Friday, August 27, 2010

Work in Progress

I have made the occasional tantalising (perhaps...) remark about The Fall of the Fireduke, my current work in progress.  This is not the book that a writer concerned with career advancement would write; it's set in Mondia, which has so far proved commercially unfortunate.  It takes place at a different time, using different characters, to the previous Mondia novels, so it could be seen as a standalone.  However we view it, it's the novel I need to write at the moment, before perhaps trying something different.

I'm now about 20,000 words in: generally about the point I start to think this is not going according to plan (even where I don't have a plan).  I'm writing this one to a slightly different method.  I envisage at least two, perhaps three, narrative strands, but I'm writing one from start to finish, rather than interweaving as I go.

In some ways this approach is easier because I'm not confused by switches in voice and point of view.  On the other hand, it leaves the story feeling very unbalanced.  This main story is about Floreyn, a young man who falls into the clutches of his family's enemy Duke Varrel.  Floreyn finds his captivity less irksome than he had imagined, largely through the charms of Varrel's neice Tanneke (OK, I know you've heard this one before).  There is a clear narrative structure here, but in writing up, there are an awful lot of Floreyn-and-Tanneke scenes in close proximity.  If this was the whole story, I think the reader would be bored.

I know as I write, though, that if I have two Floreyn-and-Tanneke scenes together, I can break that up with one of the other POV's.  Elsewhere, Tanneke's sister Adelisa is trying to ensure that her drunken husband Sir Eglamour does not endanger their son with his inept scheming; and Duke Varrel's household has been infiltrated by a would-be assassin.  There's enough there for variety, and no need for like scenes to sit too close together.

I've never written a novel this way before.  The two narratives in The Dog of the North  were written together for most of the novel before I cracked on and finished off Beauceron's about three-quarters of the way through.  In The Last Free City, I wrote Todarko and Oricien's narratives together throughout, before interleaving Malvazan's last.  But for The Fall of the Fireduke, I have to take a leap of faith that two narratives I've only sketchily conceived will complement and strengthen the one in progress.  And if they don't the novel fails.  That's scary.

At this stage, I am not sure if the third narrative strand, Varrel's assassin, has enough legs to work.  Gaspar, our would-be assassin, is fun to write and has the most fully-realised voice in the book.  On the other hand, unless I want to write fantasy's The Day of the Jackal*, there is limited fictional mileage in having Gaspar follow Varrel all over the place, trying and narrowly failing to kill him at every turn.

Nonetheless, The Fall of the Fireduke is moving forward.  Stretton's Law--you see it formulated here first--is that all first drafts are crap at 20,000 words.  I'm intrigued enough to write on, the only way to answer the questions:

~ will Floreyn overcome familial rivalry to get the girl?
~ will Gaspar manage to kill the Fireduke?
~ and will he find out who is paying him to do so?
~ will Varrel succeed in his treasonous scheme to usurp the crown ?
~ will Adelisa rise above her unhappy marriage to secure her son's inheritance?

Actually I know the answers but I think it's going to be fun getting there... (feel free to guess the answers - there are no "maybes", they are all Yes/No.  A prize to the first person to get all five right!).

* now there's an idea...
At the cinema

When I wasn't writing or cooking over the past few weeks, I took a couple of trips to the cinema.  Over the latest Twilight film we will draw a veil of discretion, pausing only to observe that it almost certainly delivered what its target audience wanted; Inception, however, was rather more interesting.

Christopher Nolan has the happy knack of being able to make intelligent pictures which unite critical and commercial success.  His two Batman films are both superior examples of their type, and The Prestige is an undervalued gem.  The first two hours of Inception, meanwhile, are so compelling that they mitigate the flabbiness of the final half-hour.  Nolan also gives us a nicely ambiguous final scene; in a film about the interface between dreams and reality, anything else would have been crass.

The plot is not meant to be summarised in a sentence.  Leonardo di Caprio leads an assorted team who can enter their target's mind to extract information--or, in the case of the "one last job" of the film--implant an idea.  Most of the film, therefore, takes place with the cast running around inside another character's head.  If, like my film companion, you can't buy that idea, you won't like the film, but if you go with the flow, it'll carry you along.  And for all its intellectual trickery, Inception  is at heart a very old-fashioned kind of film--a heist movie: the ill-assorted comrades, the meticulous planning, the botched execution.  The heist struture is what orders the narrative and makes the film, for all its hi-tech gizmo chic, surprisingly easy to follow.  (The deft skill of Nolan's infodumps also has plenty to do with it).

Once we see Inception as a heist movie rather than a Borgesian deconstruction of reality, it all makes rather more sense.  Its closest cousins are not The Matrix or Avatar, but Reservoir Dogs, The Italian Job and The Sting.  As with The Dark Knight, Nolan has made a first-rate genre picture, and none the worse for that.  See it if you get the chance.

Monday, August 23, 2010

'Serendip' is coming!

