January 16, 2013
My birthday’s coming up in a few weeks – 39, darling, why do you ask? – and in thinking about a new blog post, I suddenly remembered the best birthday present I ever got.
My parents had split up when I was seven, and a few years later, my mother began dating a man, let’s call him Charles, who worked for the New York Times Book Review. I was, of course, deeply suspicious of Charles. He demanded some of my mother’s attention – the attention that belonged to me – and while the books I loved tended more toward wicked stepmothers, I didn’t guess that stepfathers were likely to be a whole lot better.
December 12, 2012
As many of you know, I used to own a bookstore. And while Christmas and Chanukah were, no question, big events for us, they didn’t hold a candle (hee! Candle! Chanuk….oh, never mind) to Rosh Hashanah, Easter, and Thanksgiving. Why? My partners and I had two theories about this. One was that on these traditionally family-heavy holidays, people without families wanted to escape their loneliness with a good book. The other theory—and we leaned in this direction—was that after a day or two of enforced togetherness, our customers knew they would be desperate for a little mental refuge. Actually, we used to do land-office business right after the holidays in question: People, we reasoned, felt they deserved some serious rewards after three days of being nice to crazy Aunt Selma.
September 14, 2012
I’ve never understood the appeal of counting sheep. When I can’t sleep, what I need is something safe, totally free of anxiety, with which to occupy my mind. And the key here is occupy: If my mind doesn’t have something to chew on, something to play with, something with which to occupy its little self, it will slip all too easily into some bad old habits, asking why I didn’t do X, why I did Y, what on earth I’m going to do about A and B and C. Those habits are powerful. They would eat the sheep for breakfast, with a nice Chianti.
August 1, 2012
Narnia, as everybody knows, is blanketed in snow, mounds of it piled on the windward sides of trees, crunching underfoot, glittering in the starlight. In fact, Narnia and its environs do include areas that probably don’t see snow from one century to the next—the quasi-Arabian lands of The Horse and His Boy, for example, or some of the islands where the adventurers from the Dawn Treader fetch up—but I’m going to go out on a snow-covered limb and claim that it’s the wintry Narnia, the one Lucy and Edmund first see, that best represents the world that C.S. Lewis created.
June 8, 2012
The festivities are finished, the ships have gone back to port, the world is safe once more for cucumbers: The Jubilee celebration is over. But some, I know, are still burning with Jubilee Fever, and have we got the book for you: The Second-Last Woman in England doesn’t merely reference the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it revolves around it. The central action of the book occurs while the Wallis family – about whom more in a moment – is gathered to watch the coronation on their splendid, newly-purchased-for-the-occasion television set, with its majestic 12-inch screen.
June 6, 2012
I was thinking recently about The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey’s ever-fabulous illustration of A) how slippery truth can be, and B) how much one smart person can accomplish with no resources other than a good brain. At least, that’s what most people would probably say the book is about. But me, I was focused on what some might regard as a minor plot point: The fact that the protagonist – the aforementioned smart person, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard – is in the hospital, confined to his bed, and forced to RELY ON OTHER PEOPLE TO CHOOSE BOOKS FOR HIM.
April 21, 2012
Editrix: In what ways is writing a sequel different than writing an original? What particular challenges are there in telling a new story with familiar characters?
LC Tyler: Writing a series sometimes feels like traveling with an ever increasing number of suitcases. You start the first book completely unburdened. As you go on, each character brings a little more personal baggage from the earlier books. Stretching this little analogy to (or a little beyond) breaking point, the reader becomes some sort of customs official with the right to open all of those suitcases, and to point out to you any discrepancy between what you claimed your characters were like in book 1 and what you were saying about them in book 3 or 4. So, each new book in the series sends you scurrying back to re-read the earlier ones and check your facts. And you are stuck with whatever dumb decisions you made before. Of course, by that stage the characters are old friends, so you don’t mind too much carrying their stuff around. (Elsie’s case is massive though – what does she keep in it? Chocolate?)
April 20, 2012
When it’s going well, it’s like this. You sit down at the keyboard and write for twenty minutes. When you look up, six hours have passed and somebody has kindly added three thousand words to your novel. When it’s going well, the real world fades into the background and the book writes itself.
When it’s going badly, it’s like this. You can find 252 references to yourself on Google. Your Amazon ranking is 25,473. England are 225-4 against Australia. Rain is forecast for Tuesday. This is your fifth cup of coffee and it’s only 9.30. When it’s going badly there is nothing on the internet less interesting than the next chapter of your novel. You will make coffee for anyone. If you’d like one, I’ll bring it round to you. You’re reading this in Wisconsin? No problem. I got a Thermos.
When I write, I write in concentrated bursts. Like most authors I used to have a day job and in those days the people who paid me expected me to show up at the office from time to time. I wrote at the weekend when I could, but most of all I wrote on holiday. While the family were on the beach, I was back in the hotel room typing away. The maids would look at me pityingly when they come to do the room. When the family met up again in the evening I would be monosyllabic over dinner because I had just realised that if Mrs Maggs knew about the secret passage then Annabelle would not have risked lying to the police, which blew a massive hole in my plot. “The book’s fine,” I would say in answer to their questions. “Just fine.”
Now writing is the day job, but old habits die hard. I still tend to write in bursts between book signings and conferences and doing all the other things that my publishers ask me to do – and checking my Amazon ranking and the cricket score.
I write large chunks in my head in advance and dump it onto the computer when I can. Long car journeys are a good chance to think through plots. People sometimes ask me why my characters seem to spend so much time on the road.
When I start writing the first chapter I always know how the book will end, but I rarely make detailed written plans in advance. I have a notebook in which I record names of characters, the chronology of events, bits of dialogue and so on, but most of it I just remember. About 20,000 words into the first draft, I usually write the final chapter and then work towards the middle of the book from each end, like two teams of tunnellers, until the two halves meet. Well, it works for me.
My first drafts are usually very short – little more than novella length. Each successive draft adds ten to fifteen thousand words. To begin with, it worried me that the natural length of my stories appeared to be around 45,000 words. But after a while you develop the confidence that it will come right in the end.
Or, at least, I have that confidence up to a point. Writers, like actors, can be quite superstitious, quite insecure. If you don’t know where a gift has come from, you can never be quite sure that it won’t suddenly desert you. Above all therefore I write in gratitude that I am still writing.
(Written in my head on the A40 between London and Oxford. Dumped onto computer one Saturday afternoon.)