An excellent new series is playing on The Arts Channel at the moment, called Scribbling. It follows four writers over the course of a few of years, from the beginning of writing a book to the publication. In a world of quick-fixes, I think that is very patient of the producers to take so long putting together a TV show, and I imagine they must have made it with blind faith before pitching the finished product to the TV networks, who I can't see saying way back in 1999: "Great, let's do it, you've got a deadline of Wednesday May 14, 2008!"
The first episode I saw was about Geoff Ryman, who I thought at first I hadn't heard of, but then saw he had written the much-recommended Was, which I still haven't got around to reading, even though I have it on my shelf. The story is about his novel Lust, and we get to see him sitting down with his initial idea and working through the first draft and all that that brings - the highs, the lows, the stress of also working a full time job, the deadlines from his publisher coming and going. One day, on holiday in Greece, he writes 10,000 words in one day and afterwards he looks drunk.
All gripping stuff. If you're also a writer. I can't explain what draws me to watching what to some people will amount to paint drying. It's something to do with the fact that as writers we are working wholly alone, at least for the bulk of the job and seeing how other people operate - their superstitions, work habits, their despair and elation - is as close to having colleagues in this busniess as we might get.
It was also interesting watching Ryman's first editorial meeting after his completed first draft, with two editors in a claustrophobic-looking meeting room of HarperCollins UK. One editor talks, the other smokes incessantly. They like the novel; they have some suggestions. Ryman goes home and gets depressed and doesn't write another word for three months. I even found the last editorial meeting before it goes off to the printer, where Ryman argues with his (different) editor about the term "our Michael" highly entertaining. The editor thinks it is wrong for the author to address the reader like this; Ryman thinks it's fine. Is this reality TV? I suppose it is, in a way, but not as we know it.
I can only watch these programmes alone. I can't imagine anybody else in my family being the slightest bit interested, but I actually find it as a gripping television expereince as any thriller. Will he get the ending right? Will he throw it all in? Will he get any writing done in Brazil, or will the urge to party overtake? Will it ever get published? I am looking forward to the episode on AS Byatt, although the website notes it only follows her through part of the process of writing her book. Perhaps some writers are just too slow for the fast-paced world of TV after all.
NB I may be a bit quiet this week as I'm going up to Auckland for the Auckland Writers' Festival, which I will report on when I get back.