The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
I've worked with dual perspectives before. In my historical novel, This Human Season, I told the story set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland chapter by chapter, alternating between a former English soldier prison guard, and a Catholic mother of one of the prisoners. I wanted to show how the two sides had much in common by running them alongside each other to tell the story of the events leading up to the Hunger Strike. The story came first, and I told it blow by blow, with the timeline in 'real-time' for both parties, day by day. The structure of your novel can serve its theme, it should serve its theme, and it can almost perform the theme.
This time, I'm writing a novel with dual timelines. I didn't mean to, I confess. I had a story drafted out in contemporary 'real-time', told in chronological order, but a character emerged, the grandfather of my hero, and I wanted to show the way our family history weighs on us...
We were lucky to have a live session with suspense writer Kate Hamer at The Novelry recently. Kate spoke about the importance of creating a potent atmosphere, particularly in the opening chapters where we’re really focusing on drawing the reader in. She told us that a childhood favourite of hers was Treasure Island, and how she remembered the arrival of Blind Pew being so affecting.
‘So things passed until, the day after the funeral, and about three o'clock of a bitter, foggy, frosty afternoon, I was standing at the door for a moment, full of sad thoughts about my father, when I saw someone drawing slowly near along the road. He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose; and he was hunched, as if with age or weakness, and wore a huge old tattered sea-cloak with a hood that made him appear positively deformed.’
When Jim Hawkins goes on to recall ‘I never saw in my life a more...
Two of our writers describe their recent adventures in fiction with The Novelry. With thanks to Justine Gilbert and Sir Dexter Hutt.
From the Desk of Justine Gilbert.
The art of reversing everything you were taught in school about writing.
I was a teacher for 25 years. For the majority of my career, I was 'Head of English'. I knew my job, and the children in my care did well in exams. I taught KS2 English, GCSE English and I tutored A level English. I was also a dyslexia specialist. If you brought me a child that was underperforming, I could diagnose what was needed to help them improve.
I wrote short stories, poems, and children’s plays, some of which were performed. I read avidly - particularly children’s fiction and I advised pupils on suitable books to read. My writing lessons followed the National Curriculum. I taught many genres of writing: letters, journalism, speech writing, essay writing. My story writing...
It is a fine thing, growing older, as a writer. One has experience to draw upon, of people and all their animal behaviour, but also where to draw the line. Where to end the sentence. Enough said. Maybe we speak to each other in shorthand as we get older. There is the unspoken ellipsis that follows a word or a phrase, which draws on a hinterland of colourful experience. The Marquee Tent.... And so many moments come to mind for both the user of the word and the recipient. One develops a reticence to say more. Or maybe much.
Writers develop over time. No bad thing maybe that you weren't published at nineteen. I was struck this week by the changes in the work of the author Norman Mailer (1923-2007). Over time, he wrote leaner and cleaner. (I see a similar thing in Orwell's work, the same with Graham Greene. Happy the young writer who cracks it early.)
In Normal Mailer's novel, Barbary Shore (1951) one is struck by the coddy language. It's so over-written...
As I entered into the fourth draft of my current novel, set in Brooklyn where I lived happily for a few years at the turn of the century, I turned back to console myself that the redrafting process was ever the same, even in the glory days and checked my process for my first novel.
I decided to look at first draft vs. final draft to see 'what gives', and to examine some other authors' first and last drafts too.
It was 19 years ago this month, July, that I set about writing my 'proper' first novel. I had two in the drawer and I meant business. I was heavily pregnant (due November) and had two boys under 5 at home in Brooklyn. I had a premise which started out as pretty hokey in February 2001 but by July I'd been turning it around in my mind for a few months.
This was what I set down in July when I began:
The working title for what was to become 'Becoming Strangers' was 'The Last Resort'. I must have felt at some point...
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