A hard year
Quite a lot of this year has been like this, although there have been good bits to compensate – or one good bit, at least. That would be The New Novel. I haven’t written much about it here, I think because for the first time in YEARS I was really lost in it. All interest in social media died and I (quite happily) hardly spoke to a soul for months. I truly can’t remember when last I worked so diligently, with so much focus. I think it was when I was first writing the Fleet novels. I wrote all four one after the other, those first, lumbering drafts imperfect and not always comprehensible, but the intensity with which I was writing I haven’t been able to recapture since.
Developing the new novel
Everything I’ve learnt about writing – the hard way, through graft and disappointment – seemed to have paid off when I began this novel. I had a good idea. I spent several months developing it, spending quite a lot of time working on character development as well as writing reams of back story. This was vital because the novel is the first in a series and I had to make sure – before I started – that there was enough story to generate future novels. I needn’t have worried – I’ve got the next four novels roughly outlined (in a single paragraph) and have listed ideas for others. This is a story that can go forwards as well as flash back.
Almost everything about this novel has been a new experience: I gave myself VERY tight parameters to work with. I’ve heard other writers say often that one shouldn’t restrict oneself in any way, but for me, the tighter the rules, the better I write. For a start, I know that I tend to overwrite. Too long, too unwieldy – massive sci-fi tomes that no one would want to publish. Huge books in the past have exhausted me so I reigned myself in hard and demanded that I only write 80 000 words. I even worked out how many words per chapter I needed, world building chapters needing more, action chapters needing less. I also wrote down exactly when I’d worked each day. This was mostly an irrelevant exercise because it honestly didn’t matter, but the very act of writing down the date and start and end time made it feel real and professional and kept me going.
Death and taxes
The day after my step-father died, I finished the novel. When he told me in February that he had terminal cancer, I realised waiting for his death was going to be truly awful. It was almost impossible for me to take my mind off it – and also the far more complex problems of packing up a childhood home in what is for me now a foreign country. So the novel was born out of the need to keep myself sane, to create something in the face of death.
In the year she died, my mother said to me – with some disappointment – that she was never going to read anything I’d written. I wasn’t published then (or self-published ... let’s not get a big head here) and anyway, there was nothing I’d written she would have liked. But she would have liked my new novel. It’s not sci-fi. It doesn’t have weird sex. There’s no violence. The characters are mostly quite nice. There are bits that make you laugh. And it’s about magic.
PS Sorry, I’ve repeated myself a bit in this post – just goes to show how out of touch I am with my social media contact! Will endeavour to keep up a bit more!