Becoming a ‘book machine’

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an book written by Nell Stevens…

I don’t do this very often, but I read a book excerpt in my daily newspaper on Saturday morning and bought the book — for my kindle — that afternoon. With the irresistible title Bleaker House, and written by UK first time novelist Nell Stevens (pictured above), the book is a captivating mash up of memoir, travel and fiction.

It tells the story of Steven’s three-month, all-expenses-paid fellowship that allowed her to go anywhere in the world to research and write a book and that saw her travelling to the Falkland Islands. There, she was the only person on an island for much of her stay, writing and confronting the twin demons of procrastination and lack of adequate food. Here is her description of the chilly venue:

Bleaker Island is eight square miles of rock and mud off the south-east coast of an area of the Falklands called Lafonia. The land is owned by a farming couple called George and Alison, who divide their time between Bleaker and Stanley. Sometimes, then, the population of the island will be three, including myself, and sometimes it will be one, including myself. There are also sea lions, a thousand sheep, a small herd of cows, and a colony of gentoo penguins. There is no road. There are no trees.

Then, she goes into the same sort of mathematical calculations I have used myself on numerous occasions (although I always allow more time for editing):

If a first novel should be 90,000 words (I read this somewhere on the Internet once, and cling to it as absolute, indisputable fact) then after my false starts and archive-digging days in Stanley, which produced only 10,000, I have 80,000 words to go. I am on the island for forty-one days, and will need to leave some time at the end for revisions – a week or so should be enough for that, surely? – so say that leaves me with thirty-two writing days: 80,000 ÷ 32 = 2,500. I will write 2,500 words each day, and by the time I leave Bleaker, I will have drafted and revised a whole novel. 

The figures scribbled down in the notebook are dry, unemotional. They look remarkably similar to the calorie calculations I made on the previous page: the total number of almonds and raisins in the extra-large bags brought from London, divided by the number of days on Bleaker. I am conducting a simple transaction. Over the course of my stay, I will consume a total of 44,485 calories, and convert them into one 90,000-word novel. I will be a Book Machine.

I have been a reading machine for the last day and a half, and finished more than 70% of the book. I am impressed by her thoughtfulness, her eye for metaphor and her sense of humour. I will read more books by Nell Stevens, I hope, and I suggest you do as well.

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