriett is profoundly brain injured and needs a high level of round-the-clock care. My wife was her main carer, while I laboured away at university climbing the academic ladder and teaching. Harriett's health degenerated to a point where it became clear that I was needed at home, so I stepped out of teaching and joined my wife as Harriett’s full-time carer. That’s also when I started writing - prodded by my wife and kids, who I’ve always told stories to - part over-active imagination, part big-kid syndrome. So me writing began as a hobby.

First I had to decide what I wanted to write. That was a no-brainer, really.
I love all types of fantasy, epic, gritty, urban, steampunk, sword and sorcery, but my first love is epic. Mixed in with a large dollop of historical/mythological influences. So ‘epic’ was my foundation stone.

I had no thoughts of publication at that time, I was writing for an audience I can count on my fingers - me, my wife and kids. I chose multiple point of view because that’s what I like to read most, and because I thought multiple POV’s was the best way to interest my small list of readers. I also decided very early on that I wanted a coming-of-age tale at the heart of my story - I grew up on Tolkien and Eddings and Feist, and I wanted to try and capture some of that nostalgia. But I also wanted it to be more than just the coming-of-age thing, something more character driven, adult, grittier, though not to the point of an 18 rating! Epic and intimate has always been my goal.

Up until that point I had never written anything creative, only essays and dissertations. The only way I knew how to write was how I had learnt at university - to read, read and then read some more. So I set about doing some research. Which turned into a lot of research. About two years of it, in-fact. That was no hard task, as the bulk of my research material was world mythologies and ancient history. Cool stuff. Out of that I just took notes on anything that made me a little bit excited, and occasionally I’d get the spark of an idea. I have some big files full of notes and ideas under my desk now. Notes about Celtic and Norse mythology, Greco-Roman, Gothic, Slavic and Eastern, notes about Boudicca and Attila the Hun, about Remus and Romulus and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, notes about the theories of Atlantis, about how swords were made 1000 years ago, notes about the cycles of the moon and wolf pack behavior and Komodo dragons. Lots of notes.

Then I just started writing.

My schedule at home revolves around my children - two of our boys are still at home, and of course my daughter Harriett, with all of her unique needs. After that comes work, which involves fixing and selling furniture, painting, sanding, - bills have to be paid. Writing filled the gaps, when there were any. Sometimes there were a lot, sometimes none at all for great lengths of time. Mostly my writing tended to fit into night time, when silence would descend for a few rare moments. As time went on I would try and write at other times - noisy times - and music helped a lot there, plenty of soundtracks and other stuff that contributed to whisking my head off to another world.

I mapped out the broad plot points of my story, deciding on key characters and POV’s that would be best suited to tell that story, and then just dived in. Some characters have come and gone along the way, many have changed names, but the central ones have all managed to remain.

About half-way through writing the first draft of Malice I started taking it more seriously, feeling driven to find time, my mind frequently wandering off into the Banished Lands. At some point I started trying to write every day, and also working with a daily word limit in mind. Targets can be a double-edged sword - working towards a word count every day did help me finish the book, no question, but it did add a bit of stress to the experience as well. For book 2, which I have just finished, I am pleased to say, I have worked very much to a daily word-count, and without it I would have missed my deadline, I am sure. But back in the days of ‘Malice’ I was writing primarily as a hobby, so it’s supposed to be fun, right. And just fun. Not that I’m complaining - working to deadlines and being a ‘published author’ now (still not used to that) there is a great deal of fun to be had, just with a more professional edge.

Once I finished Malice I gave it to my wife and kids to read, plus a few mates, and then put it away for a while. After a few months I went back to it and did an edit - chopping it from over 300,000 words to about 280,000.

Feedback from friends and family started trickling in, generally good - but hey, what did I expect from family and friends. Nevertheless most encouraged me to take it further, and though some of my mates do like to humiliate me whenever possible, I got the feeling this was not one of those times. So I started googling how you get a book published, and became promptly very disillusioned and resigned to anonymity. I purchased the Writers Handbook and started looking at agents that specialised in fantasy. One chap’s name kept cropping up, both in the Writer’s Handbook and in my online searches.

John Jarrold. He had worked in the business for over three decades, running fantasy imprints such as Orbit and Simon and Schuster, editing authors such as Michael Morcock, Guy Gavriel Kay and Robert Holdstock, as well as representing contemporary writers like Mark Charan Newton, Adam Neville and Stephen Deas. He became my ‘dream agent,’ the man always at the top of my list, so it was no surprise that John was the first agent that I approached.

To my surprise and very great pleasure John loved Malice and agreed to represent me. That was a good day. Drinking mead and dancing a jig was involved.

John worked with me editorially for a while, pointing out my grammatical doltishness (is that a word?), including fetishes for semi-colons and ellipses. After this the book went out to publishers, and within about a week there was an offer from Tor UK. This was just before Christmas 2010. Needless to say, there was much celebrating in the Gwynne household that Christmas, involving more mead drinking and jig-dancing, with extra mulled-wine.

Since then it has been a tale of editing - structural edits, copy-edits, page-proof edits - the amount of work and effort from Julie Crisp and the team at Tor that goes into polishing a book from its submission stage to being ‘on-the-shelf’ came as quite a shock to me - plus many cover art discussions (now that was fun, probably my favourite bit).
Also, of course, I have been writing book 2. But that’s another story...

Many thanks to John Gwynne for finding the time for this guest blog. 

1 comment:

  1. I know I am late to this party but as an unpublished writer myself I have been doing lots of research on "writing methodology". My manuscript is taking a while to come and I had to wonder if I was doing something wrong. I just stumbled upon this. It's enlightening. Inspiring. And any other -ing you can think of. Ps. I totally relate to the big-kid syndrome. I'm out looking for your book, Malice, as we speak.