LIAN TANNER

Writing two books at once

March 31st, 2018

When I get to a certain stage in writing a novel, the next book starts to gnaw at me.

Not always. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to write next, and the mere thought of writing anything else makes me feel nauseous. Which is a good indication I need a holiday.

But right now, the gnawing is rather like the mouse that lives under the floorboards in my kitchen. I assume it’s a mouse. Sometimes it sounds more like a beaver. It keeps Harry pacing up and down the kitchen, trying to work out where the noise is coming from. And every now and again, it makes me wonder if a large hole is suddenly going to appear in the floor, like one of those sinkholes that swallows houses.

That’s what the next book is like. It wants to be written. It needs to be written.

But it’ll be a while yet before I get to it. I’ve just got the copy edit notes for the second Rogues book back from my editor, and there’s a nice little puzzle there that I need to work out before I go to New Zealand. Then I need to finish the third Rogues book.

And then I can get to the new one.

In the meantime, all I can do is make notes.

Last year, I tried writing two books at once. I thought I’d write the main book – the one I’ve got a contract for – in the morning. Then, late in the afternoon, I’d spend a couple of hours on something else.

The ‘something else’ wasn’t a full-length novel. It was more of a novella, and I thought that if I played the right sort of games with my unconscious mind, I could keep it separate from the main book.

Years ago, I heard a radio interview with author Sue Woolfe, where she tried the same thing. I seem to remember she was writing a novel downstairs, and a non-fiction book about mathematics upstairs. Trying to keep them separate. Only she found that the maths book walked down the stairs and insinuated itself into the novel.

That’s not quite what happened to me. I just found that my head was full of the novel and there was no room for the novella, which meant that every day I had to spend half an hour thinking myself back into the story. So I lost patience with it.

What I have found is that I can work on really short books at the same time as the novel. Picture books. Early readers. That sort of thing. And they’re a nice break from the novel.

What am I reading?

This gorgeous gorgeous book.

‘Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, feeding the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, and the ordinary child is filled with extraordinary magic.’

This is everything I love about a children’s book. It’s almost a fairytale, but not quite. The writing is exquisite, the story is both funny and dark, and the danger is huge.

I’m also reading Reflections on the magic of writing by Diana Wynne Jones, a collection of essays, anecdotes, and thoughts in general about writing. As you would expect from such an author, it’s fascinating.

Other news:

The shortlist for the Children’s Book Council awards came out this week, and Accidental Heroes wasn’t on it, which was no great surprise. What was on it, to my delight, was The Shop at Hooper’s Bend, by Emily Rodda. It’s the only one of the middle grade shortlist I’ve read, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Here’s the whole shortlist. http://www.cbca.org.au/short-list-2018

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