Charlotte Seager in The Guardian:
Do you remember those plastic slide puzzles you used to get in party bags? They were made up of a three by three grid with eight tiles and a blank square – the missing tile allowing you to move the others around. This nine-grid puzzle was the central image behind the story of Mark Haddon’s The Red House – although, bizarrely, he didn’t know it when he wrote the book. “I was being interviewed by Claire Armitstead at the Edinburgh Books Festival when she said that when she read the book she kept thinking about those tile puzzles,” wrote Haddon on his blog after the interview.
“I felt a lurch, because before writing The Red House I’d given up on a novel called The Missing Square, the central image of which was one of those tile puzzles, and whose organising conceit was that certain absences may make a world imperfect, but they enable that world to change and generate new meanings. I suddenly realised this image had remained a model for the central structure of The Red House, which is a story about the eight remaining members of a family and a ninth member – a stillborn daughter – who is still having a profound effect on the family despite, or because of, her absence.” This hidden structure enabled Haddon to plot and plan his novel around a central theme without even realising it. Unusual, but perhaps not unheard of, this got me thinking: how many other novelists have plotted their books subconsciously? Perhaps another subconscious plotter is John Boyne, who wrote the first draft of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in just three days and is known for writing without planning. I caught up with him to see how much of his writing he puts down to hidden thoughts.