Colin Tucker

London-based novelist, writer and screenwriting coach

A PEDANT WRITES

Feeling more than a little paralysed right now by the long wait for responses to DOUGLAS. I have various possible ideas for the next epic, but until I get some feedback I find it difficult to get convinced by any of them.

So I thought I’d post an observation about the odd misuse of a particular word: careening. I’ve seen this used several times now in published novels as a sort of variation on the word careering in the sense of hurtling fast towards an object, with the added implication of being slightly out of control. But to careen doesn’t mean that at all. Absurdly, the dictionary definition is ‘to tilt to one side’ and it derives from ship repairing. In dry dock the ship is tilted to one side to have its bottom scrubbed clean of whatever grot is attached to it, barnacles, seaweed, etc.

So a very specific word is being weakened by its misuse in a totally unnecessary way.

OK, I plead guilty, I’m a pedant.

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THE NEXT BIG THING

Last week Emma Swift tagged me in her next big thing blog. So here’s how it works: an author answers the ten questions below on his/her blog and then tags five authors/unfortunate victims to do so the week after.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

DOUGLAS BROWN, RUNNING DOWN

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease and I’d always been sure of one thing: I wasn’t going to write about it. I could imagine the Parkinson’s novel, a depressive gloomy off-putting turgid miserabilist disease-of-the-week moan with bucketloads of fake chinuppery to leaven it. Gawdelpus, no, who’d want to read that?

However, however… slowly, slowly… my thinking changed, and I came round to the idea that I could perhaps write a novel involving a character with ol’ Parky’s (as Douglas calls it), but only if it had a strong thread of  black comedy running through it. And if the disease was peripheral to the story.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Genre? Is there a genre ‘unclassifiable’?

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Owen Wilson as Douglas? Eddie Izzard? Whoever it is would need a light touch, but also an ability to deal with the darker moments. Today’s equivalent of Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon would be perfect for Brook. As for Cerberus… no, I’m baffled, I’ve no idea who could play her.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A rag-bag shuffle through a chaotic mind involving love, punch-ups, teenage misery, art theory, desperation and and appropriately desperate gags.

To which list could be added London bus routes, the function of piers, more desperation, the curious taste of John Innes Number 3 compost, muff-diving and an imaginary dog .  I could go on…

Alternatively:

A superficially comic novel about a forty-year-old who has early onset Parkinson’s.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s represented by Britt Pfluger and she’s currently waiting for publishers to appreciate the gem that’s being offered them. Come on guys, you’ll love it, you will, honestly. Trust me, I’m a writer.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Approx. six months, the last couple of months a mad charge banging out a steady 5,000 plus words a week.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Flann O’Brien’s At-Swim-Two-Birds is a fabulous mixture of reportage and fantasy which bears some tangential relationship to my story. Not much, but some.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Ol’ Parky’s. The bastard.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The pace. It doesn’t hang about. Story, story, story, I believe in story, in cutting to the chase. I don’t care for fat books, swollen with local colour. Plus the narrative shifts, perhaps? It’s mostly in Douglas’ voice but five others chip in from time to time, including his sixteen-year-old daughter, who’s a major player in the narrative. And there’s always the comedy and, when the mask slips, what lies beneath it.

As of right now – being an innocent in the ways of blogging – I haven’t fulfilled my quota of taggees, and am waiting for several replies. My signed-up victims so far are:

Adele Ward

Adele is a poet, novelist and publisher with a poetry collection called Never-Never Land and a novel called Everything is Free out in print and on Kindle. As Everything Is Free is a dark, alternative Christmas novel, it will soon be free for three days as a slightly different seasonal gift. When not writing, editing or singing with Rock Choir, she is a shameless drinker of wine at writing events around London because she doesn’t get out very much. That’s her excuse anyway.

Lucy Claire Hounsom

Lucy Hounsom is a writer of fantasy fiction and a recent graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her novel, Naris Deep, is the first in a planned trilogy set in the sundered worlds of Mariar and Acre. You can find out more by visiting her blog, Sylvan Historian.  Her short fiction features in the October edition of Inkspill,  a magazine set up by Bedford Square graduates as a platform for emerging creative and literary talent. She lives in Devon and is currently working on the sequel to Naris Deep.

