Thsi is an expansion of something I posted on my personal blog this month. I wanted to post itagain in part because not many people saw it there, and in part because it's the best news I've had in a long long time!
It's funny how things come at you out of the blue. This month, a surprise but wonderfully welcome announcement has turned my writing plans upside down.
A while ago I entered a "first lines" competition on the Harper Collins website Authonomy for a bit of a laugh. I entered the first line from The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes, a line I've always loved:
"It's nearly midnight and I've watched Agnieszka die 103 times since I woke."
Mine was one of 1208 entries. Anyway, this Tuesday I discovered, when someone posted this link on my Facebook wall, that I'd won.
Veronika von Volkova, perfectly captures the atmosphere of The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes)
Well that was wonderful for a flagging writerly ego. Then I realised what I'd won - a full whizz-bang book trailer from Crimson River (nice! the book's all about viral videos - I've even scripted a book trailer that never got made), a professioal cover, press kit, and a full editorial review. Now, this is a book I have always said I would never let an editor near. But I know it is in need of a huge reworking - the central character and much of his narrative is a mess. So I'd pretty much given up on the book and thought of it as useful practice for the book I'm currently trying to get into, a story of compassion, ultraviolence, parkour, street poetry and urban decay. Then I found out who'd be writing the editorial review: Scott Pack, otherwise known as the man who vies with me for the title of Murakami's number one fan (we once shared prizes in a competition to name-the-Murakami-covers-in-Murakami-style). Possibly the one person I'd trust to know what I was trying to do with the book.
And so I find myself in the unlikely position of being able to set my current project aside. Which is wonderful, because I just couldn't find a way in, and I feel I need a lot more time to get to know the Oxford parkour community and get immersed in their mindset from the inside rather than just flowing with the rather sentimentalist view I have of its philosophy. And I will be spending the next few months returning to, and plunging myself completely into, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes. Sometimes fate throws us an unexpected rope as we drown in the waters of creative undertainty, and it would be absurd to throw it back.
I know this is potentially the best thing I have written so far, it would be stupid of me not to follow this through. And take it properly seriously, which means I will be withdrawing form a lot of the other things I have been doing the past year or so in order that I don't say next year "I wonder what would have happened if..."
It also means that in the spirit of why and how I started writing Aggie, as I've come to know her, in the first place - as a social media fragmented novel to capture our fragmented, social media age and its unique dilemmas - I will be sharing much of that journey, aimed at a release in late March.
I hope you enjoy the ride - and I can promise some goodies along the way. I'll start with a pdf of my story "glass", which features one of the recurring themes in my work and a central theme in The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes - the way that galleries can act as magical spaces that are porous to other worlds where the laws of physics don't quite hold sway. Download it for free by clicking this link.
This leads me to something ever so slightly topical. We are seeing more and more references in the media to interactive writing. There was a long article about it in Monday's Guardian books blog. Jane Friedman's recent article on the subject was the topic for this Monday's #Litchat on twitter. And this year's Booker longlist contains a book with an enhanced electronic format, Ricard House's The Kills (not to be confused with my favourite band.
My experience of interactive, or engaged, or whatever you want to call it, writing with The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes was four years ago. And involved nothing higher tech than a Facebook group. But it opened my eyes to the possibilities, and to just how rewarding it can be to be that engaged with your readers throughout the writing process. It's also a wonderful way to build a community around your work. In many ways, it reminds me of the ancient communities and their oral storytelling, each community modifying their tales to tell thelessons most pertinent to them. With the proliferation of places offering a platform to write like this, it's something I'd encourage everone to at least try.