Today I completed the first draft of a new political thriller. It’s quite short at 82k words. It’s set mostly in London.

I’ve been working on it since November 17.  It’s not special in any way as far as thrillers go. It’s pretty run-of-the mill. But it’s been a different experience compared to its predecessors.

Usually, the writing of these books becomes a hard slog at some point, often around half way, and sometimes from start to finish. This, however, was more like a long, exhilarating, breathless black run on the ski slopes. I enjoy a certain amount of physical risk and every chapter felt risky, and not only because each page was a plunge into the unknown. I couldn’t write fast enough. It propelled me forward at speed, so that I had to force myself to slow down. I wrote on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, too. I didn’t stop. It doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse, only different and certainly more pleasurable. For I don’t write for anyone else, only myself. I couldn’t do it otherwise.

(I did take days off, I admit. I might not have written anything down then, but I used the time to dwell in the tale, to picture the characters in my mind’s eye, to imagine the next chapter. So it was work, after a fashion, because I don’t plan anything.)

The reasons for the change aren’t entirely clear to me. For one thing, there are three main point-of-view characters, and dozens of walk-on parts. This may have helped give it momentum; their conflicts and relationships probably provided some of the narrative fuel.

The plot is central from the outset. In fact, from the very first line. In the past, the plot has emerged by itself during the course of the writing.

Another possible reason is that last year I gave up on two partially written novels that were an effort and which I realised – at around 50k words – weren’t working. And at the beginning of last year, I completed a historical novel on an obscure subject that wasn’t going to be commercial. If I’d had the talent of say, Australia’s brilliant Thomas Kenneally, it might well have been very different, but I don’t. I have to learn to write within my limited literary means as we all have to learn to live within our financial means.

So these failures – which is what they were, though useful learning experiences – may have helped create the impetus.

They weren’t total write-offs, though. I managed to salvage sections for use in the latest thriller.

Later today I should hear from an experienced agent and editor who is expected to come up with her editorial assessment of the first 30k of my latest. All she’s said up to now is that she’s enjoying it very much, but I bet she’s just being nice, and says that to all her clients. Which not to belittle her comment, for being nice in this savage, unscrupulous and self-destructive world is not to be undervalued.

One of my daughters says I write ‘very masculine’ novels, which is one (tactful) way of putting it. Like many other male writers of thrillers and adventures, my efforts at genre fiction tend to focus on externals rather than feelings, are quite violent, and delve into physical conflicts of one kind or another. Externalities, not interiorities. (Are those really words? I think the former is an economics term). Anyway, that’s why I wanted an experienced female editor and agent to look it over and comment on it.

We shall see…

 

Later:

Here’s some of what the editor had to say in her assessment which she sent overnight:

‘I really, really enjoyed these pages and you definitely have something here. It’s clear that you understand how a thriller such as this one should be structured and the chapters of different viewpoints works extremely well. I found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what was going to happen next – exactly what you want to happen for a reader. I found nothing wrong with your structure and have no comment about the order of the chapter or the order of the viewpoints except to say that I think they all work effectively.

‘The differing character viewpoints are equally strong and I don’t feel at this point, 30,000 words into the manuscript, that you have a weak link…’

Sounds good.

So now I’ll settle down to tackle her suggested tweaks…But before I get carried away with my own brilliance (ego), I remind myself of this:

‘Popular success is a palace built for a writer by publishers, journalists, admirers, and professional reputation makers, in which a silent army of termites, rats, dry rot, and death-watch beetles are tunnelling away, till, at the very moment of completion, it is ready to fall down.’

Cyril Connolly
Enemies of Promise, 1938

John Fullerton, January 2024

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