Slow-Fast August

I feel like I’m making real progress on Quicker than Blood, and it’s all down to what I was talking about last month – complexifying the story without really changing too much about it.

Suddenly events have more momentum and mass behind them – an abandoned hotel room and the litter in it are, far more strongly than before, omens of the story to come. But, that work’s still going on. And with a little luck, this month may see me working on the prose again, rather than the story’s structure. There are just a few more puzzle pieces I need to turn around and consider the best fit for.

Otherwise, I’ve been mentioning recovery, slowing down to speed up, all that sort of thing, and… it’s starting to pay off. I had a week where my focus was better, my balance between life admin and writing work almost felt perfect. I’m feeling positive about it, but it’s all down to finding the right balance – and balances can be tricky things to keep stable.

I’ve also joined SPSFC, but, this year, not as a contestant – I’m a judge in Team Red Stars, and I have a minor problem.

As a reader of fiction, I am a little atypical. Now, of course, sometimes people will say that writers can’t enjoy books because they have to evaluate them as pieces of work – and that’s baloney. We can relax and enjoy a book even if we have learned to eyeball every adjective, like anyone else.

The trouble is, when it comes to thinking about a book, about prose, about why it works and doesn’t work? That’s where it gets stickier. Especially for me.

A lot of my process for writing involves reading and iterating over my own work until I like it – which means there is a phase, and it is often a long phase, where I don’t like it. My inner editor, whom I sometimes refer to as ‘The Hacksaw Rat’, embodying both those skills and my innate critical impulses, runs rampant and violent.

And sometimes, when I’ve turned it on other people’s works, it has resulted in me saying some quite jagged and unkind things.

It is, also, a major part of my tool set for evaluating fiction critically. I make notes for myself sometimes on books I’ve read? I happen to absolutely love Terry Pratchett, but the complaints I have listed about his tendency towards the use of Deus Ex Machina style plot resolutions and situations that are fundamentally driven by anything but the agency of his characters are… not inconsiderable, even if he does make it an entertaining read. (It’s interesting that his Witches books tend not to have this problem – Granny Weatherwax, in particular, fixes things.)

Ordinarily this isn’t a problem for me – I enjoy grappling with text in that combative fashion – but it’s not how I want to review books for SPSFC, at least not when it comes to anything I write for the competition.

Firstly, while it might be interesting to read my take-downs and my reflexive thoughts about how I’d write this book but better, that’s not actually very useful for someone trying to figure out if they’d like to read the book being reviewed. It’s useful for me, trying to learn more about writing and what I I’d like to achieve, but largely it risks falling down a hole of trying to be entertaining by being destructively snarky.

I’ve done that, it didn’t make me proud of myself.

So! In an attempt to find a different way to deal with that, while honouring my tendency to take things to shreds and be hyper-critical, and keeping my very narrow taste around what I enjoy reading, but also giving the books in SPSFC a fair shake, I am inventing some fictive readers to consider. And, the goal for my reviews, will be to figure out which of these fictive readers will enjoy this book most, and why I think it’ll appeal to them.

While I obviously won’t champion anything I don’t earnestly believe deserves it, I’m hoping this will give me a little more leeway to talk about books that fall outside my very narrow taste as a reader while still finding a way to engage with qualities absolutely worth celebrating in a book.

Some of these fictive readers, so far, include:

A reader who is very enthusiastic about page-to-page and scene-to-scene action, the kind of person who wants to read something exciting with a flashlight under the covers long after bedtime.

A reader who is super into the worldbuilding, and wants so many details that feel so real they can build a persona fan-wiki with a million back and forth references.

A reader with a taste for absolutely razor-sharp prose and craftsmanship, another who is all about the larger plot structure and how the book’s various mysteries and plot threads intertwine, an engineer type who wants rigorously thought through physics and plausibility, a dreamer who enjoys handwavey and psychedelic tech that just FEELS right, someone who is reading to fall in love with a viewpoint character… and so on.

I’ll need to figure out names for them all, at course, but hopefully they’ll help me find a path to writing reviews worth reading.

As ever, thank you for your support. Whether it’s as a patron or just someone interested in what I’m doing, it helps.

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.