Sunday, July 02, 2006

This Writing Life

Ian Hocking, author of techothriller 'Deja Vu,' has a fantastic blog about his experiences in writing, plus writing in general. His first novel has gone on to win quite a lot of acclaim and two more, a sequel of sorts called 'Flashback' and a very promising comedy called 'Proper Job,' are in the works.

Since I'm at the editing stage of Adventure Eddy, I thought it would be a good idea to ask a seasoned veteran about the stages he went through when putting together a book. Ian very kindly obliged. Anybody who aspires to be an author will find this fascinating stuff.

Obviously, all of us writers have ideas flitting around our brains. But at what point did you sit up (or sit down) and decide: Based on that thought, I need to write a novel?

I've been writing fiction since I was a teenager. I don't think I had a definite plan to write a novel, but, as sixteen-year-old, I was daunted by the size of a novel, and tried to cobble one together from a few short stories. The result: a complete disaster. But I learned a lot from the experience and wrote two more novels before I sat down to write 'Deja Vu', which was published in January 2005. The impulse to write that novel was simply 'Well, I suppose I'd better get on with it'. I didn't have any overall plan for the novel, but I had some interesting characters and an interesting situation, and wondered how far I could take it.

You wrote a 120,000 word novel. How? Did you plan it out? did you sit down and write it? Did you get writer's block? Did you need to go back and change stuff you'd written? Or did it all vomit out from your brain onto the page?

With Deja Vu, I wanted to make sure that first draft was written in one go without any stoppage, even if I thought it was going badly. So I planned to write 500 words a day, seven days a week. That's not too hard; it's like keeping a diary. Eventually, after about five months, I had the first draft of a book.

You stress the importance of editing very strongly in your blog. Just how different was your first draft of, say, Deja Vu from the finished product? How did you go about editing it?

The first draft of Deja Vu was 120, 000 words, and the published version is 69,000. That means I've reduced its length by 50,000 words - seems like a lot, but, honestly, there were no significant changes to the story overall. Those deleted words were unneeded. Adverbs, descriptive passages, an unnecessary character or two. Of course, editing is more than deletion, and I added a lot too. In fact, I re-wrote the first half of the book from scratch using the original draft as a guide. I was helped a lot by my editor at the UKA Press, Aliya Whitely (whose book 'Three Things About Me' is about to be released by Macmillan New Writing). She prepared a report full of suggestions (an editor never really directs you make changes; oh no, that would be to easy). Essentially, it boils down to: What is the bare skeleton of wordage needed to tell the story? Anything beyond that should be excised. This is particularly true of the thriller genre, but probably holds for most others too, with the possible exception of the literary genre. For me, editing is vitally important. An unedited book is like an unprepared actor going on stage; some are talented improvisers, but most will die on their arse.

I think that's fascinating. Thanks a million, Ian.

Ian's excellent website, plus details of his books, can be found at

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