This month is all about novels. Our editor Katia Pase chats with four writers about the process of putting together a manuscript. Ryan Sim is next.
Q1: Pitch your novel to us.
Sex, drugs, and the small arms trade: a love story.
Sam Owens sells stuff. Computers, MP3 players, GPS navigators – marijuana. When Cyrus, his unbalanced housemate introduces him to the street-drug Granite, Sam’s directionless life spirals into madness. He’s dragged into an underworld where drifters mingle with CEOs at the whim of Mr. Jamal, distributor of Granite. It soon becomes clear that Mr. Jamal’s business is more extensive than first thought. Sam, preoccupied with self-pitying memories of his ex-lover, must face a terrifying truth. It may be one he has unwittingly prepared for.
A modern transgressive tale, Breeding Contempt’s Sam Owens comfortably occupies the bar stool between Victor Mancini (Palahniuk) and Bunny Munro (Cave). A fast-paced, 50,000-word novel that tears through a world of over-indulgence, shame, and retail in its various forms.
Q2: Haruki Murakami says that when he’s writing a novel he gets up at 4am every morning, writes for 4 or five hours, then goes for a 10km run or a 1500m swim, or both. Did you have a routine you kept when writing your novel, and how did you juggle this with everyday ‘life’ commitments?
I had zero other commitments. It was good. It meant I could work on it whenever the mood struck me. This made it so much easier to write every day (literally) like you’re “supposed to.” I usually work better when it’s sunny out, but I’ve found there’s not real circadian routine to my creativity. There were some nights I was up until 3 or 4am. I can see how running or bike-riding would help though. It’s something I want to do more of as my life becomes focused on writing exclusively. It’s important to keep your body active. It helps your mind refocus.
Q3: How does your manuscript look compared to what you thought it would be when it was in the genesis stage?
Much, much better than I could have hoped, thanks to the support and criticism of some key peers, and my thesis supervisor.
Q4: What other texts (books, movies, TV shows, music etc) did you consume during the process, and did any of it affect your writing?
I distinctly remember seeing Drive soon after getting my whole story out of my head and onto the page. That was actually the most frustrating part of the process for me because I was pulling my hair out at this and that and generally felt “not good enough” et cetera. So I went and saw Drive, and while I definitely don’t think that film is the be-all and end-all of storytelling, or movies, it did spark something in me. Compelling doesn’t need to be complex. That movie was so simple, on most, if not all fronts. But it was also really evocative and emotional. It worked. Boardwalk Empire was another one at the time that drove that idea of effective simplicity home. Maybe simplicity isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s efficiency.
I also remember reading No Country For Old Men for the first time while writing my first draft. It provided me with a better idea for structuring. That story has so many threads and characters, but it’s written and structured so effortlessly. It has such strong theme and symbolism strewn throughout, though that never interferes with the story itself. It was a huge help. And, for the purpose of pure enjoyment, also one of my favourite novels.
Q5: What did you find trickiest about the process? What did you find most rewarding?
Getting traction on the first draft was definitely the trickiest. Getting from alpha to omega in a way I was happy with. When I started I knew my three main characters, and I knew what was going to happen to them. I didn’t really know how. Hence the frustration I mentioned in question 4. So much of it didn’t work, or really irked me – both in the prose and the story itself – when it first came out.
Getting my first draft finished, and knowing exactly what I need to focus on next is the most rewarding. It’s almost like I went in blind, and now, while I’m not done, I at least have a map and a flashlight and a Sherpa. Moreover, reading back over the draft after some time away, and actually feeling the kind of feelings and atmosphere I had originally intended is reassuring.
Ryan Sim is a Brisbane-based writer, who enjoys reminiscing of his preteen days in September, 1959, when he and his three closest friends went on an adventure to find the body of a missing boy. Ryan’s work has been published in Stilts, Yarn, Blunt, and No Heroes.