Publication of Editions Andreas Irle's Serendip, the German edition of Dragonchaser is nearly upon us.  The proprietor of Editions Andreas Irle--Andreas Irle, as coincidence would have it--has created a page on the EAI website, showcasing some excerpts and a downloadable first chapter.  Those of you of the German persuasion should proceed there immediately, without pausing to mention the World Cup.  The book is now available for pre-order from

Serendip is the first book of mine to be translated, and it's a strange experience to have book with my name on it, which I can't read.  How do I know the quality of the translation if I don't speak German?  There is no cast-iron assurance: it may be my story, but they're no longer my words.  In this case, I can be confident.  Andreas is a friend of many years's standing from the Vance Integral Edition, but more importantly, he is a well-respected translator of many of Vance's works.  Since I acknowledge my debt to Vance on my own work, it's reassuring to know that my translator has a similar understanding and enthusiasm.

Even if the worst has happened, and Andreas has chosen for his own purposes to interpolate observations along the lines of "Die einzige Sache, die schlechteres als Tim Stretton' stinkt; s-Arbeit ist der Autor selbst"*, at least I won't understand it.  And such a maverick edition would rapidly become an internet phenomenon, and swell both of our bank balances.  Andreas, you didn't...did you?

*"The only thing that stinks worse than Tim Stretton's work is the author himself"
Chichester Book Club

I'm delighted to be part of a new be part of a new site, the Chichester Book Club, which showcases the work of published writers working in my local area.  I know some of these writers already, but seeing everyone's work together shows what a diverse writing community Chichester has.  The site is the brainchild of Isabel Ashdown, whose debut novel Glasshopper  is garnering rave reviews.

Whatever your reading tastes, there's likely to be something for you (disclaimer: if you like fantasy, you're pretty well stuck with me), so why not pop over for a browse?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What I've been up to

Things have been a bit quiet over here for the last two weeks (although followers of @timstretton on Twitter will have been vexed by periodic tweets).  I have not been wholly idle, and over the next couple of weeks I'll be blogging about:

~ my current work in progress, The Fall of the Fireduke
~ the imminent German publication of Serendip (Editions Andreas Irle's translation of Dragonhaser)
~ summer reading - the latest by LC Tyler and KJ Parker's fantasy Colours in the Steel 
~ Inception    
I have also spent a lot of the summer cooking, so if you want my observations on chicken cacciatore or greek salad omelette, I'm your man.

Monday, August 02, 2010

On My Travels: Budapest

I'm just back from five days in the Hungarian capital.  I can rarely visit a new city without wanting to reinterpret it in some fictional context, and Budapest was no exception.  It's a fascinating place, and what excited me most about was the sense of historical layering.  In the past couple of years I've visited New York, which seems to exist entirely in the present, and Bruges, which deliberately sets out to reflect nothing but its past.  Budapest, by contrast, seems at once to embody the countless waves of invaders and occupiers who have laid down the strata which make up the city.

I didn't expect the Turkish influence to be as strong as it was, but from the Cafe Kara near our hotel to the thermal baths dotted all over the city, the sense of the old Ottoman Empire was pervasive.  At the same time, though, a traditional European sensibility was in evidence:
Buda, overlooking the Hungarian Parliament
Budapest embraces and reinterprets its own history.  The impressive Vajdahunyad Castle, although looking antique, dates from the end of thre 19th century and incorporates Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.  It's a deliberate contribution to Hungary's millennium celebrations in 1896:

Vajdahunyad Castle
If in Bruges it's easy to imagine you are walking through streets in the 15th century, in Budapest one gets a feeling of the early 20th century, as the tram and buildings in this street illustrate:

A journey from the past

We stayed in Andrassy Avenue, a long wide boulevard reminiscent of Hausmann's 19th century Paris boulevards.  Wikipedia has a picture of the street in 1896, and it's scarcely different today:

Andrassy Street - 1896 or 2010?
But while the look of the street may hardly have changed (even today there is still a second inner road where horse and carriage once trotted), since 1896 Hungary has experienced Fascist and Communist regimes (both grimly comemorated at the Museum of Terror on Andrassy Avenue itself).   Andrassy Avenue itself was renamed Stalin Avenue in the early 1950s and then, on Stalin's death, Avenue of the People's Republic.  Only on the fall of Communism was Andrassy restored to his inheritance.

The layering of history in every aspect of the city makes a visit seem like a live archaeological dig, with elements of the past six hundred years present simultaneously.  It's the kind of feeling we might get when immersed in Jack Vance's Dying Earth: Therlatch perhaps, Old Romarth, or Ampridatvir:

I have known the Ampridatvir of old; I have seen the towers glowing with marvellous light, thrusting beams through the night to challenge the sun itself. Then Ampridatvir was beautiful—ah! My heart pains when I think of the olden city. Semir vines cascaded from a thousand hanging gardens, water ran blue as vaul-stone in the three canals. Metal cars rolled the streets, metal hulls swarmed the air as thick as bees around a hive—for marvel of marvels, we had devised wefts of spitting fire to spurn the weighty power of Earth... But even in my life I saw the leaching of spirit. A surfeit of honey cloys the tongue; a surfeit of wine addles the brain; so a surfeit of ease guts a man of strength. Light, warmth, food, water, were free to all men, and gained by a minimum of effort. So the people of Ampridatvir, released from toil, gave increasing attention to faddishness, perversity, and the occult.
For a writer of fantasy, Budapest gives almost too much to work with, and shows us that fantasy can draw inspiration from periods other than the Middle Ages.  And for the tourist--well, you just have to visit the thermal baths.