As I labour or lumber through the drafts of my novel, from expansion to contraction and so on in alternating drafts, I find myself as an older writer with a far lower view of myself and my abilities. I hope the delusion that I am a noble person is so far blown down the alleyway of experience that I can inhabit a cast of characters ranging from the sublimely innocent to the wholly Machiavellian, on the upside. But the downside is there too. Please don't imagine that writing novels gets easier. It's the opposite.
I find writing harder as I get older. Every novel presents such new challenges, it seems one has never written a novel before. An irksome and bewildering amnesia. Yet again, your judgement and taste exceeds your abilities and you're the duffer who won't repeat old ways any which way. But there is hope.
"I think it’s true that with each new book, you make new mistakes... .You start off with different possible tonalities and the...
The Telegraph 10th June 2019.
"Marshwood Manor in the Vale of Marshwood, close to Bridport and Dorset’s Jurassic coast, is the venue for a series of writing retreats. A week-long novel-writing course includes an inspirational mix of morning lessons, one-to-one sessions and after-dinner readings, plus plenty of free time for personal reflection and composition. Guests are allocated their own private rooms in shared cottages, situated in the 13 acres of garden and woodland which surround the house. "
The Full English Novel Writing Course from £975 for seven nights half-board. Feb 2-9 2020. The Novelry (thenovelry.com).
"It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads." Oliver Sacks.
In Musicophilia, Sacks tells some very moving stories about those with terrifyingly profound amnesia, or Alzheimer's disease, for whom music can "restore them to themselves". He claimed that music may be our best medicine.
I've often wondered about the connection between music and writing. Many of my writers use music, as do I , to enter the right mood for a piece of prose.
Oliver Sacks described as "amusic", those who do not seem to understand or feel music at all in his book Musicophilia. He considered with pity the case of Vladimir Nabokov, who famously said he experienced music merely as "an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"; and he wondered about how little music is mentioned in Henry James's work.
If there's an order of merit, many writers would accord first place...
Get cracking! My writers are currently buzzing, and The Novelry is a hive of activity with writers finishing books they started this year, and we're awash with writers declaring lightbulb moments and having epiphanies for their next novel idea. It's a creatively fecund time of year. New life!
The hours of daylight are on your side and you can cheekily steal one for yourself. Don't waste them. When the kids are on holiday, you may feel you need that one-hour you-time more than ever. Up with a coffee at early light, creating your world, at play before real life kicks in! You're creating something that will last, and speak for you and your lifetime in one hour a day. Whatever stage you're at - whether you've got no idea for your novel or you've got a first draft sitting in a drawer - you'll have a manuscript in your hands by September. What a harvest!
Our one hour a day method for writing the first draft of your novel is not...
Each and every character in a story has a single purpose for the storyteller - and that is their role or agency vis a vis the moral development of the protagonist, hero or heroine, the subject of your novel. They either assist or hinder.
There are filler characters, the door holders, and bag carriers, the petrol pump attendants, and these too may have something to add, but you need to concern yourself with the team first and foremost. Some 3-15 players.
Wherever you are in your novel, you should be looking at the crucible - the hell Sartre might have dubbed it or heaven - that is the nexus of relationships. What people want from your main player and what he or she wants from them. The relationships - the push and pull of their recriprocal wants and needs - will range from highly negative and reversing (antagonist) to assistance, affection, love and self-sacrifice (the friend or lover).
So you'll be playing these out in your story through conflict and clarification - questions posed...
Wherever you are with your novel, here's something which could help you see the big picture of plot fast.
I'm on my fourth draft, and so mired in the material, I needed a very simple oversight of the drama in play. It came to me that when I am working on a novel I envision several key scenes and work from one to the other hopping on one foot of my purple prose.
Usually, I begin a novel with a key 'visual' or vision, a scene that intrigues me, and work out how on earth it all came about, then I add other scenes. But of course, I forget about the simplicity of that and get bogged down in detail.
At any stage of your novel try seeing it like a moving picture. Think of it as a movie, and press fast forward x 30. You won't be paying attention to the talking heads but the space around them. The locations. The sets. The camera angles and then the key shot for each. Whose face? Whose feet? What object?
My God it helps.
This week I've been using a method which frames my...
This is what Tolstoy shows us. It's what makes Tolstoy a great writer.
Following on from the last blog on the ten-draft four-year development process for the writing of the book often described as the greatest novel, I want to show you what Tolstoy achieved with his writing, how he approached, and why.
“Therein is the whole business of one’s life; to seek out and save in the soul that which is perishing.”
The Gospel in Brief - Leo Tolstoy
(My second book This Human Season cites this quotation from Tolstoy at the frontispiece.)
The business of his life, his work, was to honour this passage from the Gospel, which he read and re-read as his favourite book.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Matthew 7:5
Seen this way, you can understand the wholeness of his approach to his work,...
In the 1870's Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 - 1910) experienced a profound moral crisis. During the writing of Anna Karenina, he went through a personal metamorphosis from sensualist to ascetic. This had a dramatic effect on his literary output and the novels after Anna Karenina are of a different tone, and more didactic.
Writing Anna Karenina required many drafts over four years, and evolved from a rather superficial treatment of a 'fallen woman' to a more nuanced and sympathetic evocation of Anna, the literary heroine.
The novel accrued greater depth over those drafts. The constant in the concept was Anna herself, though her character changed in the early drafts. With Anna, Tolstoy was able to put his finger on his own flaw or failing; the sensualist. Writing Anna enabled him to see the flaw, name it and move past it.
1. A fast first draft and multiple successive drafts. (For this method ideally you need a sounding board - an agent...
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913
A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.
Murderpedia is a free online encyclopedic dictionary of murderers and the largest
database about serial killers and mass murderers around the world.
UK Missing Persons Unit
Says our thriller writer, author Helen Callaghan, "It's the little details about the victims that are most affecting and really make you think. So I often visit here too: UK Missing Persons. The lists of possessions, tattoos, etc get me every time."
Says Helen, "The other place I use is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as they have great insights and advice into stalking and threat."
Suzy Lamplugh Charity
"The other thing for crime research...
A published book has seen many interventions post the author's first draft. Better to get these under your belt sooner rather than later and go out looking dandy when you show your work to the big guns - the agents, publishers and readers. For that reason, all insults, slurs and calumnies should be most gratefully received at any point between second draft and twenty-second.
Order of merit.
Choose your moment. You should never show your work to any other living soul at first draft. It is horrible. You don't want funny looks at best or those you respect to foreswear ever reading your work again. Show it when the second draft is complete. (I only fully understood my story and nailed my title at the end of second draft this time, fifth novel.)
Choose your first readers wisely. After the second draft is done, show...