Many of you will already know that on my birthday this year, the 12th May 2022, I attempted to write an entire novel in a single day. I succeeded. The novel is called The Mask Collector. At 7:30am on the 13th May, tired and weird, I wrote the Author’s Note that will appear at the beginning of that novel. I would like to share it with you here.
This novel is the product of a single frantic day at the keyboard. I sat down at my desk at 9am on the 12th of May 2022 and I was still there at 9am on the 13th May (I’m actually writing this with an hour and a half still to go, but I know now that I will make it to 9am and my brain needs a break from the fictional).
I had a goal that I didn’t achieve. I thought I could write fifty thousand words in a single sitting (an idea born from The Bestseller Experiment podcast.) I was wrong. I managed half of that.
I mean, I didn’t really think I would be able to do it. I just wanted to try. 50,000 words. It’s an absurd number. It’s short for a novel, which average around seventy thousand, but the average novel takes a year to write. I was trying to do it in a day.
I both failed and succeeded. I told the whole story. It was complete when I finished. It was just much shorter than I had hoped. I ran out of road.
If I were to attempt it again (very unlikely—though it wasn’t an unpleasant experience), I would probably not adapt a screenplay. I thought doing that was a clever trick to save on having to think about what happens next.
I wrote the screenplay of The Mask Collector during the first Covid lockdown. A complete feature-length film. And a good one too. In the words of Mark Stay, it had blockbuster potential.
When the idea came to me to attempt this feat, adapting it seemed like the obvious thing to do. A screenplay is basically a very detailed outline. The problem is, it’s too detailed. I was caged in. I couldn’t let go and fly. It was a machine job of mechanically re-describing scenes that already existed with little scope for improvement, as it had already been worked and reworked in its original format.
If I had come up with a completely new idea and given myself a far looser outline, I might have been able to get in the zone and lose myself in rapid fire prose.
But I’ll be honest. The goal of reaching a big word count is a shallow one. Story is king. That’s the most important thing. Authors often forget that. We get carried away with what is expected and don’t let the story tell itself at its own pace. I didn’t succeed in writing a novel, but I did succeed in writing a novella. A lot of my favourite books are novellas (The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis, The Heart of Darkness, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Body, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Langoliers, The Mist, The Rats, The Hellbound Heart, War of the Worlds—should I go on?) and I’ve been writing a lot of them recently.
Under the penname, Elwood Flynn, I’ve been intentionally writing thirty-five-thousand-word pulp westerns. I love reading them and I love writing them. I like the leanness of the prose. The challenge of pairing the language back to its most raw form. It’s no wonder this ended short.
One of the great things that came from this was that I got to rediscover The Mask Collector as a reader. I had forgotten a lot of the script. I hadn’t realised how much of it I had forgotten until I started this experiment. It surprised me. What surprised me more was how entertained by it I was. I felt the suspense of the intended viewer/reader as I adapted it. I fell in love with the characters all over again.
A lot of the people reading this were there with me the day I wrote this. So many fellow authors and readers rallied around me and tweeted all day and night cheering me on and offering support (you got it to number ten in the horror charts between Stephen King and Stephen King, and it hadn’t even been written yet). It was a great day. An excellent way to spend a birthday. I was doing what I loved with the people that I love. The teenager was at her mother’s studying for her GCSEs, which start next week, but Rachel and the cat were here, cracking the whip (and making me coffee).
When things got desperate, at about 3am when the story was done and I didn’t know what to do to make the book fatter, I had a radical idea. The main character in the book is Pat Caine. He is a famous retired bank robber who wrote a very successful book about his life of crime. That was it! I could write chapters from his book, from his point of view, and place them randomly throughout the book! Problem solved.
I wrote two chapters. Told two stories from his early life. In one, Caine is fourteen and getting up to some thieving hijinks involving a milk float. In the other, he is twenty-four and planning his first bank robbery.
When it came to placing them in the story, all it did was slow down the pace. They were jarring. I have included them at the end of the main story for your amusement. They were written by an exhausted mind at an ungodly hour.
So, without further ado, I present to you, The Mask Collector. It was written with passion and sleep deprivation. I think it shows. I hope you enjoy it. Be kind with your reviews.
I think you will like DCI Conrad. I’m sorry there’s not more of her. Another book maybe. Another time.
Andrew Chapman – 7:45am, 13th May 2022, Bournemouth