Andrew W.  Campbell

As well as lecturing in English grammar at community colleges, North Carolina-native Andy Campbell works with gifted youngsters through the Duke Talent Identification Program, teaching Symbols & Structure: Uncovering the Unconscious, Words That Matter, Shaking-Up Shakespeare, and Totally Epic: The Hero’s Journey in Myth and Media. His blog, From a Gryphon’s Quill, touches upon mutant frogs, redacting the Bible, growing up geeky, and conversations with his students.

A SAMPLE

So what is this book? I tried to write a one-sentence synopsis:

A rag-bag shuffle through a chaotic mind involving love, punch-ups, teenage misery, art theory and desperate gags.

Any the wiser?

Alternatively:

An occasionally serious but mostly comic novel about a forty-year-old who has early onset Parkinson’s.

So here’s a sample of what goes on in Douglas’ head:

Should’ve taken the stuff, the levodopa anyway. Dire warnings from the neuro-bods of disasters if you miss out. Don’t give a fuck, don’t want to take it. Had enough of the side-effects, the puppet on a string act for today. I’ll get home before I freeze. With luck. Make it from Canonbury down Essex Road, going well, not far now, here’s a landmark, tiny triangle of urban garden, Islington Green, ha, what a name, the village green, I should coco, oh-oh, not going so well, don’t like this, slowing up, slowing down, up, down, same thing, why is that?, no, defo not good, legs won’t pick up feet, now into shuffle mode, come on baby you can do it, hallo, what’s this what’s this, saved!, a bench, pleasant bench, mild night, keel over. Immobility! Good bench, nice bench.

Hallo, here’s trouble. Pissed-off wino thinks I’m hogging it. I am. Takes a swing at me. Keels over himself. Gorra laugh. Have a nap? Flights of angels required, where d’you order ‘em, though? Bloody angels, never around when you want them. Cops’ll pick me up instead. They know me, mostly friendly, used to catatonic Parkinsonians keeling over. Well, used to me keeling over. I’m – as I hope I’ve established – a bit of a one-off.

– Cunt.

Ah, stinking breath, he’s up again.

– No mate, I’m the other variety.

Grabs my shirt.

– If it’s tits you’re after, no luck there either.

Gobs on me. The camaraderie of the homeless.

On the gravel now, face down, weight on my back. Standing on me? Rotate face to left, scraping nose as do so. Interested be-suited passer-by pauses, why aren’t you home watching Paxman? Two alkies scrapping more your thing? Course it is, fascinating insight into social decay, the tragedy of inner-city dereliction, go on, take a photo. Bastard keeps kicking my ribs. Flash goes off. No power in him, though, he’s a pussycat really. Gravel in hair is tedious. Second flash. Another feeble foot pokes rather than kicks. The suited one is chatting on his mobe. Ah, yes, citizen’s duty, summon the majesty of the law. Alkie abandons hopeless task, settles on bench. Ribs intact but sore.

I know, displacement’s going on. Can’t help it. What to do anyway? No idea where she is, who the feller is, if he’s of any importance, nothing to go on. Might as well settle for a rib-tickling experience. Kirsty, Kirsty, Kirsty, I’m a useless dad, I know, but I love you, kiddo, I do, I do, but what can I do, how can I help?

Pass, next question.

Waah-waah, waah-waah, here they come.

THE CURSE OF STRUCTURE

The novel and the screenplay: thinking on.

The Guardian recently produced a supplement which depressed the shit out of me. How To Write A Novel In Thirty Days. Which turned out to be rubbish; it was in reality How To Structure A Novel In Thirty Days. That’s what really depressed me. It followed the path well trodden in the film world by writers such as Sid Field whose basic tenet is the same; don’t actually write anything until your structure is in place. The glorious process of discovery is banned; the intellect takes over from the heart, instinct is kicked out in favour of logic. This structure-first approach may work if you want to write bottom-feeding disease-of-the-week tv movies but for anything half-way decent? In my many many years as a screenwriting tutor I’ve slowly refined my thinking, simplifying it, reducing it to a core of thought which runs like this:

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CREDO

I believe:

1. Every script is unique, and the discovery of what it is that makes it unique is essential if the writer is to achieve something of value.

2. Work on the script must proceed from the inside to the surface. The audience perceives the surface but is moved, unknowingly, by the buried life of the film.

3. Structure is simply a way of formalising the unique quality of a script in a manner satisfying for an audience.

4. Every film has a structure that is particular to it, and that needs to be discovered. Films may proceed through rigid formality. They may proceed through haphazard accidents. They make contain both. There is no pre-ordained structure into which films must be fitted.

