Touch

So I’ve said some stuff about Harry August; I should probably also take this moment to say a little about the book that follows it, Touch.

This whole pseudonym thing comes with a caveat.  Now that I’m Claire North, writing books in a certain genre, it would be a bit wacky to diverge to massively from that genre after only one novel.  Claire North, it turns out, is a very different writer from Kate Griffin.  One of the joys about writing the Matthew Swift series was that a whole universe was created which I could play with at will – alas, Claire North doesn’t have that luxury.  Thus, when my publisher bought Harry August, a big question mark immediately popped up about what I should write next.  Something that was within the style of Claire North, but was still interesting and different.

This question mark hovered over conversations for nearly eight months.

A slightly worrying eight months.

As a writer, it’s good to know where you’re going.  It’s one of the very few things that keeps you sane.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not short on ideas, since there are so many juice footnotes in life just waiting to be exploded, but having a lot of funky ideas and finding the single idea which is the one, are two very different things.  And as I went back and forth with my editor, it became clear to both of us that sorting an something from the massive list was gonna be an adventure.

To keep myself calm and sane, I did a lot of theatre in those months.  I think I lit something ridiculous like seven shows in six months, which even for a lighting designer is bordering on daft.  Then, when winter was starting to arrive, I lit a show down at the Hoxton Courtyard (which has, if you’re wondering, one of the nicest in-house technical managers it has been my privilege to meet).  I remember walking one evening down New North Road to take another look at the venue (horribly low ceilings; nasty to rig) and even though it was barely 6 p.m., it was very dark.  There’s a park near the canal, a big patch of grubby grass really, and at night some lamps come on above the paths that cross it, and you can see cyclists and dog-walkers moving in and out of darkness as they pass by.  As they move, they seem to exist, and then don’t, somewhat like Heisenberg’s atoms in a cloud chamber, visible only when a photon strikes.  It was cold, it was wet, my shoes were leaking, my nose was red, and I had a terrible feeling that the height of the venue would not have increased in my absence.

Right there – that moment – the idea for Touch popped into my head.  Why?  I dunno.  Genuinely – no idea.  But the question which occurred was this: were there many books about possession?  Answer: sure, yes, there are plenty.  But I couldn’t off the top of my head think of any where the story was told, not from the point of view of people trying to exorcise a possessing power, or solve the mystery of who is possessed by what, but rather where the story is told from the point of view of the mind that is doing the possessing.  What would that be like?  Roaming from body to body, ignorant of who it is you’re inhabiting except by their credit cards and passport, not knowing their stories or what friends or families they might possess.  Does this body have a criminal record, is it married, does it have asthma, is it allergic to prawns?  You wouldn’t know.  A ghost, almost, drifting by touch from one host to the next, trying to live its life through the lives of other people – trying to live any sort of life whatsoever, really – any sort of life that might mean anything at all.  What would such a creature do with its time?  It would have no identity save for the identity of the bodies it stole.  It would own nothing of its own – at least, nothing which it wouldn’t lose when it eventually moved on from the body – nor have any family which it didn’t steal.  Having no access to the memories of the body it wore, most of its time would be spent desperately trying to find out the history of the skin it wears, or failing that, simply running, picking up a body and dumping it somewhere on the other side of the earth, where it would only be a vessel, to be worn until it became old, ill or uncomfortable.

By the time I reached the theatre, I was fairly sure about the ground rules of any such story, and within a few weeks I had the beginning of a story and the voice of a character to tell a story – a character with no body to call its own.  My then-editor wasn’t sure when I pitched it to her, but Christmas was coming and what’s Christmas for, really, if not writing books and eating mince pies?  Right?

It’s a hard book to write a blurb for.  For a start, how do you describe a protagonist who’s name became irrelevant a few hundred bodies ago, and who changes gender sometimes on an hourly basis?  The immortal words, ‘Kate Griffin’s being chased by demons, and she’s got a problem…’ … don’t really cut muster with Touch.  However, whatever solution my editor comes up with for that tricky little problem, I hope the actual words inside the cover are as fun to read as they were to write.

8 Comments:

  1. Of course Fantasy and Story Telling are both ancient beyond belief ..and certainly beyond the invention of the written word ..but when I read your plot description something rang a Bell and a couple of minutes research gave me a reference to a book that I read when I was a boy ..I am 65. Yes, I know, I can hardly believe it my self! When did this ‘ageing ‘ thing occur?

    Anyway, here it is, for what little its worth …

    ” A Plague of Pythons ” … the novel opens in a world reduced to a grim struggle for existence after a plague of madness that afflicted individuals at random. Some two years previously, every government in the world was attacked by its own military machinery, which then self-destructed. All civilian air transport was similarly destroyed, along with major cities like San Francisco. After the initial meltdown, people began claiming to be “possessed”. They would commit crimes of violence, but afterward they would claim to have had no control over their actions. This leads to superstitions about demonic possession, as well as a novel legal defense.

