The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
Dual Timelines (2/2)
In the very beginning, when I experienced the first gleam of an idea during a nap in my parents’ attic, my debut novel Hold Back the Stars was to have only one timeline. A couple were falling through space with only ninety minutes of air remaining, I imagined, and as they fell, they talked about their relationship and how they came to be in the great vacuum of space. I queried myself – could they be treading water, surrounded by sharks, would that be easier to write? I lived on a hill in north London surrounded by sky, obsessively tracking the International Space Station each night as it passed overhead. No, I decided, it had to be space. But the idea felt quite thin; perhaps a (long) short story or a novella. It was only when I came up with the second timeline – that same couple’s entire relationship, shown chronologically as it happened on the Earth beneath them – that I knew I had enough for a novel.
Many dual timeline...
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...
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