John Lanchester: ‘Assuming the crash was about to happen, I started writing Capital in 2006’. Books

TThere were two big differences in my writing process when I worked Capital. The first was I drafted it on a computer. I wrote the first draft in Longhand on the table of contents, along with my previous novels. For my first novel, Ton to pleasure, I tried typing those cards, but I started coming down with carpal tunnel syndrome. I started reading the Langhand version on tapes, which I sent for typing. (Surprisingly expensive, however.)

Reading the book aloud, I want to hear a variety of things I wanted to change, so I’ll just finish a second draft through that process. The finished typescript will be back in a few days. I will then leave it in a drawer until I feel ready to edit and modify. Editing is more fun than writing because you know you have a whole book, you just have to snatch it out of the ice. I followed that process for my first four books.

Capital Was different because I knew it was going to be long and had multiple narrative strands and I needed to be able to see the whole thing from a top-down, aerial perspective. I used the word processing program Scruiner and it was very helpful to awaken a novel of this kind.

Once I finished a draft, the next big difference was when I finished a novel I needed a few months later to review it and think clearly enough to think about structural changes and start the revision process. I always imagined that I would use those few months constructively: learn German, train for charity 10K, so take Chi. Instead what I usually do is look out the window and then with a push I realize that three months have passed.

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With Capital, Finally I acted on purpose. I started writing the book in early 2006 with the idea that there was going to be some kind of crash. It was much bigger and more systematic than I expected when the crash happened. I was following the story in real time, and by the time I finished the novel in early 2009, I knew a lot about the credit crunch.

I was worried that when I went back to correct the book, I would end up with too much of that knowledge and ruin the story. You can do a lot in fiction, but you can’t explain complex things in length without killing the narrative. “When Nigel looked at the light of the Canary Wharf in the distance, he struggled to remember the definition of unsecured debt liability.” I decided to take three months or more and write a nonfiction account of the credit crunch as a way to repay what I knew about the financial crisis. Oops!

I wrote this very quickly, but the publishing process is devouring and I came back about 18 months ago Capital. It was like reading someone else’s book and I had never had such a clean look before in the revision – at first I was worried that I was so far away from it that I couldn’t finish it. I was absolutely sure that the timing was wrong for me and no one would want to read it.

The reality of John Lanchester and other stories is Published by Faber (£ 12.99).

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About the Author: Rusty Kemp

Tv ninja. Lifelong analyst. Award-winning music evangelist. Professional beer buff. Incurable zombie specialist.

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