Sometimes, when you’re a writer, an idea takes up residence in your head, demands squatter’s rights and simply won’t leave. My new novel The Workshop Of Filthy Creation is a case in point.
When it’s published at the end of October (coming soon! watch this space!) it will have been lounging about in my brain, taking up space and eating all the jam, for at least 10 years – actually, thinking about it, closer to 15 years.
The plot evolved out of a completely separate and unrelated project, which never saw the light of day and which was originally a time travel story. I wrote an initial version of it, under a title I can’t even remember now, and my agent at the time didn’t like it much. So, in between other books, I rewrote it from scratch after doing three-and-a-half metric tonnes of research to make the Victorian setting much more authentic.
Ta daa! Hmm, no, said my agent, this is worse.
I left it alone for a while, came back to it, still thought it was the best idea I’d ever had, and rewrote it from scratch again, with a more intricate plot. Then, I rewrote it for a third time, with the same, improved plot but in an epistolary format (in imitation of Dracula and other gothic Victoriana) which I thought was pretty darn good, definitely the best version yet.
No, said my agent, this is even worse than before. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not going to work, there’s no market for this. Let it go.
I would not. Cut to: several years later, I’m onto about version 7 and I have one of those epiphany thingummies: I think to myself, why do I keep writing this as if it’s some sort of fast-paced thriller designed to be bought in Tesco’s with a quote on the cover about “pulse-pounding action”? It’s not like that. It’s about scientific ideas, and strange characters, and what-if scenarios; the pulse-pounding action needs to come towards the end. That’s why it’s not working.
With that one, simple realisation, I was free to rewrite it as the story demanded, as it should have been written in the first place, with all the sub-plotting, moral ambiguity and nasty medical detail it needed!
So The Workshop Of Filthy Creation is, as you might imagine, an intensely personal piece of work. At its heart, it’s a story about an outsider looking for a home, and about how the forces that shaped the Victorian world – and still shape our own world today! – worked both for and against such dispossessed characters. Its roots run deep into gothic literature, into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and even into all those James Whale and Hammer films which themselves fed off the gothic tradition.
I honestly don’t know how I’m going to feel when I finally hold a copy in my hands. After more than two decades of being a published author, with dozens of titles on my backlist, you’d think I’d be pretty blasé about the whole process, but not a bit of it. At least, not when it comes to this particular book. I reckon I’ll either jump about hooting with joy, or else sit quietly on the stairs and sob. It’ll be an emotional day, one way or the other.
Have to wait and see.
UPDATE: Here’s me opening the box containing the first copies. I was so delighted that I appear to have forgotten I can’t see a thing without my glasses…