Cutting a long story short…

20 May

In a recent post, I wrote about having set down 108,000 words of my latest manuscript. I felt that 120,000 words should just about see the job done. I envisaged that it would be shorter than my last novel, which weighed in at 150,000. Now it’s reached 114,000 words and the end is nowhere in sight.

I simply don’t write to what’s considered a commercial length in the Anglophone world. Since the turn of the century, I’ve written two novellas (at 25,000 and 35,000 words each, viewed as too short) and two very long novels. After rewrites and editing, a carefully crafted book will be the length it needs to be. In the case of my fiction, from an industry perspective, that’s either too short or too long, then. If I lived in a less conservative country, it would be one hurdle fewer to jump.

Words, words, words… Words get lost in an avalanche of verbiage. Published words, self-published words, words on blogs and Facebook and Twitter and ten thousand other forums… And that’s not to mention the spoken word on television and elsewhere. We tumble down the never-ending scree of wasted words. How can any individual’s lovingly shaped and painstakingly considered words ever reach an audience amid the rumble of a billion clichés and truisms? I don’t have the answer. I suppose there’s an irony here in that my most recent works have more words than publishers desire. In fact, at the moment, they each have over a hundred thousand words more than publishers want since they have no interest in them…

Marching onward - another 150,000 words

Marching onward – another 150,000 words

Someone recently told me that blogs are finished and Twitter is where we now need to be. If that’s so then heaven help us… The minimal number of hits my sadly neglected blog receives these days might seem to bear this out.

It would be nice to have my fiction published but that’s not why I write.  It’s my means of relating to the world. I’m incapable of stopping. I think anyone who is a writer rather than a would-be acclaimed author will recognise this. And so onward I travel, marching toward another 150,000 word tome…

Anyway, in the meantime, here are my 546 latest words, if you should feel inclined to read them.

I shifted from city to city.  One year, I found myself in the far south-east of the continent, in a land of meteorological extremes.  I arrived during winter.  For three months, the temperature barely climbed above minus thirty.  The ground was snowbound.  As the ice thawed and winter turned to spring, temperatures began to soar.  By May, the daily average never dropped below thirty-five.  And at midday in July, it was regularly hitting forty-five.  As a consequence, the city was practically uninhabitable for several months of the year.  Its citizens had come up with a solution.  On the surface, the city looked like little more than a large village.  A sprawling temple-like edifice, all domes and turrets, occupied the centre of the settlement, surrounded by a cluster of squat stone buildings, their walls a metre thick, the apertures in them tiny.  Beyond the centre stretched acre upon acre of ruins, resembling the abandoned remains of an ancient city.  Beneath the surface a different story lay.  The city had moved underground. 

Here, the climate was temperate.  The city’s main thoroughfares comprised an elaborate network of underpasses and subways.  A labyrinth of smaller tunnels ran off them.  What natural light there was arrived via a series of shafts.  Otherwise, the passageways were illuminated by the stark white light of strip lighting.  Of necessity, these tunnels were colour-coded and network maps were positioned at every intersection.  Without them, even those born in the city would soon have become hopelessy lost.  All three of the city’s railway termini were located underground like metro stations.  Shopping districts were arranged along the sides of cavernous halls with open spaces at their centre.  The tables of café-bars occupied part of the space and in the evenings and at weekends, citizens gathered there as they would in the squares of any other city.  Much of the populace lived and worked below the surface.  The “mole-hole”, the “warren”, the “ants’ nest”… the inhabitants had many names for their city.  If their subterranean existence bothered them, they didn’t show it.  They were by nature a taciturn and melancholy people.  It wasn’t without reason. 

The city harboured dark secrets.  During the war, the male population had all but been eradicated.  All men up to the age of seventy and boys aged twelve and over were rounded up and taken to a wood beyond the city limits.  There they were shot and their bodies shovelled into a mass grave.  Afterwards, rape became a daily ritual for the womenfolk.  Much of the city was destroyed by around-the-clock shelling (the citizens were safe from this now, at least).  Liberation was followed by strict authoritarian rule under which summary arrests were commonplace.  Relatives or friends would disappear into the basement of police headquarters, never to be seen again.  No one ever spoke of these things. 

That city of cave-dwellers didn’t seem to speak of anything at all.  I learnt none of their language.  I made no friends.  Operating tunnel-boring machinery on the night shift, I received my written instructions in German, as did all migrant workers.  After a year or more living as a troglodyte, I began digging my metaphorical escape tunnel, burrowing my way underneath that figurative perimeter fence.  I got a new job in another country and moved on. 

All text and images © PSR 2015 


2 Responses to “Cutting a long story short…”

  1. Mari Biella May 20, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    I can relate to all of this, Paul. I’ve no idea what commercial publishers actually want (apart from a likely bestseller, of course :-)) – that’s a total mystery to me. Like you, I suppose I regard publication as being pretty much incidental; I write because that’s just what I do. If all possible means of publication came to an end, I’d still do it. Still, I hope that one day we’ll see your books on the shelves of Waterstones!

    I liked the extract, by the way. Looking forward to reading more!

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves May 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    Hi there, Mari and thanks for commenting. Indeed, who knows what most publishers want? Probably nothing that I can give them… I’m looking forward to seeing your books in Waterstone’s too!

    I’m glad you liked the extract. An entire manuscript could be heading your way in a few months’ time if you’d like…

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