The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
From the Desk of Emylia Hall.
This is not my first draft rodeo... (not that you’d know it).
‘The first draft of anything is shit,’ said Ernest Hemingway. I’ve always liked this line because it’s a great equalizer: we’re all capable of writing terrible first drafts. And it’s freeing too: it’s about getting the words down, generating material, discovering the story … no pressure to be anything more than that.
Nevertheless, whenever I turn in a first draft, I still always think … but what if, this time, it’s not? What if it is, in fact, nearly there? Just needing a nip, a tuck … and we’re good to go? And although all my experience tells me this will not be the case – that this is almost never ever the case for anyone – I find myself absurdly hoping anyway. Because, typically, I’ve finished that draft on a real high, a crescendo of energy and inspiration – and every ounce of...
How to write a bestselling book and make tons of money by Meg Rosoff, who once wrote a book that sold a couple of million copies and made her tons of money, but has been unable to repeat that trick since, damn it.
- Always start your blogs with a list. Everyone loves a list.
- Know your craft. If you can’t write to save your life, it’s just plain logical to choose another career. Unless you’re Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer, E.L. James or any of the other richer than Croesus so-called writers whose ability to put together a coherent sentence is dubious at best. AT BEST.
- Any book that takes ten years to write is probably a disaster. Personally, I tend to believe this and suggest to people that if they’ve been suffering over a book for way too long that they ditch it and start again. JRR Tolkien would disagree (Lord of the Rings, 17 years). As would JD Salinger, Donna Tartt, Margaret Mitchell and Ezra Pound, who reputedly spent fifty-seven years writing The...
'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.'
From the Desk of our Tutor Kate Riordan.
I always think it’s strange when people say ‘Oh, I don’t read historical fiction’ with a look of mild distaste.
That look generally means one of two things: that a story set in the past will be irrelevant and impossible to relate to, or that reading it will feel less like entertainment and more like school.
But how can history be irrelevant when it’s made us what and who we are today? To dismiss historical fiction is to dismiss the human experience. As for the entertainment factor, think of Bridgerton, adapted for Netflix from the books by Julia Quinn. 82 million households streamed the series in its first month. Sexy and frothy and fun, it’s about as far from dry and dusty as you can get. It wasn’t just the bodice-ripping people seemed to enjoy either. Its evocation of a society that put a...
From the Desk of Polly Ho-Yen.
How do we ‘manage’ evil in the stories we are telling?
Writing for children means I often write with children. When I’m running writing workshops in schools, I have the pleasure of hearing the hugely inventive story ideas stewing in children’s heads, first hand. They’ll tell me their premise – a group of chickens take over the world, a scientist creates a formula that turns people into robots, a banana goes on a rampage - and I’ll ask why? Why do the chickens take over, why does the professor do this, why does a banana decide one day, enough is enough...? The typical response I’ll get, with an 'isn’t it obvious' shrug, is: ‘Because they’re evil.’
We feed children tales of good versus evil from an early age, through fairy tales and superhero stories. ‘The Baddie’ has become shorthand for evil, and children are incredibly familiar with the concept and more than...
Veronica Henry is the bestselling author of romance novels and a journalist whose first novel was published in 2002. Her novel 'A Night on the Orient Express' won The Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2014. Her new novel 'A Wedding at the Beach Hut' is published in May 2021. Members of The Novelry can look forward to an uplifting Live Session with Veronica on 10th May and hear more about what she's learned about the process after writing 22 novels! (Writers of The Novelry – look out for her 'hero book' in this piece - psst, by the primroses...)
From the Desk of Veronica Henry.
Just before Easter I pressed send on my 22nd novel. That’s roughly 2 million words I have sent out into the world over the past twenty years. I guess I must have learned something about novel writing in that time, yet I feel as if I know nothing. Because here’s the thing – it doesn’t get any easier. (Sorry!) And nor should it. It’s not supposed to be easy.
