Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, January 11, 2016

How not to write a novel


Nathan here. I first met my friend Julia Forster a decade ago when we were assistants to two US and UK agents who worked closely together. She's now an accomplished author, and her novel What a Way to Go was published on Thursday by Atlantic Books in the UK. I invited her to write a guest post on the writing process. Enjoy!

In the autumn of 2002 I upped sticks from Bristol, England and rented a room in Kensington, Brooklyn for three months. I had an idea for a novel. It was to be set across two locations – New York and Venice.

The book would follow a young girl, Paige, who dreamt of being a cartographer. She was best friends with a boy called Sebastian who had dyslexia. He wanted to build gondolas.

I spent three months “researching” New York, haunting Park Slope coffee shops and bookstores. I volunteered at the Park Slope Food Co-op, and then as a magician’s assistant. I ate a lot of organic broccoli from the Food Co-op but also maxed out on American Pancakes.

One day, I walked straight into Paul Auster outside the Community Bookstore in Park Slope in which I’d had my first ever taste of Green Tea. I grinned at the author inanely, and stepped aside.

I didn’t read much (although I did obsess over Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library) and I wrote even less.

In December, I came back to the UK and realised that, while I had a wealth of ethnographic research and a massive overdraft to boot, I had no book. There was also no plot, no real sense of who my characters were, nor what made them tick.

Fast-forward two years and I was now based in London and working in Soho at a small literary agency. One Friday evening, on my commute home walking alongside the Thames on the South Bank, it struck me that the canvas I had chosen was too epic for me to handle. I decided to shrink it, and write an entirely different book, this time an autobiography.

It would be set in the middle of England where I grew up. My parents had divorced when I was five, so I was brought up in two family homes, one in a town called Northampton with my Mum (population 180,000) and, every other weekend, I was based in a small village with my Dad (population 180).

Over the course of the next year, I drafted 80,000 words. Only then did I realise the two major shortcomings with this project:

1) Nothing happened to me.

2) Nobody knew who I was.

I consigned the book to live under the bed. It served as quite good sound insulation. Aged 32, I moved to rural mid-Wales, with a partner and a three year-old daughter and a nine month-old son. If I turned my back for more than two seconds, my crawling baby son would be found fingering plug sockets or head-butting skirting boards.

By the age of three, he’d been hospitalised twice for whacking his prominent forehead, once having to be put under general anaesthetic in order to stitch his wound up again.

And it was under these circumstances – when I had been reduced to survival mode and when my horizons only reached as far as when I could reasonably consume another cup of strong coffee – that I managed to write the book that would find its way into print, What a Way to Go.

Can you picture those old-fashioned T-model Fords, the ones which needed a metal hand-crank to get the engine to fire? You’d put the crank into the front of the car, engage the ratchets, and then manually heave it round until the engine stuttered into life.


That was my brain.

My synapses hadn’t fired for that long that to begin with, the connections mis-fired.

For example, you would have thought that in order to commence a novel, you’d launch Word or Scrivener. Well, I launched the Excel application and began to compose my novel in tiny little cells on a spreadsheet.

I am not kidding when I say it took me three months to realise the error of my ways. By that time I was halfway through a six-month writers’ bursary which had been kindly awarded to me by Literature Wales.

By then, I was caffeine-addled and desperate. Turns out, this was the best state of mind in which to write.

I completed What a Way to Go over the next 18 months. I wrote as if my life depended on it, because it turned out that it did.

More about What a Way to Go: It’s 1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson's parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents' club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents' broken hearts...

Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music
and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.






Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe resembles... the 2016 American Presidential Election



When I wrote Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe in 2009-2010, I definitely tried to weave in some political satire that would resonate with kids who have to listen when their parents watch the news, and who have probably experienced a school election or two themselves.

Little did I know this novel would start to resemble the present in some weird ways.

Quick plot summary for those who haven't read it: the king of the universe has decided to abdicate the throne in favor of space's first democratic election, and since no self-respecting space human wants to listen to an adult give speeches (shudder), it is up to Mick Cracken, space buccaneer extraordinaire, and Jacob Wonderbar, Earth-born prankster with a heart of gold, to vie for the presidency.

Jacob wants to do a good job as president of the universe. Mick? Not so much. He promises nothing but entertainment.

They visit the planet full of journalists (imagine CNN's studios, but like, a whole planet), and Mick gives this speech:
Mick flashed his best cocky smile. "To the finest reporters and journalists in the universe, guardians of free speech and keepers of liberty. I bow down before your beauty and intelligence, you peerless scribes of truth and wisdom." 
The reporters nodded to each other and smiled. There was a smattering of applause. Jacob didn't know what to do and locked eyes with Sarah Daisy, who shook her head and shrugged. 
Mick paused for a moment, basking in the glow of attention. Finally he began to speak. 
"My administration will be full of corruption and scandal. There will be foul tricks and dirty deeds. I will disgrace the office, and my mistakes will force me to beg for mercy." Mick looked up at the reporters. "There will probably be tears." 
The reporters murmured to each other appreciatively. 
"As the universe's most famous space buccaneer, I couldn't be more unqualified for this office. I cannot promise you that I will be competent  or wise or good or even sort of good. You will often wonder how and why you elected me in the first place. That is, if I don't steal votes outright." Mick winked, and the reporters laughed. "There will always be a scandal to follow. Always a conspiracy to unravel. Constant speculation about whether I will be forced to resign. 
"Above all else, you will never be bored. I will break every single promise I make to you, except for this one, which I will hold dear: My speeches will be short." 
The room grew quiet in excitement and anticipation. 
"And that is why it gives me great pleasure to announce my candidacy for president of the universe." 
The reporters rose to their feet and cheered wildly. Mick raised his hands above his head and shook them in triumph.

Annnnd here we are. If you'd like to read more about the campaign antics, Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe is for sale on Amazon and B&N.






Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What are your favorite still-active blogs?



I've mentioned previously that the blogosphere is feeling a little quieter lately, but maybe I'm just not looking in the right places.

What are some of your favorite still-active writing and publishing blogs? Who's out there still innovating and keeping the people talking?






Monday, January 4, 2016

Do you have a writing New Year's resolution?


It is 2016! Still no flying cars or hoverboards (no, it's not), but um, at least Crystal Pepsi is coming back? Bueller?

Anyway, as we move ever more squarely into the twenty-first century, it is that time of year where we make resolutions for how we will self-improve, conquer worlds, and burn off all those Crystal Pepsi calories.

Do you have a writing-related New Year's resolution?

I'm hoping to make more progress on my sloooooow going novel. And hopefully blog a bit more consistently. And look at Twitter a little more often.

What about you?

Art: The Sun by Edvard Munch






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