When the last copy was edited and the last proof was read and A Single Stone was finally off to the printers, I turned to my husband and said, “Well, that’s about as Bruce Willis as I get.”
He knew what I was talking about because he’d heard me muttering and ranting a lot during the writing process – Yes, but what actually *happens*? Raise the stakes! Back story over steaming broth is not a chapter!
And so on.
Things happen in A Single Stone. It contains actual plot. This may sound ridiculous, but for me, forward narrative movement is the hardest thing of all. I like to sit in the small moments – as a reader and a writer … as a person, those are what I’m most interested in. As silly as it sounds, I have to remind myself that things do need to happen in the story – and not just inside my characters’ heads. Hence the muttering and ranting. Hence my self-satisfied glow when I thought about the cracking pace and tension and high-stakes plot points I had finally managed to achieve in this book. I am fast-paced action thriller – HEAR ME ROAR!
Hence my wry smile when reviews started coming in on Goodreads:
A beautifully written, quiet adventure …
This was a slow-burning, unputdownable delight.
In a way, it moves quite slowly but I couldn’t put it down.
Quiet. Slow. No matter what I do, these words follow me. And even though I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter, the truth is that I’m quite happy to own them.
I have a new book out soon, this one for a younger readership. Shortly after Bella and the Wandering House went off to the printers, I was at an event and bumped into one of the editors who had worked on it. “Oh,” she said. “I just love Bella. It’s so quiet and lovely. It has this wonderful stillness at its centre, a sort of zen.”
These are beautiful words and I’m delighted by them. But they also elicit a wry smile. Because it was a very early draft of Bella and the Wandering House which evoked the following from a slushpile reader:
Lovely language … but can’t something more interesting happen?
This is a useful question for me, and has now become part of my internal editor. I heeded this advice when re-writing Bella and the final version has so much more story than that early draft. It is crammed chock full of interesting things, at least as I define ‘interesting’. But it remains, nonetheless, quiet and still.
So this is how I write, and there’s no escaping it, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t, no matter how people say attention spans are shrinking and pages need to turn quickly and you need to hook a reader and keep hooking them and just drag them through the story with a series of giant steel grappling hooks and …
I may be getting a little carried away. There are are many kinds of hooks of course. And perhaps quietness and stillness and a certain slowness of purpose can be their own particular variety.
Of course, not all readers say ‘slow but unputdownable’ or ‘quiet and beautiful’. Some just say This was so slow. It took so long for things to get moving. This book was boring from start to finish. What even happened in it? This could have been way more interesting/exciting/something-else-altogether.
My wry smile may be a little more strained when I read responses like that, but it’s still a smile. Because those readers are not wrong; they’re not wrong or right – they’re just not my readers. And I’m most likely not a reader of the kind of books they enjoy. Recently, I heard a new book described as ACTION FROM START TO FINISH! and while others were enthusing Woo-hoo! Can’t wait! So exciting! my brain had already turned away, muttering, No, thanks.
This is probably why I’ve written Bella and the Wandering House rather than Bella and the Zooming House or Bella and the Rocket Launcher. And as I prepare for Bella to make her way into the world, I’ll be reminding myself that her readers are out there. Sometimes they might be harder to spot, but perhaps that’s because they’re not noisemakers by nature. Perhaps they prefer to curl up in quiet corners, reading.