Author Notes for Midsummer's Bottom
I had the idea for Midsummer's Bottom on 26th June 1997. I wrote a few pages the next day, but didn't start work properly on the novel until 29th September 1997. It went on sale on 21st June 2018.
On the 25th of June, 1997, I went to see a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in St Mary's Cathedral in Limerick, performed by a local group called Island. I wasn't overly familiar with the play, but liked it a lot. The next day I had the idea for writing a book about an amateur group of actors who performed an outdoors version of the play every year on Midsummer's Day, and who were absolutely awful. This was no reflection on the Island players, who were excellent -- I just felt there was a lot of fun to be mined if I put the play in the hands of a less talented cast.
I spent a few months working on the plot -- I also had to read the play -- before starting work on in in late September that year. I finished the first draft on 27th February 1998. Five months was a long time for me to be working on a single draft back then, and reflects the fact that this was a long book, especially in first draft form, which was a good bit longer than the finished book -- I edited it down a lot, and tightened things up, over the years.
This was my first time trying an outright comedy, and my opinion of the book changed pretty much every day as I went along. On some days I loved it, on others I hated it. The real test, for me, is time. Whenever I write a book that I'm unsure of, I leave it to rest a while (years, or even decades). If it fades from my thoughts, I reckon it's best not to return to it. But if I find myself musing about it every now and then, I figure it merits another look, and usually I find that I'm able to knock it into shape. That was certainly the case with Bottom. It was far too long and sluggish in parts when I came back to it, but the structure was sound, the relationships intriguing, and it tickled my funny bone.
I based some of the character names on the actors in the Island show, and, as usual, also worked in a few references to friends and acquaintances. The agent in the book, Christopher Big, for instance, was a wry nod to my agent Christopher Little.
The structure was designed to mimic that of the play, so it features pretty much the same number of acts. I also tried to have the dramatic and comedic rhythms of my book mirror those of the play -- although I didn't lash myself TOO firmly to that particular mast! While my novel riffs on the play big time, it also had to stand on its own two feet and work on its own terms, so that it could make perfect sense to anyone who knew nothing about Shakespeare's original work.
I had fun with the poems at the beginning and later in the book. I used to write a lot of poetry in my earlier days (mostly morbid, moaning-teenager stuff) and it was nice to tap into that side of my creative mind again. I was never a big fan of iambic pentameter as a reader/watcher, but I found it easy enough to work with as a writer. Having a firm poetic structure that I had to adhere to was a nice change from just my usual freestyling, and I had much more fun with it than I had anticipated. At the same time, I was careful not to go overboard and put in too many rhymes, as I knew I'd exhaust a reader's patience very swiftly if I went OTT on the old IP!
I plotted the book VERY carefully, and in minute detail. The amount of prep work that I do on a book varies from project to project. Sometimes it can start with me jotting down just a few quick notes and adding nothing else to them as I go along (as I did with Cirque Du Freak). Other times I'll plan it out chapter by chapter, beat by beat. I always leave room for change -- a good story takes on a life of its own and can lead you in directions you hadn't anticipated -- but sometimes it's important to lay down a very clear intended path from start to finish, especially if the plot is as twisting and tricky as this one. I've included a scan of the "stage directions" that I wrote up on the 25th of September 1997, just before starting the novel -- you can compare them with the action in the finished book if you're keen to observe how much it changed over the course of the rewrites and editing process.
My agent liked the book when I sent it to him, and did try to find a publisher for it, but nobody could quite figure out where in the market to place it, and it was turned down by everyone that he approached. There are pros and cons to self-publishing, but the main pro is that since it doesn't cost very much, you can take chances with unusual stories as a self-publisher that more traditional publishers automatically shy away from. It would have been nice to have others help me take Bottom out into the world in search of a audience for it, but at the end of the day, I think it's a Bottom best bared to a few rather than clothed in obscurity from all...