My iPod has deserted me now as well. My flat’s turning into some kind of Rest Home for Broken Things: they’re just lying around, taunting me with their inability to entertain. I smell conspiracy, and firmly suspect my editors. And thus, as my evil overlords will be pleased to learn, I have been RRRing like billy-o.
Dean Lorey’s Nightmare Academy: Charlie’s Monsters (HarperCollins, out in March 08): one of those random freebies I’m lucky enough to get paws on these days. It is…how shall I put this…familiar? There are very few stories we all know inside out and backwards: the little tale of a garden with two nekkid folk and a snake in a tree; that one where the wheezy chap says ‘No, Luke, I am your father’; the story of the Boy Who Earned. It’s a hackneyed and usually daft criticism, comparing every kids’ book published to Harry Potter as if Rowling invented schoolrooms or wizardry: the first resort for reviewers who’ve never actually read any other kidlit to namedrop. But when the first book in a series whisks our boy hero (an oddball who appears to possess strange abilities) off to weird school (after 100 pages, most of which could be snipped quite happily), where he meets a gobby dopey boy and an slightly irritating ‘clever’ girl, it’s hard to dodge.
There are some pleasing scares, and enough gore to keep 10-year-old boys quite happy: as much Darren Shan and Jamie Rix as JKR. But the characterization is thin and often reliant on stereotypes (cowboys, Southern matrons) that seem to have got sunk on the Atlantic crossing, and the same is true for rather too many of the gags – a surprise, since Lorey’s previous job was as writer and co-exec producer for the much-missed Arrested Development. Not at all terrible, but not really good enough, I fear, with Potter looming over its shoulder.
Alas, rewrites of the rewrites! I am being taken in hand by my two lovely editors, who sadly saw through my usual editing technique of ‘Insert More Jokes (and hope this distracts them from the parts where you haven’t really changed anything)’ and want me to do some proper hard work involving Thinking. All I need now is a time tunnel and to quit both my other jobs, and we’re set. Editing down to the wire like this is actually vaguely enjoyable, in a ‘punishing self at the gym’ kind of way: you know it makes you a better writer, even if you’ll smell a bit by the end. But it’s all undercut by a mild sense of terror. I don’t just have a responsibility to my lovely publishers, but also to my book, the one in my head, the first draft, the seven that followed, and to all the people who read it along the way and liked THAT bit best. I want to be kind and fair and respectful to all of these. I want, fundamentally, not to mess it all up at the last hurdle. (I doubt you’ve ever seen me hurdle, but I’m not exactly a natural. Perhaps I should hope not to mess it up at the last cup of tea instead.) Fingers crossed, anyway. Not that that’ll help the typing.
Sorting out a bag of Haribo Micromix into the four major food groups (fake licorice allsorts, the ones a bit like cross-sections of fuse wire, nasty jelly things, cola bottles) and ensuring I only consume a balanced handful at a time. Never let it be said I don’t know how to enjoy a Friday night.