in move ebook available

in move cover

My novel about teenage guys facing the end of their friendship, in move, is now available in ebook formats. (The blog serialisation has finished, but of course you can still read it there too.)

As I’ve mentioned before, this was the first novel I wrote. I started writing in 1993, when I was in my final year of high school. I was writing about the world immediately around me – Catholic single sex school in the Hutt Valley, playing some basketball, you get the idea.

Reading it again after many years away from it? If I was a publisher, I wouldn’t publish it either. I think I trapped myself with the very concept of the book – the action of the story begins when one character gets some news that demands action and decision, but instead he freezes up, and that freeze creates the rest of the story. Problem is, I’m just not a good enough writer to make really compelling work of that period, when the main character is avoiding taking action. It’s like that one Harry Potter book where all Harry did was shout at people and sulk: the other stuff going on carries the narrative some of the way, but it’s still bothersome.

So this book is about Hutt boys. But what is it really about? (Per Kermode: Jaws is not about a giant shark, Tinker Tailor is not about spies, in move is not about Hutt boys.)

Mostly, it’s about small group dynamics, which just happens to be the same thing I did a Masters thesis on a few years ago, because I guess I am just interested in that subject. And, like most character-driven fiction, it’s about the tension between what’s going on inside someone’s head and what they actually do and say.

This read-through it also became clear to me just how much the book is about rape culture. It almost pains me to type those two words, because I certainly wouldn’t have characterised it that way before. But now, it’s hard to ignore how much this book shows of some deeply unpleasant things that seemed ordinary throughout my youth.

Throughout the book, the boys (including some of the lead characters) say some pretty atrocious things about women. They do this a lot. There’s a kind of gross-out competition underway, mixed in with bravado and not a little irony, about who can say something more extreme about women and sex. There are rape jokes, which are taken as jokes by all the characters. Women are regularly dehumanised, both as a category and specific people who happen to get noticed at the wrong time.

This, I accept, is more or less how it was. This talk is more prevalent in the book than it was in reality, but that’s just a matter of degree. The overall tone matches my recollections. It was meant to, of course; it’s a deliberate theme of the book. It’s just looking back now, in the aftermath of Steubenville and many other incidents, I see that theme in a new and harsher light.

I’m also less confident now that the book deals with this content as effectively as it might. The characters are never called out for their talk; the counterbalance comes in two ways. First, and most obviously, there is a sexual assault near the end of the book. The fact that this act is verbally foreshadowed throughout the book by almost every male character is hopefully not lost on anyone. Intended message: talk has consequences.

Secondly, the simple fact that the young women in the story are real people. Every time they are “on stage”, their very presence (hopefully) exposes all that talk as ridiculous and wrongheaded.

So if authorial intent counts for anything, that was mine. On balance I think this book isn’t exactly a menace to society in its current form. But that isn’t clear-cut, and it probably can’t be, because fiction needs ambiguity. I just hope I got it more or less right, anyway.

I’ve often thought about a followup to in move, where Scott goes to visit Richard in New York City twenty years later. Maybe one day.

in move (part 3)

in move, my novel about friendship under pressure, starts Part Three today. It’s a good time to jump on board!

in move has four main characters. (Pro tip: it is dumb to have four main characters in your first attempt at writing a novel.) Part Three has a focus on Adam, the goofy tall one without a great deal of confidence. He is, you could say, the nice one.

Reading along with the story as it has gone live, I’ve been struck by just how unpleasant the characters can be. It’s meant to be that way of course – I was trying to capture something of how life actually felt, and this sort of behaviour was everywhere. Teenage boys possess great nobility and kindness, but their world rewards a different register of behaviour.

Related: the scale of the distance between what the characters say and do, and what’s going on inside their heads. The size of the gulf here is part of NZ male culture. We blokes are famous for retreating from any kind of genuine emotional expression. (We all go off pig hunting or hide in our sheds, apparently.) This isn’t exactly healthy, and our high rates of alcohol abuse and suicide are both regularly linked to this tendency, but there remains a certain kind of pride in it – watch any of our television advertisements for beer and you’ll see this kind of behaviour quietly rewarded.

This story’s main characters were assembled in a particular way, to demonstrate contrasting approaches to key concerns that were part of the world for me and my friends. Reading it now, I guess they also demonstrate different approaches to interiority. This shows up most clearly in their unpleasant moments; also their most vulnerable ones.
That’s how it works.

I’m curious to note a change in myself, as well. For better or worse, I judge these character flaws more harshly than I used to. I’m two decades older than them, and I suppose this means I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be them. A future of being yelled at by my teenage daughter awaits?

Anyway. Adam’s the nice one. You can read about his life starting here. He’s been sitting at the bottom of the pecking order for a long time, and things are due for a shake-up.

Part 1, & Rumination

I Ruminated again: the 10 best things to tell computer support scammers.

And the first part of in move has gone live. I read it, too, for the first time in years – I’m going to read along as the sections go up and see how it plays. Verdict on the opening: not nearly as bad as I was expecting. There’s definitely some copyedits I’d do if I was treating it as a live project though! And I do appreciate how this relatively innocuous sequence & decision sets up an entire novel’s worth of angst. You can check it out here if you missed it. It’s a short opener – tomorrow’s update is about 4 times as long…

“in move” into creative commons

I’ve decided to release the first novel I wrote, in move, under Creative Commons.

It’s going to be serialised over here, appearing one chunk every weekday, posts going live at noon (starting tomorrow). When the whole thing’s up, I’ll release it as an epub as well.

in move came about simply because as a teenager I never read anything that felt remotely like my experience of life. So I decided to write it myself. It is, most pointedly, not a coming-of-age story where boys are tested, lose their innocence and become men. Instead it’s a relationship story, about the complex friendship between four people and how it is shaken by threat of change.

I’ve never taken “write what you know” too literally, but for this story I did a lot of that. It’s set in 1993 at a single-sex boy’s school in Lower Hutt, and the four friends in their final year of school join the school’s basketball team. But it isn’t autobiographical; lots of bits and pieces are grabbed from life, for sure, but the main characters and their stories are entirely original creations.

I first started scribbling character notes and ideas while I was the same age as the main characters. I worked away on it, on and off, for a few years after leaving school (particularly in the early days of the JAAM writing group), and eventually completed a first draft. A bit later I went back to it and stripped it back by almost half the length, and then finally, after going to and returning from the UK, I pulled a final edit and tried to do something with it. It received nice-ish “thanks for your first novel” rejections; lit publishers suggested it was really YA fiction, while YA publishers hinted that it was paced and framed too much like “adult” lit for their lists. Either way it never sparked enough enthusiasm for any publisher to want to take a financial risk on it, and, you know, fair enough!

But I do think it’s a good story, and I have a lot of affection for it. Maybe some of you will enjoy reading it too?

Follow along over here: