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Ajay Chowdhury on Rewriting

editing your novel guest authors Feb 13, 2022
Ajay Chowdhury

Ajay Chowdhury is the award-winning author of crime thrillers The Waiter and The Cook. As well as being a novelist, Ajay is a theatre director and tech entrepreneur who founded Shazam and Seatwave.

Here, Ajay tells us how he writes and rewrites his novels...

 

The Only Kind of Writing is Rewriting

As I write this, I’m just about to send my publisher the final edit of The Cook, the sequel to my debut crime novel The Waiter, and I've been warned it will now go for typesetting so I can’t make any more changes. I take this news with a mixture of relief and trepidation – relief because I can finally give the book up after having worked on it for over a year, and trepidation because I have to finally give it up. As my finger hovers over the ‘send’ button, I wonder whether I should give it a last read – what if I get a brilliant idea and don’t get a chance to put it in? Will I regret that forever?

No. I ignore that voice in my head and press send. With the whoosh of my Mac it’s gone.

I hadn’t thought much about Hemingway’s quote about rewriting when I wrote The Waiter. I’d been lucky enough to win the Harvill Secker/Bloody Scotland award for a debut crime novel and blithely plunged in, bringing to life the idea of a failed detective from Kolkata becoming a waiter in Brick Lane which I’d had for over a decade. I sent off my first draft thinking that was it, I was done and could move on. Maybe my editor would come back correcting a few typos but I was happy with the book. What more could be done to it?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I realised I was just at the foothills of the mountain, not at the peak. And rewriting was far harder than writing.
Ajay Chowdhury

My brilliant editor sent back pages and pages of comments and it was only then that I realised I was just at the foothills of the mountain, not at the peak. And rewriting was far harder than writing.

It was four ‘Ps’ – plot, pace, place and person – which were my biggest learnings.

Plot

First, I had to kill my darlings in the service of plot (‘Loved the ten-page description of the post-mortem, but does it really move the plot forward? Maybe you could just say the victim was killed by a blow to the head and that would be enough’).

Pace

Then I had to really tighten the story to bring in pace (‘You really don’t have to describe everything Kamil does during the day, the reader will take it for granted that he had a shower’).

Place

I had to bring the place to the fore (‘The restaurant is such a brilliant locale, bring it to life’).

Person

And finally, most importantly, make the personalities real (‘It may be a thriller, but the reader has to really identify with Kamil and Anjoli’).

Many, many rewrites later, the book was finally ready and seeing it on a bookshop shelf was a magical moment.

When I started The Cook, I spent time focusing on the four 'Ps' and discovered it became easier the second time around. If you keep them in the forefront of your mind for every chapter, the rewriting becomes far less onerous. Perhaps one day I can add a fifth P – poetry – to make the book really sing, but for now I am happy with the four.

But the word ‘easier’ in the paragraph above is doing a lot of heavy lifting. I’m currently working on the next book in the series – The Detective – and it’s all about getting the ideas on the page without worrying about anything else. Just get a few thousand words a day done. Forget the foothills; I can barely see the mountain through the clouds of conflicting ideas bouncing around inside my head.

Perhaps the hardest bit is not the rewriting after all – it is transforming typing into writing. Do that, and the rest will follow.

Members of The Novelry can enjoy a Live Q&A with Ajay Chowdhury in the Catch Up TV Membership area.


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