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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Pre-Holiday Blah

I’m off on me holidays tomorrow so today has been taken up with those glamorous last minute jobs like:

Dropping off the cats to their eye-wateringly expensive cattery where each cat is housed in a two story chalet with litter tray and comfy cushions. Only we’re sticking the two in together because we’re cheap. There was a whole row of these chalets full of sullen cats, like those elderly people you see on British beaches, with blankets on their knees as the wind whistles by. We left Charlie having a poo and Lola glaring at us, nose pressed against the mesh. ‘It’s like the Paw-shank redemption’ said Husband wittily.

Clearing out the fridge – the liquefied vegetables, the brown lettuce, the limp carrots. Wiping stuff. Sniffing stuff. Quietly retching.

Asking The Boy to clean up his room before we go. A truly pointless exercise, even though his room smells like very old curry and sick. With a hint of death.

Deep breathing because I hate flying. I begged my doctor for a few sedatives, but his only concern was that I might be too out of it to ‘care for the children’. I decided not to say, ‘Yeah? So?’ but politely reassured him that Husband would be there too, while thinking ‘Wanker’. Surely being mildly out of it is better than getting bladdered? But even so, I keep thinking of the safety card in the back of the airline seat – the one that shows the plane floating on the sea. As Jack Dee said: ‘I don’t care if it floats. It’s supposed to fucking fly!’ I did find this useful set of hints though, by a Professor Robert Bor who is a psychologist and a qualified pilot which is oddly comforting. I'm still swallowing those sedatives though.

Ooh and sorting out my holiday reading. I’m bringing Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it’s so lovely to have a Booker nominee you actually want to read! And Lisa Jewell’s new book, The Truth About Melody Browne because I love her.

See you in a couple of weeks and happy holidays!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Abridging a book

Over the last month, I’ve been slicing and dicing a book for Radio 4, from its original 70 thousand words down to 22 thousand which works out as ten episodes each with 2,200 words. At the same time I’ve been thinking about plotting a book, and during my arsing about trying to avoid work research I found this totally marvellous blog which gives very useful advice on how to write a tight synopsis. The writer’s name is Beth Anderson and she writes thrillers which I’m sure you know are driven by a watertight plot and fast pacing. Anyway, I’ve abridged several books now and it basically means taking out anything that doesn’t drive the narrative forward. Firstly you have to read the book a couple of times to get a feel for it. Then you go through cutting any sub plots or anything that doesn’t move the narrative forward, while retaining the basic story. Then you go through again, and this time you might have to make decisions about cutting bits of the main narrative. This will often lead to chopping scenes and then stitching it back together in a sort of Franken-book where you hope the bolt in the neck doesn’t show too much. My producer once told me that the better written a book, the harder it is to abridge because there is so little fat on it.

It takes a bit of confidence to abridge a book because you're like a really nasty editor with a red pen, slashing and cutting through whole chapters. But it really does make you think about what is essential in a book. Because having stripped back that much, with some books, the whole plot falls apart. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but the one I’ve just abridged only succeeds because the main character is so compelling. But the actual plot has holes the size of a swiss cheese. I had to break the Abridging Rule which is you never add words of your own to stitch bits together unless it's absolutely utterly necessary. (If you add your words the work becomes an adaptation as opposed to an abridgment.)

So if abridging a book reveals the plot holes, Beth Anderson’s blogs shows you how to write a perfect tight synopsis – a selling tool - one you can build a whole watertight book from. Very basically she forces you to write one sentence summing up the whole book, with no fluff or curly bits. One sentence that determines exactly what your book is all about. Then another sentence describing the beginning. Finally one sentence describing the ending.

Then you go back and fill in the major roadblocks. It’s very hard work, so much so that I haven’t done it. But I have printed it off and written How To Write A Synopsis in big black letters on it. And having finished my abridgement, the writer of the book would have written a much tighter plot if he had read that blog too.