Thursday, 24 June 2010

What I Was (into)

I'm fascinated by the way that a book can provide a snapshot of our interests and preoccupations at the time we wrote it. Without Herman Melville's unhealthy obsession with the whaling industry, Moby Dick wouldn't exist. Similarly, Lolita wouldn't have been written without Vladimir Nabokov's unhealthy obsession with ... French literature (why, what did you think I was going to say?) When we're interested in extra-curricular stuff, it seems to worm its way onto the page - and not always for reasons that serve the story.

Six years ago, when I was writing my first (forever to be unpublished) novel, I was working in London and getting a lot of "culture". I'd recently discovered Tate Modern and somehow conceptual art worked its way into the plot. The wheeze was that an artist undertook something called "The Disappearing Act" and vanished completely for a year, reappearing just in time for a retrospective of their work. The tangible (and saleable) result of this art was a sealed account of how such a disappearance could be achieved in our surveillance culture. Another character then stole the details of this for their own disappearance.

I think all of this served the plot ok, but there was almost certainly a less complex way of achieving the same result. Having said that, it's an idea that's been mined by art and TV since (most recently by a man who hired detectives to find him for a documentary) so maybe I wasn't too far off-beam.

Similarly, the first draft of Back from the Dead had a lot of video games in it. I was playing some serious Resident Evil at the time and with the book being about zombies - as well as a teenage boy's reaction to them - the video game stuff seemed an ideal fit. If you've got a copy of Undiscovered Voices 2010 lying around, you can even see that the name of the zombie cure (Remedion 6) comes from a gag about it being one better than Resident Evil 5!

It was great fun to put Griff (my main character) in the house-that-technology-forgot and see how desperate he became for digital sustenance. This technology drought was also an effective way to prevent Griff from getting on the internet - which would have answered all of his expositional questions rather too quickly for my liking.

My favourite joke about all this (because it works on completely different levels for children and adults) was when Griff finally finds a computer in the house:
I realise that I haven’t played a video game in over ten months. Ten months! That’s practically child abuse.

In draft 2, however, this excerpt and almost all of the other technology stuff went. This may have partly been because I was now spending all of my time writing rather than with a gamepad in my hand. But on a narrative level, the technology references were either slowing the story down or were irrelevant. Sitting in a room playing video games - even if other characters are present - is not exactly dynamic for the reader. I needed Griff to be running away from real zombies, not virtual ones. But still, I mourn the passing of these things, because it felt like I'd lost a key way to connect with my male readership. And there was something else - knowing about video games made me look cool.

I don't get anywhere near enough opportunities to look cool.


1 comment:

  1. I loved these lines. Please put them somewhere.
    Oh, you did. Here.

    On a more serious note how much contemporary stuff dare a writer risk - it dates so quickly?