Today I was invited to talk to a small reading group about my most recent book, ‘Maran Avdoniy’. I know they will have read the book and will be asking me awkward questions about the plot, the characterisation and why did the lead, DCI Paul Catchpole, not do something or other.
I can manage this easily although it does mean that next week, before we meet, I will have to skip read the book again. As I move onto the next project I quickly forget what it was all about. It is less of a problem so long as they stick to ‘Maran Avdoniy’ and don’t start asking me about earlier books. With those I can only remember the titles and hardly any of the plot.
The questions I hate and feel totally unable to answer are those about the ‘art of writing’. Despite four published novels, a children’s book of poems at the illustrators, and my next novel half completed, there is far much more I don’t know than know.
I fall back to Stephen King’s brilliant book: ‘On Writing – A memoir of the craft.’. I was already a veteran of two novels when I read it and happily it reinforced all my thoughts. Writing courses and classes he dismisses as of little value. That was good to read as I had no intention of enrolling for a weekend in the countryside to sit, at the end of the day with other aspiring authors, reading my day’s work over rustic bread and joss sticks. My work was only going to be published when it was finished, reviewed, edited and complete.
Stephen King also implicitly approved of other aspects of the way I approached my craft.
The creative muse hit me (If that is how muses arrive) and it was shock and surprise. One day I was running a successful management consultancy in Dubai and the next I packed it all in to write. For once that is not hyperbole or writer’s creativity but a fair record of what happened. The transition took less than week from the first idea to execution. The muse, the need to tell a story, was that instant.
My first instinct was use the techniques I had learnt in a business life. I tried to outline plots, write mini resume of each character, and draw mental pictures of each location. That was quickly abandoned. I was not writing a report, proposal, or anything formulaic.
There was a tiny thought which had a start in a small opening paragraph, an event I saw as pivotal and the vague vision of an ending. My role as the story teller was to get from one place to the end, describe what I saw, and meet lots of new people on the journey who wandered in and out of the story, just as they do in real life.
I knew how right I was in this approach when one night, a character, who was by now a friend, died. That was where the story had gone. I had expected her to be with me until the very end. I wanted her there at the end. I had a plan for her but now she was gone. As she died on the page, and I have no problem owning up to this, I shed a few tears. A friend had gone and my writing for the evening was curtailed early.
When I think back to those early days I had bohemian visions of myself as a writer living in a Parisian garret, pulling on extra jumpers as the winter forced its way through cracked and dirty windows into my single room. I think I can see the outline of Montmartre in the distance. My life, though, is a little more comfortable and warmer than that, but I hate the days, weeks, and months I must give up writing to try to earn enough money to see me through the rest of the year.
Reflecting on those early writing days I was surprised to find that so few of the technical skills I had acquired as a senior management consultant were transferable into my new profession although, when it comes to trying to sell my work, that is a different matter. What is more interesting is to think if nearly five years as an author have changed the way I now approach my interim management or consulting assignments?
I think there is.
When I write a book, there is always intrigue and suspense, mainly because, just like the reader, I have no idea of what is going to happen next but, that is too wide and obvious analogy of life in a company. No. The real lesson is the reminder that in my writing I weave together the daily lives of many disparate people, who touch my story only when in the plot. Their motivations, interests and desires when not in my story may or may not be important to get me to the end. I don’t worry about what they eat at home or where they buy their groceries unless I have poisoned their food or someone else important will be at that supermarket.
When I leave my books and head back into the commercial life I no longer look at the business as just an isolated entity that can be moulded or a set of processes that can be changed just to be more effective. I keep those in mind, but I add the perspective of a whole new set of characters in a wider story.
A writer’s perspective, telling the story of the business, is a skill many a manger could add to their repertoire and if you want to share my Montmartre view, just ask.
This is the first blog that will have a far wider reach and is being published on both LinkedIn and Facebook. If you would like to know more about Brovary, or read earlier blogs, then please visit the web site (www.brovary.co.uk) or the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BrovaryBooks)