I am half way through the First Draft of my next novel. I know this because the story already exists very clearly in my head. I’m not a writer who explores the story on paper, at least not these days. I explore the story in my head for ages before I set to work. Then I write an outline, merely to remind myself of everything I want to include, since it’s quite easy to forget great chunks.
Working in this way leaves me with the opportunity to work on the writing itself, rather than trying to devise a story and write it in the best possible way at the same time, which strikes me as a bit like cycling down the road carrying a parcel.
When I say that I want to work on the writing I mean that I want to get it as good as I can by my own standards. Everybody has different ideas about this but for me good writing should be almost invisible, like the glass in a shop window, so that the reader only sees the goods on display. I’m not interested in writing that calls attention to itself all the time like some leather clad rock star standing in the spotlight producing endless guitar solos.
As a children’s writer I naturally visit schools now and again. In more than one primary school I’ve had the experience of the teacher saying something like, ‘Now then everyone, I’m sure that Mr Keaney is going to show us how to write using lots of lovely describing words.’ That sort of attitude makes me want to scream, ‘No Mr Keaney is going to do no such thing!’ This is no way to teach our children but of course it comes from the rigidity of the National Curriculum.
Recently, a secondary school asked me to visit and I expressed a certain reluctance because on a previous visit some of the pupils had seemed to have no idea who I was or what I was doing there. I only want to come if you do some preparation for the visit, I said. The teacher sent me back a reply stating that this wasn’t really possible because the curriculum determined what was taught in English lessons and there was no time to deviate from that. What was the point in me coming then, I wondered. Because the school was having a Book Week, she said. So my visit was effectively no more than a box-ticking exercise.
You can’t measure good writing by the number of adjectives used. Nor can you pretend that you are introducing children to literature by having an annual Book Week. These are both simply examples of tokenism. I believe this sort of thing has come about because of political interference in schools. In the UK politicians seem obsessed with micro-managing the curriculum so that it produces a series of statistics. And what is the purpose of these statistics? Purportedly, it is to provide parents with choice. But really it’s just so they can use the figures as part of their own miserable campaign of self-preservation.