Slow Burn Story

Successful writer, murder your darlingsThis week I have been finishing a slow burn story. Writing has totally absorbed me. Hardly had time to eat and sleep, let alone read my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Actually Tweet or post Facebook status? Haha. In a contest between us, snowballs in hell would be the bookies’ favourite.

It’s been great. But…

Connecting with a Slow Burn Story

Bad Brides


Then, suddenly, a dear friend tagged me on Facebook to write about seven books in seven days.

Well, actually, after she tagged me, she realised that she had been doing it wrong. Because what she was originally tagged me to do was put up seven book covers in seven days.

In all innocence she had forgotten the covers, while she made interesting points about her various reading choices. I knew several (she had actually given me one) and at least one of the others, Bad Brides, intrigued me mightily.


By the time she made her discovery, however, I’d already gone on my own path into something different again.

I was posting pieces about books that were a slow burn story from my point of view as a reader. I had embarked on reading every one of them reluctantly. Then Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and the six others became beloved friends, read and re-read. I loved them all to bits .They were permanent keepers.

It hasn’t happened often. But when it does, it sticks in the mind. And it’s sometimes quite hard to remember why I took against the poor book in the first place. Though I managed to unearth the reasons for the six books I’ve covered so far.

That led me on to reflect that, anyway, novels don’t stay the same, as you grow up, add experiences, lose patience and forgive injuries. SO every novel might turn out to be a slow burn story.

Returning to a Slow Burn Story

I pondered this when, by chance or good luck, I happened to pick up Deep Secret when I needed a break from writing. (It’s been pretty intense.) This was precisely a book that I first read with great hopes that didn’t seem fulfilled. It’s by one of my very favourite authors, Diana Wynne Jones.

Yet, somehow, it never gripped me.

I have vaguely wondered whether that was because she’d written it in the first person, which mostly she didn’t. Or whether it was because the first person narration was divided between two (or rather two with a third at the end) people who seemed to have exactly the same voice, while being completely different characters.

It certainly holds one of DWJ’s most unforgettable episodes. That is based on the folksong or skipping game How many Miles to Babylon? which has always sent a shiver up my spine. This is now redoubled, thanks to Our Author.

She gets a lot of fun from Tolkien fans and their fellow paranormal enthusiasts, too. (And there is a fantastic orgy, which our protagonist, characteristically, treats as an irritating obstacle in his important work.)

The fans aren’t all comedy relief, though. There is a wild jester-character who becomes increasingly terrifying to me and whose purpose and fate remain unresolved. Which may contribute to some of my unease, even now, I think.

And there is a truly scary scene where fans dressed as monks, supported by armed Vikings, set up a sort of transcendental Hum of Power. I totally believed it and was on the edge of my seat by the climax.

But the whole? No, didn’t quite hit the spot. Because for quite a lot of the time I didn’t, couldn’t, suspend disbelief.

Writer of a Slow Burn Story

On re-reading, however, I have decided that the hollowness was in me, rather than book or writer. This year, by a neat quirk of fate which I think she would have appreciated, I went to my first fans’ conference – on the work of Diana Wynne Jones herself.

And it was set in Bristol, where she lived and much of this story takes place.

Twelfth Night maskIt was, however, both more highly academic and rather less costumed than the full-on experience such as next year’s CoNZealand or Bubonicon 52  Though several websites show that her research on these conferences was thorough – the role-playing, the costumes, the alien languages, the international attendees. Maybe the egos and the professional rivalries, too. I wouldn’t be surprised.

But the core of the book, which I hadn’t noticed amid the cast of thousands, is a kind young man, serious about his work, who has just lost his mentor and is trying to do a decent job.  And he has one glorious moment which I think most people, certainly most writers, will recognise.

To his disgust, Rupert, our narrator, has been listening to a lot of distinguished authors claiming that all fantasy-writing is about plot, discipline and calculation alone. And then –

...I had one of those moments that Ted Mallory and his fellow-panellists claimed not to have. Ideas, thoughts, explanations, notions hit me and drenched my mind like the surf of a huge Atlantic roller. Rolled me over among them. I went down at first, and then sprang up and rode the wave with growing and enormous excitement. Everything I knew about what had been happening today assembled itself beneath me as if the pieces had been lying around hoping I would see them and put them together. And I thought I knew what was going on and why.

So now, of course, I have to read it again. Not immediately. But soon. Because there is more here for me than I thought a week ago. Yay!

Sophie Weston Author


4 thoughts on “Slow Burn Story

  1. lesley2cats

    You introduced me to DWJ, too, Sophie, as well as Ibbotson. The trouble is, my TBR pile is growing enormous, now, all re-reads. There are four shelves just behind where I sit in the evenings, over the piano, one of Ngaio Marsh, one of Rex Stout, one PGW and one Heyer. I regularly work through them all – it’s a wonder I’ve ever got time for new books. Currently it’s Rex Stout, but it’ll be Ibbotson and DWJ after that.

  2. Jan Jones

    Oh, Deep Secret is one of my absolute favourites! There is so much going on, on so many different levels, including a fabulous example of the creeping-up-on-you romance that she does so well. I identified with both the narrators right from their first sentences, and the unresolved minor character you mention didn’t bother me because it shows their world goes on, with always more work to do for them.

  3. gilliallan

    I am a huge supporter and fan of slow burn stories, but I would be, wouldn’t I? Sadly, it seems that most readers want the instant fix. gx

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