Today is the first day back at school for teachers and children across the UK. In fact, as I write this I can hear the primary school children at the school behind my house noisily enjoying their break - a strange thing, as it reminds me that I would have been on break duty too right now. The start of a new school year feels like embarking on an uncertain kind of adventure: gradually getting the measure of new classes and separating out the individual personalities of the children from the group, trying to absorb a hundred different memos and emails at once, reacquainting yourself with familiar friends and students, often with strange new suntans and haircuts.
But as some of you already know, rather than returning to teaching this year I'm embarking on a different kind of adventure and beginning this year as a full-time writer. I don't know how long this state of affairs will last - it may be a few months, or longer - but this is my second day of official writerdom and I'm feeling very positive about it so far. Yesterday I wrote several pages of notes and made a tiny inroad into the research I've got planned for the next few months. Today, it's more reading, thinking and planning. So what am I working on? Well, a project that I hope will eventually become my fourth novel.
I can't tell you much about this project yet, mostly because I don't know much about it myself. The process of creating a new piece of work is more discovery than design, at least at this stage. It's a case of exploring and researching new territory, illuminating the way as you go - until, on looking back, a pattern emerges, a thread that you can follow that hasn't quite been followed in that direction before by anyone else. Here's what I can say so far:
- This will be a completely different story - and it does feel very like starting again with a debut novel
- It will also probably end up being a novel read by adults (although not FOR adults in any exclusive way - I've always believed that readers read whatever speaks to them, regardless of their age, gender, background or any other variable, and every such reader belongs to a book's 'audience').
- In terms of genre, The Last Descendants has always been on contested ground between several genres and modes of speculative and realist writing. This book is simpler: because of the way my style and treatment of subjects has crystallised over the last few years, it will almost definitely fall somewhere within the borders of literary fiction (although I also realise those borders are also, and should be, up for negotiation).
- The settings, rather than imagined ones, will be European ones.
- But in spite of these differences the book will still contain many of the things that are most important to me as a writer - characters and relationships and a blend of realism and heightened reality and a style that finds voice somewhere between lyricism and minute, detailed realism - because every book a writer creates, I think, has their trademark style and way of seeing imprinted on every sentence.
I know that only gives a very rough idea of the kind of book I'm working on, but for now that's what I can say for (almost) certain, and I think it explains where I'm coming from as a writer as I move on from The Last Descendants into new territory. Every day I discover more about what this story might become. I'll share whatever I can as the process continues.
I've also been in touch with my editor, Amy, who is preparing her notes for The Heart at War. I'm eager to hear her thoughts on the story, and of course some of this year will be spent working on The Heart at War in the run-up to publication, a stage I really enjoy. As soon as I have a tentative publication date I will let you know about it here.
So in all, it looks like it will be an exciting year.
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