Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dash to Berlin (and back)

After seven weeks in New Babyland, I’ve won a 24-hour furlough for myself in the German capital – at least, I’m hoping it’ll be 24 hours. It could easily turn out to be less if my plane is late arriving. BA may be The World’s Favourite Airline, but Heathrow is definitely not the world’s favourite airport, at least not for travellers on a tight schedule, of which I will be one.

The schedule has two items. First I’m meeting an eminence of the film industry, to explore the possibility of a movie based on The Einstein Girl. Journeys from book to screen take a long time, and require a great deal of luck and/or persistence. This is like the third or fourth step on the proverbial journey of a thousand miles; but then again, a journey can turn out to be rewarding in itself. So I am travelling, as ever, hopefully.

After that, I’ll be going to an event organised by a network of Berlin readings groups. Again, The Einstein Girl is the book under discussion [Ingeborg Drewitz Bibliothek in Steglitz, starting at 7.00p.m. Entry free, all welcome. For more details visit: madeintokio.com] The novel is set in that city, of course; so I hope those in attendance will feel I’ve captured their home town faithfully – not that anyone present will remember it as it was in 1932.  That’s probably just as well…

When I get back, I’ll have to start thinking about returning to work. I’m awaiting editorial notes from my editor at Harvill Secker on The Valley of Unknowing, due mid-June. Until those are in and dealt with, the final version of the book will not be available for anyone else to see (except my friend Claudi, who is currently reading it for cultural/historical/linguistic slip-ups, and doing a wonderful job). Meanwhile a new book idea is slowly bubbling away in the back of my brain. Whether it’s a book I should attempt or not, I’m not sure. It would require a great deal of research, not all of it easy, and I’ve yet to identify the core of it.

Coincidentally, on a number of writers’ forums recently, I've seen people asking how they can judge if a particular book idea they have is any good or not. My approach to the issue is this:
1. Start the research and see whether or not the idea develops and deepens as a result of what you learn;
2. Write down the essence of the idea and then leave it for at least three or four months, before coming back to it. If it no longer feels fresh and fertile, dump it. If it still excites you, carry on.
3. Personally, I’m not very good at discussing book ideas with agents or editors ahead of drafting, but I should probably do it more. I find ‘pitching’ a fairly painful business. But immediate responses can be surprisingly valuable, especially coming from experienced insiders. So if you have an agent, editor, or someone you trust in that vein, try pitching your idea to them once you’re good and ready. No response should be taken as definitive, but if their eyes glaze over in under thirty seconds, you may have a problem.
[Pictured above: Claudi, my indispensable GDR cultural-linguistic enforcer.]

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