5. The first draft is the antenna of the film; it senses and locates the basic humanity that lies inside the project. What is this film about? What is it saying? What is unique about it?

6. Humanity, life – a good film needs little more than this as its basis.

7. Structure is the means by which the essence of the film is delivered to best advantage. It is a technical consideration and as such should come late in the process.

8. The process of script development is therefore not one of imposition but rather one of exploration and discovery and, finally, finally, of enhancement through the contemplation of structure.

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Is it not the same for the novel?

My brief experience tells me that it is.  An example:

My central character, Douglas, goes to interview an elderly artist.  He rings the bell – brrrring-brrrring – and as I wrote this I thought: the artist shouldn’t answer. Someone else should. So I wrote, in Douglas’ voice, from his perspective:

Midget presents herself.

I’ve no idea why I wrote this. But a character was suddenly there, five foot tall, tubby, dyed pink hair, sharp-witted – and within a few more pages Douglas has fallen for her completely and she has become central to the story.

And she emerged not through an intellectual, logical process dictated by structural demands but purely instinctively, on the spur of the moment, without any rational thought whatsoever.

Midget presents herself.

Three words, unanticipated, inexplicable, essential.

BIOGRAPHY

A bit about myself:

I had some success writing television drama in the 1970’s but that stopped when I crossed over to sit behind a desk as a script editor (on Play For Today – flagship dramas) and then became a producer of television drama. Award-winning productions included PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE and AMONGST WOMEN. I then retired from producing and switched to teaching at the London Film School while continuing to work as a script advisor, running workshops throughout Europe for SOURCES, part of the EU Media Programme.

I’d never written prose, but always wanted to so a couple of years ago I did the Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway. Since then I have written two novels, DAR (unpublished) and – just completed – DOUGLAS BROWN, RUNNING DOWN. A short story THE GOAT won a Global Short Story competition earlier this year.

I’ve started this blog, among other reasons, to explore my prose writing, to try to define what it is that makes me want to write prose in a particular way. I realise that I’m inevitably a prisoner of my own past in the world of film and television drama; I cannot escape the consequences of this long immersion in what is a radically different form of expression. One simple point to illustrate this difference: the screenwriter doesn’t need to describe locations in much detail since the look of the film will depend on what the location manager comes up with, on how the director wants to use the location, and above all on what the production designer’s vision is. One or two brief notes outlining the general mise-en-scene will suffice.

For me this became a struggle when I started to write prose. DAR (the familiar name for the Tanzanian seaport Dar-Es-Salaam), attempted to do this and was I think reasonably successful. But to some extent DAR was an exercise in writing a fairly traditional novel. It was in the third person, with occasional drifts into free indirect style, and it tried to describe the place and the people in reasonable depth. But it wasn’t somehow me. Nevertheless it achieved one excellent result: Britt Pfluger took me on as a client.

DOUGLAS BROWN is much looser, a freewheeling journey in the company of a chaotic mind. I’ve thrown in a few hints, suggestions of place, but mostly I’ve attempted to let them emerge only when necessary, out of the demands of the story. The result is I think more immediate, edgier, pacier. It’s much more me. Britt  now has it with several publishers.

I carried this a stage further with THE GOAT. This has two locations; the central character’s flat gets a few nods to indicate what it probably looks like, but the other location, a pub, isn’t described at all. Nor are the six characters Trevor encounters there described in any way. The reader has to work it out. If you want to read it go to:

http://www.globalshortstories.net/marwinners2012.pdf

Maybe this is pure perversity. I’m currently reading a very good novel, Poppy Adams’ THE BEHAVIOUR OF MOTHS, and it’s saturated with the most detailed, and brilliant, descriptions. Is it that I fear I can’t compete?

71 and starting a blog… ohmigawd

Here I am at The Literary Consultancy office at the Free Word Centre sitting with Kristen Harrison from The Curved House and getting under way with…

colin tucker at social media training for authors

… my opening blog.

Me? Londoner with colonial upbringing, background in television as a script editor and then producer. Wrote stuff for TV drama in the 70’s then stopped writing through critical overload. But! Did an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway (thanks Andrew Motion, Susanna Jones, Jo Shapcott) and am now reinventing myself as a prose writer.