The Subtle Pen
I suppose some writers plan ahead the way some travellers do, they never set off without a detailed itinerary. They know exactly what their characters will do in any given situation and never lose their way.
Much as I’d like to sit in the fast lane, keep my foot on the accelerator and burn up the words, I’m much more tentative. If I’m lucky I might just about possess a yellow 1960s AA book, but I’m lacking a decent route map, and as for a GPS system…
Earlier this year I re-read Philip Pullman’s ‘The Subtle Knife’, the second book of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, and I suddenly realised that the knife used by protagonist Will Parry to open windows onto parallel worlds is a wonderful metaphor for the process of writing fiction. The old man who teaches Will to use the knife tells him to ‘think about the knife tip’, to use it to feel for a gap in the air, to search for ways into different worlds. Feel your way. This seems to me to reflect perfectly the experience of inventing other realities and of reaching out through every nerve ending to experience life through the characters we create.
The novel I’m writing – technically, I’m editing, but there bits to fill in and there always seems to be one more hill to climb – doesn’t involve parallel universes, but it does depict the same place at two different points in time, with interlocking narratives which share common themes and at times seem only a whisper apart.