Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Reports from the No-Longer-Novelling Front, and a Book Review


So I’ve given up on Nanowrimo. Turns out that having done Nano four years running does not qualify you to do a double-Nano. Some people have this kind of stamina. I do not. I will know this for next time, because it really isn’t worth the effort. I probably ought to have just made up my mind on one novel at the start of the month, accepted that I could write the other one at a later date, and moved on. And then, feeling overwhelmed by trying to write two Nanos and an essay on Livy, I decided to take a few days off. On the plus side, I learnt a valuable Nanowrimo lesson:  I should never take days off. Especially not when there is good weather, and I end up sitting outside, thinking thoughts like ‘Why would I want to go inside and write a novel?’ and ‘Ceebs.’

 Surprisingly, something else which I think may have potentially been a problem is the fact that one of my novels was meticulously planned, down to detailed scene lists. I think I felt less motivated to write because I already knew what happened, and so my characters will never be stuck in awkward limbo where no-one ever finds out how they resolve things. I know how they resolve things, and I wasn’t interested enough in exploring it in more detail. I hadn’t actually predicted this negative outcome of planning, but there you go. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong. Perhaps planning just isn’t a thing for me. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it may just have been the fact that my plan was so detailed that it was stifling anything unexpected. There is probably a nice balance I can find.

Honestly, though, it’s not all bad. I’m not exactly lacking in first-draft manuscripts that seriously need editing. One is hiding on my computer not being looked at, one is in the middle of becoming a second draft, and one is waiting to be converted into a musical. and then there’s a screenplay waiting to become a web-comic. And a half-finished novel about uber-talented artistic prodigies at boarding school. It don’t think I actually need Nanowrimo to make sure I write things at this point. Things get written. Now they just need to be made good.

And then, of course, there was the curse that strikes so many Wrimos – I had a brilliant idea for another story, that would be so much more fun to write. I call it ‘Cicero and Enjolras Solve Crime’. It will be amazing.

And now for a book review…

The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

I’ve been meaning to read this book since I first learnt that it was going to exist. It’s a new Sherlock Holmes novel, authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate. They don’t usually go around authorising things, so this is all very exciting stuff, for fans such as myself.

Like most – though sadly not all – Holmes stories, this one is written in first person, from Watson’s point of view, opening with this lovely sentence: “I have often reflected upon the strange series of circumstances that led me to my long association with one of the most singular and remarkable figures of my age.”

As one can see, from the very beginning, Horowitz does an excellent job of picking up Watson’s voice, even managing to get in the important Watsonian adjective ‘singular’, of which the man is ridiculously fond. In fact, the opening chapter or two are so well-voiced that I was starting to feel a peculiar sense of having read them before. Luckily, the plot itself is original enough that this isn’t a problem, and by the time I was in the middle of the novel, I had completely stopped worrying about things like the authenticity of Watson’s voice. Also in terms of voice, Horowitz’s Watson is more introspective than Doyle’s ever was. This is explained by the fact that the novel is supposedly written by an old Watson after Holmes is long dead, whose remaining joy in life lies in reminiscing about his time with Holmes. It felt to me a little out of character for Watson to go off on as many reflective tangents as he did, but given the legitimate explanation, I’ll give Horowitz that one. Overall, in the sounding-like-Watson stakes, it was a job well done.

I was very impressed, too, with how Horowitz dealt with Watson’s wife – or rather, conspicuous lack thereof. It’s always been one of those problems in Sherlock Holmes novels – Watson gets married, probably several times, and yet his wives just kind of disappear, fading into the background to his adventures with Holmes. Horowitz addresses this early on, getting the wife out of the way on a long visit to an old employer. Conan Doyle could have tried this easy plot device, and saved many readers a lot of  “But wait, Watson, aren’t you supposed to be married right now? Do you ever even mention your wife?”

The story itself starts and finishes quite Holmesianly (yes, it’s a word), but a large chunk of the middle is oddly – not meandering as such, but tangental to what one would have expected. In a vague, non-spoilery way: Holmes and Watson start off solving one crime, which leads them to discover the next crime, which leads them to the next crime, and so on and so forth. So for a long time you’re just jumping from mystery to mystery, and you never actually go back and find out what the solution to each one is until the very end. It’s a little bit disorienting, and – as Watson kindly puts it within the novel – “I found it hard to make the necessary connection, which is to say, I was quite lost as to how [spoilers] could possibly have led us to our present pass. Here was a paradox indeed.” Yes, it was. I don’t think this was necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re the sort of person who likes to keep all the facts straight in your head and solve the mystery yourself as you go along, you’re in for a trying time.

All in all, I enjoyed the book immensely. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the best Holmes short stories (‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’, anyone?), but then again, I always thought Holmes and Watson were more suited to the short-story format than the novel. As a Sherlock Holmes novel goes, it’s definitely the up there (and far superior to the Mormon chapters of A Study in Scarlet).


  1. That sucks that your planning put you off - I never would have predicted something like that could happen but it makes sense. Oh well, at least we writers have a never ending to-do-list, regardless of NaNo.
    And I love your new idea title. ;)

    1. Never would have predicted it either, but there you go. =) And yes, the never ending to-do list saves us every time!