Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Serial Writing

Perhaps like me, some of you enjoy the writings of Alexander McCall Smith.  He is probably best known for his Ladies' #1 Detective Agency series.  I tried the first book of that series once, but didn't get into it.  I see with a little googling HBO now produces a show based on these books.

I've also read Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and enjoyed its quirkiness; but I've not yet read any of the others in that series.

I really like his Isabel Dalhousie books.  I appreciate how Mr. McCall Smith is able to bring his vast life experience into a learning experience for his readers.  He was born in Africa, in what was then Rhodesia, of Scottish parents; studied law and medical ethics, among other things; plays the bassoon, and has an interest in the poetry and art of Scotland. I learn something new in every one of his books.  

McCall Smith seems able to portray people who hold views different than his own in an honest, multi-faceted way.  I totally groove on his turns of phrase.  They are creative and contrived, but somehow, they work for me, making me chuckle at or ponder or visualize a situation, conversation, or individual. 

I recently checked out 44 Scotland Street from the library.  When I picked it up, I started with the preface.  I was interested to find out that it was written in serial form, for The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper.  At this point, there are six novels in this series.  It appears that each one was published in daily instalments for the first six months of consecutive years, starting in 2004.

In the preface to 44 Scotland Street, McCall Smith explains that this book has its origins in a conversation he had at a party in California, at the home of author, Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club and Bonesetter's Daughter).  He heard author Armistead Maupin talk about, Tales of the City, originally published in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle.  This conversation got him thinking about serial writing. And when he wrote an article for The Herald (Glasgow's daily) about his trip to California, he mentioned the above conversation.  Editors at The Scotsman read the article and asked McCall Smith to try one for their newspaper.  The series is still going strong today

I wrote awhile back about the idea of serial writing.  I even started another blog to try my hand at it.  I was hoping to spur others on to try, so that we might have a collection of serials going at one time, but although several people have expressed an interest, so far I have only one other author who has posted anything.  But I, myself, have not been consistent either, allowing other writing projects to take precedence.  And I find that writing has, in common with reading, the difficulty of getting back to a story I have set down for a period of time.  The momentum is gone and it gets progressively more difficult to pick the work up again, the longer I let it go.

But I was pleased to see from this book, that I'm not alone in my interest in the idea of serial writing.  It strikes me as a creative way for struggling newspapers to interest and hold on to readers.  And the act of writing serially produces a different sort of novel than one that is planned and finished prior to publication. 

Perhaps I'll be motivated to work more on Tilda and the Gangster.

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