Sarah Winman is the bestselling, prize-winning author of When God Was a Rabbit, A Year of Marvellous Ways and Tin Man. Her new novel Still Life is published in June 2021. Still Life is a beautiful, big-hearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood... and the ghost of E.M. Forster.
Sarah will be our guest for a live session for members Monday 6pm BST, 26th April. Come and meet her then!
From the Desk of Sarah Winman.
I’ve just finished my book Still Life.
The editing, the copy- edit, the three rounds of proofreading, and the recording of the audiobook. All done now. It’s out of my hands.
And for the first time I can feel the letting go; that weave of mixed emotion that shifts into the void. What I’m mostly left with, however, is the marvellous adventure of it all. One that started in 2015, when I was having a late lunch in a Florentine restaurant.
I was alone, left amongst the detritus of other...
Erin Kelly is the author of eight novels, the bestselling author of psychological thrillers. Her sixth novel He Said/She Said spent six weeks in the Sunday Times top 10 bestseller list, and was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick (as was her first novel and her seventh novel!) Her latest novel - Watch Her Fall - will be published April 2021.
Erin is our guest author for a Live Session with our writers at The Novelry on 12th April.
From the Desk of Erin Kelly.
I have always loved my headphones. From the moment I got my first off-brand ‘Walkman’ as a little girl, everything I’ve done, everywhere I’ve been, every stage of my life from schoolgirl to student to young woman, from cassette player with foam headphones to Discman to iPod to smartphone has had a soundtrack only I know about.
Memories are tied to albums: George Michael in Rome on a school trip, Nick Cave in Portugal (irony!), Joanna Newsom on the train to Brighton on the...
From the Desk of our Tutor Katie Khan.
The publishing industry – and Hollywood (especially Hollywood) – has come to idolize high-concept fiction in recent years. A high concept can be summed up in one line, with a clearly communicable premise. This makes it very commercial because a strong hook, ‘elevator pitch', or a one-line premise is invaluable for an agent pitching your novel to a publisher. It’s also invaluable for your publisher’s sales team to pitch your novel to retailers. And it’s invaluable for the press to describe your novel to readers… And for readers to recommend your book to other readers… Have you seen the film about a shark terrorising a small town? Have you read the love story where we meet a couple on the same day each year? What about the book and film where a billionaire brings dinosaurs back from extinction to create an amusement park?
High-concept fiction is all about premise. If you’re writing high...
From the Desk of Val McDermid.
One of the reasons for the popularity of crime fiction is its faithfulness to the idea of narrative. Crime novels provide their readers with stories that engage with their hearts and minds, but most of all, stories that make sense.
I’m often asked where my ideas come from, and my answer is that stories are everywhere. Once you train your antennae to hear them and see them, you can’t avoid them. But a story is only the beginning of the process of producing a novel.
What’s just as important as story is structure – how we tell that story. The stories that satisfy us have a beginning, a middle and an end. But they don’t necessarily come in that order. Think of how you tell an anecdote in the pub or at work. Sometimes you begin at the beginning. ‘John picked me up to go fishing this morning.’
Sometimes you begin in the middle. ‘So there we were, out in the middle of the loch, when John suddenly realized...
The video above will reveal to you the name of the winner of this year's Firestarter at The Novelry. (You may wish to hold off until you've read the following.)
This the fourth year of our annual competition for the best opening to a novel, and previous winners are Kathy Brewis-Dunn (2018), Cate Guthleben (2019), Walter Smith (2020).
Entry is open to all but strongly recommended for those on the second draft and beyond and as ever, the results bear out the importance of editing, editing, editing. We never envy one another at The Novelry, where we work together because we darn well know how hard each and every writer has worked to get that novel over the line. All the art's in the redraft, and that's a comforting thought. It allows for time and space to make mistakes and play in the first draft. There's nothing to fear, no need to be nervous when you're writing a novel, folks. You get to choose when you hit send, and no one needs to see your workings! So play! Be wicked. (Oh, go on,...
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