Generally Speaking (about Bookshops)
Although there is undoubtedly a few collections of poetry that are criminally bad, you wouldn’t head to the crime section of a bookshop in order to find them. Equally true, you wouldn’t expect to find the bookshop’s cafe in the cookery section. Bookshops like to put books into sections according to the type of story or topic they are about, because customers like to know where they are going to be able to find the types of books that they want to read.
But I was finding it difficult to decide exactly what sort of novel I am writing! It seems to not fit neatly into any one genre, and there don’t seem to be many examples of novels that are similar to what I am writing.
My novel does have a homeless character (two of them in fact). One of whom is one of two protagonists, the other is the antagonist; but it is not a book where homelessness is the focus of the story.
The second protagonist is a Civil Servant working for the Department for Transport in the Westminster area of London. He has a job not hugely dissimilar to the job I used to do when I worked for a previous version of the Department at the turn of the twenty-first century. The lives of the two protagonists come together with opposite effects. The homeless girl’s life seems to improve, whilst the Civil Servant’s seems to fall apart. It isn’t dissimilar to the film Sliding Doors, where a split in time allows the viewer to follow both path’s the protagonist’s life could take. But my novel isn’t really that either.
I noticed an online course on writing crime fiction being advertised by Cardiff University. I thought that sounded interesting, and that the act of writing and thinking about writing would help my current work-in-progress. So I signed up.
I enjoyed the first 10-week course very much, and I have some ideas that might be material for a solid crime novel in due course. But there were also opportunities to develop my novel’s antagonist, who is planning a terrorist action.
I signed up for Further Adventures in Crime Fiction, the second 10-week online course with Cardiff University, and I aimed to use it as much as I could to extend my main novel. The more I thought about and developed the terrorism plot, the more my novel began to feel, if not a crime novel, then maybe a thriller.
It was comforting to finally have a pigeonhole into which I felt a bookshop would be able to place it — assuming it ever gets finished and published!
The consequence of knowing what type of novel I am writing is that I can start to trim some of the sub-plots. I am aware that sometimes I include things that don’t really serve any function in moving the plot forward. I have also been able to decide whether the types of characters I have in each role are correct. Mostly they are, but my research into crime fiction has enlightened me that the Detective Chief Inspector role I had written a scene about, probably didn’t need to have such a senior role, and so I have reduced her to a Detective Inspector!
This week I have mainly been focussing on my poetry. I’ve been in a stalemate regarding my first collection. I had intended to develop the dissertation from my MA into my first collection, but it just didn’t seem to hang together. It comprises a sequence of eighteen monologue poems that are, in effect, a short story in verse. This is followed by a group of about thirty other poems which have no continuous theme running through them and which are not connected to the monologue poems in any way. I just had the nagging feeling that they would probably work better as two separate pamphlets.
But a window for poetry collections opened yesterday with Broken Sleep Books. I attended a Zoom launch for five of their publications recently, and I like what they did and I like their attitude to poetry, and I really want to try my collection there. So I started thinking about how to resolve the uneasiness I have about the two halves of my collection. I don’t know why, but I was thinking about the title of the overall collection. The monologue sequence is called Plastic Life, so my collection was going to be Plastic Life and Other Poems. I wondered what I’d call the other poems if I did them as a separate pamphlet. I mean, if I’d ended the collection with the monologue poems, a collection title of Other Poems and Plastic Life would be pretty crap! But I suddenly twigged, that was the answer! With the other poems not having a unifying theme, then Plastic Life following them would not seem awkward, whereas the other poems following Plastic Life seemed like a cut and shut auto wreck job!
So this week I have been deciding on a draft order for my other poems set, particularly which poem(s) will lead nicely into the Plastic Life sequence. I’m intending to include maybe half a dozen more poems into the first draft before I take a look at how the collection works as a whole. I’m definitely feeling much happier about the shape of the collection, and the fact that I might have it in a form suitable for publishing 🙂