On the train today, I sat next to two very striking Polish girls, who were having a conversation in their own tongue. I didn’t follow much of it, as my Polish is terrible (better than yours, though), but I was startled to hear them say ‘Um Bongo’, more than a couple of times. It seemed like their entire conversation centred on the fruity 1980s drink, which may or may not be a big seller back home in Eastern Europe. Like I said, I have no idea what they actually said, but it’s a sure bet that their conclusion was probably that ‘they drink it in the Congo.’ That’s basically all that white people know about the Democratic Republic of Congo- they drink Um Bongo there. The war that happened there from 1998-2003; involving nine countries, with a death toll of 5.5 million, sort of whizzed over our Caucasian heads. But we’re all pretty sure where the biggest target demographic for Um Bongo happens to reside.
Can I talk about the book? I’m two hundred and fifty pages in, with (I’d say) about eighty to a hundred left. And now is the part where it gets exciting to write, and I might possibly (after a fashion) give some semblance of a shit. The characters are almost fully formed, being two thirds of the way through their individual arcs, and the ending is already there in my head- ready to be joined to the rest, once I can think of a few clever ways to link everything together.
I’ve said before that it’s a more commercial, accessible book this time around; that’s still true. But it’s also pretty clever. I don’t know if I can use the word ‘revolutionary’, because nothing is revolutionary any more. People were writing novels that didn’t use the letter E, or novels that only used one vowel, ages ago. Decades ago. Maybe a hundred years ago. (I didn’t check.) There is nothing really new in the world of novels. And agents and publishers don’t want something new, anyway. They want The Next [insert usually untalented but enormously fortunate author here], and that’s all they want. I come up with ideas all the time that seem like A Great Idea For A Book, but most of the time I just think: who’s going to want to read that?
Actually, that’s totally incorrect. Lots of you would want to read it- people love new things and original ideas. The publishing industry, the TV people and the Hollywood studios really don’t give a shit about that though. The goal of all of these people is the same: sell something bland enough and inoffensive enough so that vast throngs of unremarkable people will enjoy it en masse. That’s why the best selling books, music, movies and comedy are often the most horrendously shit. Not to the people who enjoy them of course, but to you and I. Because we’re awesome.
My new book has multiple points of view. You are told the story through Alice, Dylan, Poppy, Harry, Paul, Ian, Bill, Don, Rick and Bob’s eyes, with the text switching between them constantly. That might seem like a lot of viewpoints; but, more often than not, I actually want to tell another part of the story which doesn’t involve any of those characters, so I have to find ingenious ways for one of my mains to end up within earshot of the action. That’s where the clever happens.
In addition to the viewpoints, the writing style and language of the narrative changes, according to who is telling the story. Bear in mind, this book isn’t written in the first person. So you’ll have one passage where someone is uneducated and uses guttural descriptive words, and another where the character is American, so the narrative will say things like ‘elevator’ or ‘cellphone’, instead of using actual real words. This style of writing is trickier than a prostitute magician who customises hot rods in her spare time, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
I have no idea when the thing is going to be finished. I’m certainly not going to rush the editing. My first book has had ten revised editions already; I’d like Girl Afraid to have just one. It’s a much bigger and more ambitious project this time around, with a lot more twists and turns. Because of this, the risk of massive plot holing is kind of immense, so that is what most of the redrafting will be about- polyfilla-ing in the gaping holes in my logic. However long you have to wait though, I promise you it will be the best self-published book you’ll ever have read. Until my next one.