Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Whatever happened to the Bromley Boys?

Now that the book's end is in sight, I needed to do a "follow-up" chapter about what became of the various characters involved in the story. I contacted one of the local Bromley papers and they agreed to run the piece shown above. So far, so unexciting. But when I woke up on Tuesday, one of the most exciting emails I have ever received was waiting in my Inbox. It was from Alan Stonebridge, my all-time hero and the greatest player ever to wear the famous Bromley shirt. Although he had moved to the west country, his brother had seen the article and passed on my details. Honestly, I had difficulty getting to sleep that night...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Getting Better

I've been working on incorporating Tom's ideas into the book and have to admit, it's already making it a better read. I've re-jigged the chapters and covered off the specific points. I've added more of the "wider context", including bits about the Eurovision Song Contest, Pele's 100th goal, John Lennon returning his OBE, the stylophone (yes I really did have one) and the lovely Una Stubbs.

It's also good having someone take a fresh look at your work - my wife would normally read through it and give me feedback, but her interest in non-league football circa 1969 is surprisingly low.

I see York City lost again over the weekend. I think Tom is beginning to find out what it was like for me supporting Bromley back when they were monumentally awful.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Curse of the Bromley Boys Part Two

Obviously, the fact that I’ve been working hard on The Bromley Boys can have no direct effect on the results of my own team, York City. However, it should be noted that in the course of writing these notes, York conspired to lose at home in the first round proper of the FA Cup to Havant and Waterlooville, a club who (with no disrespect) are so small they need two separate places to combine to make up their team. Harumph. Out of the FA Cup, dead and buried in the league, the season is over and it’s not even the middle of November…

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Four): That’s All Folks

Asides from these general comments, I have also given Dave a set of specific notes – about fifty or so – on particular sentences/ phrases that needs a tweak. And that’s it. I always think these notes sound a lot in one go, but (I hope) that once digested, they all make sense and don’t seem half as much work as they might do initially.

How do these compare to other editorial notes? I would say that they’re broadly representative of the kind of comments I normally give, though certainly at the upper end of things: Dave is an experienced writer, having written a novel before, so I know I can challenge him on a technical level that newer writers might struggle with – and also, that he’ll have the confidence to take it. Every book is different – I’ve had manuscripts come in at almost double the right length, and have had spent weeks deleting and editing down; I’ve had others where I’ve picked up the pen myself and got stuck into the rewriting. So it all varies. But Dave’s book, from an editorial point of view, is one of the nice ones: there’s 60,000-odd words that only require tweaking rather than rewriting, leaving space for us to play with and bring out some of the book’s best bits.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Three): Sick as an ex-parrot

My next comments to Dave are some suggestions as to where the manuscript could be added to, to make the book even better. These are partly to do with presentation, and partly to do with things that Dave has already touched upon and I think that he could make more of.

The first of these concerned Results and Memorabilia. This book is, essentially, a nostalgia football book, and I want to Dave to think about what he could add here to bring this out. Here are some of my thoughts: the inclusion of league tables at the end of each match to emphasise Bromley’s downward spiral (a similar device was used in David Peace’s The Damned United); team sheets, perhaps laid out in formation, or with Dave’s ratings of each player; Programme comments, such as a few juicy quotes from the chairman’s editorial.

My second thought is for Dave to add a little bit more about the wider culture of the time. There’s a brilliant bit where Dave describes watching the first ever episode of Monty Python and turns it off thinking it rubbish… only to go to school the next day to find everyone quoting the sketches at each other. I’ve asked him to do more of this, whether it’s about TV, film, music or, indeed, football – the contrast with what is happening at the top of the league will, I think, only heighten the Bromley story.

My third thought is for Dave to put a little bit more of his feelings and emotions in to some scenes. There are places where Dave describes what has happened but doesn’t give his response to it. The more emotion he is happy to put in, the more the reader is going to be able to emphasise with him.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Two): Stitching Dave Up Good And Proper

My other general point about Dave’s writing concerns what I call ‘stitching’ – in other words, how the manuscript links together, and in particular (to continue the analogy) to make the narrative as seamless as possible. My previous point on the chapter structure is, in a way, stitching on a macro level: my other stitching comments are far micro.

The first of these is to do with the way Dave sometimes lays out his sentences. There are occasions where there are a succession of single sentence paragraphs. It’s a powerful tool – it’s saying to the reader: this sentence is important – but using it too much can dull its impact. So I’ve asked Dave to have a look at this and, on occasions, add the stand out sentences to neighbouring paragraphs (as an aside, I noticed a similar thing with another author recently, whose book is based on a blog: is the internet influencing how people write?)

The second stitching point concerns how Dave moves between sections. Sometimes, it feels as though sections begin a little suddenly, with no nod to what has gone before – for example, ‘The coach to Erith and Belvedere for the Kent Senior Cup was full’. We’re just bang into the action. Far better, I think, when they link together. Here’s another example: ‘The next day, after a restless night’s sleep…’ Dave’s giving a sense of time, and the restless night’s sleep is to do with his anger in the previous section. These sort of tweaks might not sound like much, but over a book can really make a difference.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part One)

I’ve finished my editorial notes for The Bromley Boys and have emailed them back to Dave: my next few entries will be a general summary of my main points. They’ve taken me longer than I would have liked, which is mainly because I’ve been pinging around from one book project to another and haven’t had the headspace to have a real think about Dave’s book. There’s been something nagging me about the manuscript and it took me a while to work out what it was.

What was nagging at me was this. Although Dave’s book is ostensibly about the worst season in Bromley’s history, what I realised on reflection was that it wasn’t actually about Bromley’s worst season in history after all – it was really about Dave. It’s the coming of age story of a fourteen-year-old football fan who goes from being an outsider to one who belongs. The football stuff is important, but it’s a backdrop to the real narrative, which is Dave’s personal journey. The fact that we know from the start that the season is Bromley’s worst means there is little plot 'pull' in this storyline. Essentially, they started badly, and stayed bad. The only dramatic tension is whether or not they can avoid being really, really bad. So the structure has to be shaped around Dave.

Once I’d worked this out, I went back through the manuscript to mark down where the plot points were in terms of Dave’s personal journey. I then had a look at Dave’s original chapter structure, and worked out how to reshape it in accordance with these plot points. The chapters in which the main points were football ones, I folded into the ‘Dave’ chapters. From the original 34 chapters, I’ve reshaped into 22. It’s worth saying that in doing so, I’ve haven’t suggested any cuts – it’s all been to do with moving the chapter markers to (what I think is) their rightful place. Chapter breaks, for me, are signposts as to where the narrative is going and as in real life, unclear signage can lead to people getting lost.