The first post of this blog was written just on a year ago, and at that time I was already working on my novel, Kaos. Since then quite a lot has gone on in my miserable excuse for an existence, including working for the man for eight or nine months. But now that’s done, and so is Kaos.
Or I hope so. I have finished what I hope is the final run-through, and sent it off to the artist and formatter to have the things done to it that it needs to have done before it can join its siblings on the net.
Of course I want it to be the book I had in mind when I started, and when I finished. I want it to be good too, and it certainly would be a wonderful thing if it ah “went viral” and had millions of readers, who would of course then go on to read my other books.
Is this likely to happen? Sadly, no.
Will it stop me from writing? No.
From go to whoa as New Zealanders say, Kaos has taken longer to write than any of my other books. That’s not entirely true in the sense that Evilheart, my second novel and the first to grace the public eye, took a year to write and was revised a number of times later on, the last time just before it went up onto the net as an e-book. Evilheart was however written before e-books existed so the revisions don’t count, at least to me.
To my mind Kaos is my best book, so far. The writing is better, the plot is quite interesting, and the weak parts – which exist in any book of any sort according to me – are not much to worry about. My last run-through was a “read aloud” version and I found myself admiring some of the prose. Amazing! My own stuff! Good! Wow!
Good writing is only part of what makes a good book, and may even stand in the way of certain kinds of books being good. Readers may think otherwise, but a “rattling good yarn” matters more, and rattling good yarns come not from good writing but good plotting. Many best-selling writers write very poorly, awkwardly, very far from stylishly, yet their books sell in the millions. Dan Brown is only the latest of a very shall we say distinguished line of rattling good yarn spinners whose writing is weak. One reviewer said of his latest effort, Inferno, that the writing was much improved but that it was his worst book so far!
Writers like Dan Brown, who provide “rattling good yarns” composed of poor prose dominate fiction. Recently the village where I live in New Zealand held its annual book sale. There were some great writers represented – Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. But their offerings were miniscule next to the Dan Browns, and their ilk…yards of Dan and Stephen King and Wilbur Smith compared with a few WS plays, one Fyodor novel (Brothers Karamazov in its least good translation), one copy of War and Peace.
What this says to me is that most readers are not interested in “good writing”. They want “good reading”. They are the punters too, the ones who pay, and they are quite entitled to want what they want. My aim as a writer has been to give them what they want, while also giving them some “good writing”, and beyond that, some intellectual, “serious” extras that usually don’t come wrapped up in the thriller genre where so far I have worked. One of my few mantras about my aim is that I have a “serious purpose in a frivolous genre”, that I would like the “goodness” in my work to go down easy with readers who are there for the good read, but also to have something to reward the serious reader.
Does Kaos do that? I want it to. Shakespeare did it. Nowadays people think him too elevated to read, or to go see on stage, but the reality is that he was competing not only with other playwrights but with bear-baiting! He had to do the job, to get the “groundlings” to pay to catch his stuff. Shakespeare was not, that is to say, writing for the upper crust, or not for them alone. He wanted to appeal from the top to the bottom of society, and he did.
Of course I am not Shakespeare, but my aim is not that far removed from his. I would like to write books that stay in the mind, that are more than a “good read”. But they have to be a good read first, one that leaves no bodice unripped, no dagger unplunged, no corpse deodorised*. Titus Andronicus fed a woman’s children to her in a pie.I have yet to contrive a story that allows for that. Kaos however has its own “out there” elements, and I hope readers find them compelling and go beyond that to find the “message” interesting.
If you have got this far, thanks for reading.
*But if I write a zombie novel, undead!