Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And now for something completely different...

Well, enough of Austen. And Fowler's amusing take on Austen.

So what tickles my fancy next? I looked at the stack of books at my bedside waiting their turn, lifted this one, turned that one over, picked another and looked at the first page, the preface, and said yes, this one! 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. All the other books sighed and shrank back into dusty oblivion in the corner, envious of the one brought into the light. What was in that preface that so appealed? Serendipity at work.

You see this afternoon I was at my writing circle (one of two I attend) and was chagrined that I had nothing new written for it ( somehow the "rock" theme just didn't get my creative juices oozing). But, as something to read, I brought a chapter of my book in progress, or I should say from one of my two books in progress. The piece I brought was not from my NANOWRIMO effort but from my "Betty Story" an unfinished murder mystery (who killed Rev. Kevin by incinerating him in his own car in his driveway and how will Janet help her friend wacky friend Betty, the minister's wife, find the killer?) I read them Ch. 4 where Betty who has done a scarper "phones home" after cycling all the way to Bah Habah, Maine, a piece which I hope I had not read them before. But what, you are saying, has all this got to do with 44 Scotland Street. Get to the bleedin' point. Right! This is what I read in McCall Smith's preface that grabbed me:

"Most books start with an idea in the author's head. This book started with a conversation that I had in California, at a party held by the novelist, Amy Tan, whose generostiy to me has been remarkable." [ Interested already as I like Amy Tan's books and Stephen King who wrote a great book on writing -as well as some great books- writes about Amy Tan and she seems like a neat lady, so I continued reading] McCall continues: " At this party I found myself talking to Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales of the City. Maupin had revived the idea of a serialised novel with his extremely popular serial in The San Francisco Chronicle. [ And I said to myself hmm what an intersting name Armistead, I must look him up- so I kept reading]

" When I returned to Scotland I was asked by the Herald to write an article about my California trip. In this article I mentioned my conversation with Maupin and remarked what a pity it was that newspapers no longer ran serialised novels. This tradition, of course, had been very important in the nineteenth century, with the works of Dickens being perhaps the best known examples of serialised fiction. But there were others, of course, including Flaubert's Madame Bovary, which nearly landed its author in prison. [Interesting] McCall Smith then goes on to describe how the editorial staff of the Scotsman decided to "accept the challenge which I had unwittingly put down" and at a lunch with him said said "You're on".

McCall Smith goes on to say " At that stage I had not really thought out the implications of writing a novel in daily instalments; this was a considerable departure from the weekly or monthly approach which had been adopted by previous serial novelists." [and I am thinking - doing that is just like Nanowrimo 'cause you have to write so much a day - only it has to be good enough to publish !!!] " However, such was the air of optimism at the lunch that I agreed." McCall Smith said. " The experience proved to be both hugely enjoyable and very instructive. "
[And I said to myself - what did he learn and how did he do it?]

"The structure of a daily serial has to be different from that of a normal novel. One has to have at least one development in each instalment and end with a sense that something more may happen. One also has to understand that the readership is a newspaper readership which has its own special characteristics. The real challenge in wriitng a novel that is to be serialised... is to keep the momentum of the narrative going without becoming too staccato in tone... Above all a serial novel must be entertaining. This does not mean that one cannot deal with serious topics, or make an appeal to the finer emotions of the reader, but one has to keep a light touch."

So I hope to learn something about writing - about how to continue my Betty story- and besides I like McCall Smith's writing, so there. I will be exploring 44 Scotland Street.


mamie said...

I hope I get to read the previous installments of your Betty story sometime. The part you read (at writing group)was fun in itself. By the way, I, too, like Amy Tan. Has she written anything recently?

canary said...

She has a new book out but I haven't read it.

Have you read the bone setter's daughter? I want to read that one next. I've only read her first two. Maybe I should put it or the new one on our list?

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)