I completed my almost final draft of RIDING THE HIGH ROAD a month ago, and handed copies to a few people who have kindly agreed to read it, before I embark on my final edit.
Well, it ain’t over yet, but in this breathing space I have been playing catch-up with life, allowing a tad more lazing about time, as well as starting to research agents and markets for when I’m ready to send out the completed manuscript. I’m familiar with the process, having gone through it in 2009 with my first novel, WIRE ANGEL. I’ve bought the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and read the excellent articles that bring me up to date, but the business of pitching work to an agent doesn’t seem to have changed radically. I know about enquiry letters, synopses of various lengths, giving agents exactly what they ask for, researching their lists to see where I might fit in. This last, of course, requires being kind of up-to-date with contemporary fiction, particularly the type of in-the-present social realist stuff I write.
But I have to confess that in recent years I have been absorbed in a love affair with late 19th/early 20th century fiction, revisiting books I read in my teens without fully understanding their context, and discovering many more. Zola, Conrad, Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky – these are writers who fill me with awe for the way they place their stories within such a breathtaking sweep of their contemporary world. And while I don’t aspire to anything like the scale of their work, they do inspire me to look beyond the immediate lives of my characters and to acknowledge the social and political contexts that shape them. In RIDING THE HIGH ROAD I explore how those people of my generation who tried to live by the radical idealism of the 70s and early 80s are now faced with the increasing alienation and sense of social exclusion of many of their young adult offspring. What difference have all our ideals of alternative parenting actually made to these young people? It is with an half an eye out for such themes that I am embarking on a crash course in the contemporary fiction that I have shamelessly neglected for quite a few years (though I have been reading a fair amount of Scottish fiction and non fiction as much of my book is set in NW Scotland in the lead up to the independence referendum). I’m raiding friends’ bookshelves, scouring review pages, researching agents’ lists, and trying to prioritise reading as much as I can.
I’m handicapped by a slow reading speed, never having mastered speed reading. I like to think this means I remember the books I read better (or at least the ones that have an impact on me), but I can feel overwhelmed by the quantity of ‘must-reads’ required for the most cursory overview of contemporary literature. But I’ve made a start, trying to make more time than the minutes before dropping off to sleep at night. So far the book I’ve enjoyed the most is Karen Joy Fowler’s WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. I loved the tone of this book and the very original take on being brought up in an unconventional family.
Time is always an issue, and there is plenty else to catch up with in preparing to get the book out, competing, as always, with the demands of paid work and family and friends. I want to send off some short stories, connect more to the online writing community and build up my social media profile; all these are things I’ve neglected while pushing on with finishing the novel. For me this was the only way: getting my head down, getting it done. Now at last I can see above the water-level of the novel’s minutiae and start to look outwards again. And I am excited for it.