Thursday, 13 October 2011

Downsizing


After living in the wilderness (well, Cornwall) for seven years, I’ve moved back to the city. A huge change of pace which also requires a big attitudinal change. In Cornwall I had a 4-storey cottage with direct views over the river from every floor. In the city, for the same price, I can barely afford a two-bedroom flat with views over various air-filtering devices on the roof next door - or a one-bedroom flat. In Cornwall I had a painting studio with a Belfast sink and a balcony. Now I have to consider whether I can paint at all.
This is not a nightmare but a challenge: an interesting opportunity to look at my life and how I now hope to live it. And, strangely, my writing process seems to be going hand in hand with my moving process. In Cornwall I wrote my novel – all 100,000 words of it. Lots of words, lots of space. As I prepared to move, I began editing – both my possessions (I gave away or sold much of what I owned) and my novel. And now, in the city, I’ve reached the ultimate in downsizing: the one-bedroom flat, and the blurb.
Blurb.
The word says it all. Blurb is the sound you make when you’re trying to think one up. And it’s no coincidence that blurb is very similar to blub (a consequence of attempting to write one) blur (what happens to your eyes after doing so) and blue (how you feel once you’ve written it).
Not immediately, of course. The first reaction on completing a blurb is a kind of religious vapour. I did it! I wrote a blurb! - rapidly followed by the falling-to-earth realisation that your blurb is actually a crock of s**t. As some wise soul said, if you can do it in 200 words, why bother writing the novel?
Because, it seems, the perfect blurb is a super-clever selling device to seduce potential readers inside the covers.
I have blurbs coming out of my ears. If only one of them worked. Mine is a novel which hovers on the literary/commercial borders, so blurbing is a tricky balancing act between making my book sound like a chick-lit novel and making it sound incredibly lit’ry, dahling. And, like a one-bed flat, a blurb has to work hard for its diminutive size. It has to succinctly sum up the novel. It has to hook the reader. And it has to give a sense of the style and tone of the writing.
Do I begin with a quote from the book? Should I focus on the nuts-and-bolts of the narrative or on the underlying themes? Do I tailor it to work with the cover image?What stays? What goes? Should I keep it short and succinct or expand it to include the three parallel narratives? Should it end with a question, or is that old hat?
In my new one-bedroom flat (when I find it) I hope to live, write and paint. May my blurb, too, prove the cliche that small is beautiful and that downsizing is the Next Big Thing.

6 comments:

Roderic Vincent said...

Hi Susie,

Good luck with the flat hunting and blurb hunting. This just reminded me of how excited I was when you finally got a book deal, after all that time in the writing wilderness. Here's a big and anachronistic YAY!

Anita Davison said...

I thought the same way about blurbs too, until mine kept popping up all over the web alongside the cover art and people were leaving messages on my blog saying they wanted to read the novel. I've done downsizing to, which can be difficult, but very cathartic too-it helps you focus on what is important rather than being owned by 'stuff'. Go for it Susie and good luck.

Neil Ansell said...

For my back cover blurb, my publishers took a single short paragraph from my book and used it unedited. They must think it does the job because they're putting it on the front cover of the paperback.

Often,the blurb is written by the editor rather than the author. I'm not sure I would have liked to try summing up the whole book in just a few words, but it turned out I'd already done it unknowingly.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Rod! :)
Anita, that's very encouraging - though I suspect your blurb is better than mine! And yes, focussing on what's important is very cathartic.
Neil - how clever of you to have written that paragraph! And how clever of your publisher to decide to use it, unadorned.
(Apologies for all the exclamation marks - I'm reading a novel at the moment which is littered with them and they seem to have filtered into my brain...)
Susiex

Derek said...

Hi Susie, I think the challenge lies in figuring out what sort of person you're appealing to with your blurb. Once you know your reader, you can work backwards!

It's important to remember that you're a contracted writer, so you've done the hard part (!). Just play with the words, create as many versions as you need and use your friends as sounding boards, plus your editor of course.

Why did the hedgehog cross the road? To see his flat mate.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

GROANS (at hedgehog flatpack).
It just feels so important because it will make a reader decide whether or not to read the novel. But yes, I will try several versions out on friends. :)
Susiex