Throwback Thursday: your favourite writers go back
Welcome to our new Throwback Thursday blog series, every other week we’ll be taking a peek behind the curtain of some of your favourite author’s earlier works, and we couldn’t think of a better author to start the series with than NYT-bestselling author James Lovegrove:
Writing World Of Fire
I can usually rely on it taking me four to five months to complete a full-length novel. The period of time depends, of course, on the word count and the quantity of other demands I have simultaneously. A sudden spike in the level of journalism commitments, for example, can add a couple of weeks to the total. I slow down somewhat during the school holidays, too. It’s distracting when the kids are home and doing their best (but often failing) to leave their dad alone in his office to work.
Four to five months may seem fast but it’s nothing compared with the rate at which the Golden Age pulp fiction writers wrote. Some of those guys could turn out a novel in a week. Even the slower penmen among them were managing a book a month.
They had to. They were living hand-to-mouth, surviving from contract to contract, and unless you were one of the big names working on one of the prestige character titles, the pay rate wasn’t great. For every Lester Dent (Doc Savage), Maxwell Grant (The Shadow), or Norvell Page (The Spider), there were thousands of lesser-known hacks hammering desperately at their typewriters, rushing to meet deadline.
What emerged from this frenzy to fill the ravenous, ever-hungry maw of the pre- and post-war story-magazine industry was often some very bad prose. Also, some very hackneyed and ill-thought-through plotting.
Equally, however, the pulp writers produced work with an unrivalled energy and urgency, tales that reflected the breakneck speed and brain-wracking ferocity of their creation by becoming compelling, page-turning masterpieces––the kind of thing you can’t stop reading once you start, skating over the infelicities of the writing and the often clunky characterisation just to see how it all turns out.
I don’t consider myself a pulp writer, but I bore the example of these long-gone pace merchants in mind when I sat down to begin World Of Fire. I was keen to capture some of the propulsiveness they brought to their storytelling. I wanted to re-create some of the spirit they imbued their tales with, that flinty fire and flash. I hoped to evoke that sense that the next action scene was never far away, the hero was only one step ahead of the villain, a reversal of fortune could come at any moment, and a long ladder of advances and setbacks must be scaled before victory was achieved.
I can’t say that I managed to complete the manuscript in a week, or even a month. It was closer on three months, from January to March of this year. But I belted through it all the same. The only novels that have taken me less time were my debut, The Hope, and my first Sherlock Holmes, The Stuff Of Nightmares (six and seven weeks respectively). Interestingly, in each instance the book was my maiden attempt at something, be it just plain writing a novel or writing a mystery novel––or, in the case of World Of Fire, writing a pure, outer-space action-adventure novel.
World Of Fire is the opening salvo in what I hope is going to be an intensive, long-running bombardment of volumes which will propel its hero Dev Harmer – stretching the artillery metaphor a bit here, but forgive me, it’s nearly Christmas – into all kinds of dangerous situations as he strives to keep the intergalactic peace between humankind and the artificial intelligence race known as Polis+ and not get himself killed in the process. The sequel, World Of Water, is on its way, and I’m managing to replicate the great blaze of creativity that drove me through the first one.
Write it quick and people will read it quick. If that wasn’t the pulp fictioneers’ motto, it should have been. If the author doesn’t hesitate or lose focus, neither will the reader. If you want to make something unputdownable, don’t pause, don’t think twice, just tell the story, and keep telling it until it’s told.
– James Lovegrove