Monday, 12 November 2012

A master at work - Ian Rankin

Whether you like crime fiction in general or Ian Rankin's work in particular, if you write novels you will be informed by a programme made by the BBC. It followed the six months in which he actually wrote his latest book, Standing in Another Man's Grave. He details the process of coming up with the idea from cuttings and notes accumulated over a period of months if not years, and we see him hesitate over each word of the first line. Gradually, the book emerges, complete with notes, thoughts, ideas - and still he doesn't know what's going to happen. He was still deciding 'who did it' as he wrote the last few pages.

 
Then the rewriting, redrafting, fact checking and polishing, working with his editor, grumping at changes he might need to make, until after six months, he is bored with the book and ready to let it go. To someone like me who a) doesn't extensively plot and b) has a deadline for book 2 of June next year, it's incredibly comforting. He doesn't work every day, he suggests he's lazy enough to hit the coffee shop and the crossword before he even sits down to type. But the words build up. Even though, I think like a lot of us, he has doubts about the book while he's writing it, he carries on. That's the message for me. I recognised the sentiment that when you sit down to write page 1 the book in your head is perfect, but as it gets translated onto the page, it becomes less and less perfect. It was a wonderfully helpful insight into a writer's process, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to write a novel.

9 comments:

  1. I hope this is shown on ABC over here because it sounds fascinating. There is something in the Edinburgh coffee houses that brings out genius.

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    1. I put the link on Donna, I hope it works for you! I'm thinking of moving to Edinburgh myself after the programme, great stuff!

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  2. It sounds amazing! I wish they transmitted it here in the US. I know of a lot of authors who would love to watch it. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Georgina, just a great insight into a working novelist's methods! I don't know if the link works for you in the US...

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  3. Thanks Reb, will bookmark to look at later.

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  4. So glad I'm not alone with the perfect in my head, not so perfect on the page dilemma. Thanks Rebecca. :)

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  5. There's something very comforting about the coincidence of a new writing buddy talking about an old one.

    I sat in an office with Ian back in the 80s when he was a staff writer, (and a very good one, too), on a Hi-Fi mag on which I sold ad space. He gave me the first bit of solid advice I ever had about writing fiction.

    It's always a bit weird watching him on the tv, but I'm off to have a look at this right now, because I think you and Ian would both agree with me that a coincidence, in life, at least, is a wonderful thing, even if, in fiction, it can feel like the most God-awful cop-out.

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    1. Well, I'd love to know what the advice was! I just enjoyed watching someone write with the same insecurities and frustrations as I suffer, and know he can overcome them at the end. I hope you enjoy the programme as much as I did, although it will be weird, as you say to see an old friend talking about work!

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