    Chandler is an electronics engineer who is on trial for rape and murder. He claims to have been possessed while committing the crime, but nobody believes him because it took place in a pharmaceuticals plant. These places, along with hospitals and other vital facilities, are believed to have some kind of immunity to the plague. Saved by an apparent episode of possession of the jury in the trial, he is instead exiled from his community with a letter “H”, for “Hoaxer”, branded on his forehead.

    He encounters a cult who use pain to ward off the possession. The members believe that the “flame spirits” cannot abide pain, but a young woman tells Chandler that she is sure the possessors are other human beings, and that one of them is a man she rejected. Soon afterwards the entire cult is wiped out and Chandler, in a state of almost constant possession, is made to bring their sacred text, a copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran to Hawaii. On the way he encounters people who, while not always possessed, do what their “execs” tell them for fear of the consequences of disobeying. ”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Plague_of_Pythons

    The essence of the thing was – as I recall – who was doing what and to whom, and why?

    You are right though ..lots of versions of this sort of thing and I’ll look forward to reading yours.

    No doubt all accounts of possesion are desperate attempts to explain mental illness.
    The latest varients include computers/I.T. and are labeled ” Mind Uploading ” ..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.....in_fiction

    Note how modern latest generation I/T/ services companies have renamed distant from clients server farms or server clusters, ” The Cloud. ” It’s only a matter of time before someone …OR SOME THING !! .. makes you an offer to have Kate tm uploaded to the cloud so that future authors can use your mind as a template rather than having to go to the tedous effort of working to develop their own skills and talent. After all ..” Why Beg When You Can Steal ”

    A Good Title that, and one that I made up with my very own brain ..or did I?

  2. One book that is written from the point of view of the mind doing the possessing is “Chameleon” by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy.

    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jonathan-gathorne-hardy-2/chameleon-4/

    As for a soul jumping from body to body, the one that springs to mind is the film “Fallen”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....98_film%29

  3. While I was reading this post, particularly where you’re talking about a situation where something is possessing other entities, and what it’s point of view might be, something was nagging at me, then I suddenly remembered: the Hooded Swan series of books by Brian Stableford, first published in 1972.
    It’s not quite the same scenario, but Grainger, the ‘hero’ of the books, is stranded alone on an alien world, where he becomes the host of an alien ‘mind’, or parasite, which has also been stranded.
    You get both Grainger’s point of view, and that of the ‘wind’ as Grainger called his generally unwanted guest.
    It’s the only series that comes close to your story that I can think of.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hooded_Swan
    (I have all the original paperbacks, bought when published, and I managed to find ebook versions too, to my delight!)

  4. Daryl Gregory has done a great book on possession as well, if you like Americans possessed by literary archetypes. No spoilers, but the big reveal isn’t quite what you’d expect.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/.....andemonium

    As for blurbs, writing copy is what editors do (besides editing of course)! Your/Claire North’s work is undoubtedly in good hands.

  5. Are you planning on writing anymore Matthew Swift?

  6. Why the new pseudonym? I can understand wanting one pen name for children’s books and one for adult books, and it’s true I haven’t read Harry August (yet), but it seems like the books are all fantasy novels of one sort or other. I would think the readers who enjoyed Matthew Swift would probably also enjoy these other books, and that by changing your name you make it harder for readers to know about your books. I wouldn’t have known about Harry August or realized that it was you who’d written it until I saw it mentioned here, and I just went and bought it from Amazon. And I certainly intend to buy Touch whenever it comes out. Maybe you covered the reason for the new pseudonym in an earlier post (if so, sorry!) but it really seems like you’re shooting yourself in the foot not to build on the following you have as Kate Griffin.

  7. Neal Shusterman did the “Skinjacker” trilogy which had Allie as a limited 3rd POV narrator/2nd main character(dual with Nick) and she would struggle to hijack bodies to interact with the real world :3

  8. Hi Kate!

    I don’t really want to be yet another person just jumping in with a cry of “Sounds like book!”, but when you were describing your idea, I actually thought you were describing a book called “Every Day”, by David Levithan.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/.....-every-day

    In “Every Day”, the protagonist calls themself “A”, not having a name, gender, or identity of their own. Every day they wake up in a new body and have to desperately try to work out who they are today and what they should be doing. They always wake up in a body appropriate to their own age, and have done so since they were an infant. It’s a fantastic book, one of the ones you stay up until 4am to finish without even realising the time. I would thoroughly recommend it.

    But every writer puts a different spin on a given idea, and I’m really looking forward to seeing your take on the concept! (That being said, I would quite happily read your grocery lists, I’m that in love with – and in envy of – your writing!)

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