I spent yesterday afternoon at an event associated with the London Book Fair, which is in full swing from today through Tuesday at Olympia. The Daily Mail Book Club sponsors a set of 'masterclasses': a conference hall of would-be writers gathers to scoop up pearls of wisdom from those in the industry. (Oh joy! I no longer have to go to the one called How To Get Published!!) Yesterday afternoon, two of my favourite writers, Rose Tremain and Graham Swift, were there to talk about contemporary fiction, though in the event the questions were more about the process of writing a book, especially the inner processes and the emotions associated with them. About 300 of us lapped up every word as Rose Tremain described finishing 'Restoration' on a diet of toast, yogurt and sherry and recalled how the pencil-scrawled draft of her second novel met a leaking bottle of olive oil in a suitcase on her way home from holiday.
Asked about narrative structure, Graham Swift described his approach as musical. He feels his way through the structure according to emotions, he explained (this is a rough paraphrase, by the way), and suggested that the emotional charge associated with different parts of the book is something close to music because it is beyond the words themselves; it has to exist as a driving force before the words come into being.
This does ring some kind of deep bell at the back of my mind and somehow relates to my pre-caffeine musings about the relationship between music and writing the other day. Would a composer set out to write a piece of music without having a pretty good sense of the kind of structure he/she wants to create?
For my new book, I've mapped out a detailed skeleton of What Happens When to guide me through the maze. RT and GS yesterday both said that they don't do this, however. A novel is an adventure and must be approached with an adventurous spirit, suggested Swift. They both have a good idea of where their story is going, but are willing to be diverted to some extent as they make discoveries along the way. I was reassured to hear that Malcolm Bradbury used to go for the skeleton approach!
Meanwhile spring is beginning here in London. The daffodils are coming out and Solti the cat is going nuts (even though he's been 'done'). It's a time for hope and for clearing out the filing cabinets and for thinking ahead rather than back. Nice...