The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
From the Desk of Jessie Burton.
I’m writing this piece less than two days after finishing my sixth book. It isn’t due for another fortnight, but I’ve been thinking about and writing this one since May 2016, and it happens like this sometimes. There you are, thinking you will never see the light at the end of the tunnel, let alone walk through it into bright sunshine. And then you take yourself by surprise. The day is a normal one, you press the last full-stop, and it is done.
A few days before that, however, when I could see I was nearing the end, I felt extremely anxious. I was overwhelmed that I had come this far – having discarded over 96,000 words to get here, changing it many times, sitting in the dark with it for so long. I was swamped by the anticipation of the final push, by the awareness that the book was going to morph from a private into a public thing, and the fact that I would have to say goodbye to it once it was. I couldn’t...
First drafts are precious. They are tender, private, and for your eyes only. A first draft is a chance to tell yourself the story; to figure out the hopes and dreams of your characters (and, crucially, their flaws); to discover the world on the page. You might not have it all at the beginning, but you’ll certainly be one step closer by the end. A first draft needs to be coaxed, which is why we suggest you keep it to yourself – and why, when you work with your author tutor, we won't ask to see your prose too early in the process and suggest holding back on feedback until later.
Other writing courses may differ – I know this because I’d taken a few over the years. I have sat in classrooms workshopping 5,000 words of my classmates’ first drafts each week, during which I barely wrote a word of my own novel. I have read my early work aloud in the upstairs room of pubs across London and posted my burgeoning prose on blogs....
Writer's block? Go back to your novel gingerly and potter about in its grounds if you've been away. Read a little of it - possibly from the beginning if you're not too far in or the last three chapters if you are - make notes and sure enough you'll be back in the swing of things. It doesn't have to be 'important' in its themes or claims this book of yours. Your stage is not the world stage, but just as importantly the arena of the human mind, the theatre of the human heart. Entertain us - by all means make us laugh, make us cry - but help us walk in other shoes. Show us the lie of the land. Being other, being another, and your way of telling is what makes your work unique and worthy.
“Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.”
José Saramago, 1998 Nobel Literature Prize Winner.
You can sing your story low and lovelorn like Sinatra, or stalk across the page and sashay like RuPaul. But rest easy, you will be doing something meaningful...
From the Desk of Paula Hawkins.
I didn’t set out to write an unputdownable book, but when The Girl on the Train was published, I was told very clearly that I had, and that numerous train stops had been missed as readers were compelled to keep turning the pages.
Unputdownable hadn’t been an aim: I had wanted to write a crime novel about a young woman with a drink problem who suffers from blackouts, because I was interested in how her memory of acting a certain way related to her sense of guilt and responsibility for her actions.
You might want to write a book about the plight of women accused of witchcraft in the late sixteenth century, or about a southern African immigrant’s experience of life in London; your aim might be to write a book that makes people laugh, or reconsider their life choices, or a book that makes them too frightened to turn off the light at night.
Unputdownability is rarely a goal in and of itself. Not everyone believes unputdownability...
Page-turners don't happen by accident, they're constructed.
A handful of writers have a gift to be able draw upon story structure intuitively. (Very few.) Some writers happen upon a number of the elements of a page-turning story by accident in their first novel, almost unwittingly it seems. But it's likely they've been turning the first story around in their heads for many years.
Most writers work using multiple revisions to structure and re-structure to include make their story gripping for readers, after the first draft. We had a session at The Novelry on narrative structure with Louise Doughty recently (available in our Catch Up TV area for members). As she showed, the virtuous shape of a novel emerges in the later drafts. (We work with writers to fast-track the process, and we have a few short cuts up our sleeve to raise the work between drafts with some heavy lifting between writer and tutor.)
Writing and Re-writing...
One of our 'Hero Books' for novelists writing their novels with The Novelry is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and many of us are looking forward to the new movie adaption which airs on Netflix on October 21st.
If you don't know the story, here's the premise:
Working as a lady's companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers. Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with 'the other woman'.
Described by Sarah Waters as one of the most influential novels of all time, the famous opening line of Rebecca (1939)...
We are delighted to announce the addition of The Soho Agency to our roster of literary agencies to whom we pitch our authors' finished novels. (Read more about The Soho Agency and see our full list here.)
From the Desk of Marina de Pass, Literary Agent.
My Career in Books...
I remember vividly the two experiences I had with career advisors in my life – one just before I left school, the other at university. Both involved a lot of leaflets, an advisor who had no idea who I was as a person, but who was sure that I should trust the dreaded aptitude test that would absolutely tell me what I should do with my life. Both times the test revealed I was most suited to a career as one of the following: lawyer, accountant or investment manager. Three very respectable and accomplished careers – and yet I was horrified. I worked for a couple of weeks doing research for an investment management firm – the people were lovely, the work actually quite interesting for an...
With our thanks to Ruth who will be joining us for a Guest Author Session this month.
From the Desk of Ruth Ware.
It's a lock-in.
I've always loved locked room mysteries. I love reading them – I find a really clever puzzle with finite possible solutions is somehow that bit more satisfying to solve than a novel where anyone could have wandered in off the street and stabbed their victim.
I also love writing them, as the fact that I keep returning to the locked room structure attests. There's something about setting yourself a challenge – a small cast of characters, a confined setting, a strictly limited set of options in terms of suspects, victims and murder weapons – and trying to be as creative as possible within those parameters that really sets my imagination sparking.
And in fact the first grown-up crime story I can ever...
Sometimes I wonder, do you, what people who don't write do with their thoughts? And what they plan to leave behind them too.
'Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?' Mary Oliver.
I started writing by putting down thoughts in poem form, and I think many writers start that way. We forget over time that here was the spark, and as our novels develop, it's good to be reminded of the ache of the thing, or the mischief of it; the pilot light. In this week's blog, our tutor Emylia Hall serves up some light for your darker days.
From the desk of Emylia Hall.
When I’m in the middle of a sprawling novel draft, I turn to poetry. You’ll find me with my head bent over my collections just like a beachcomber looks for treasure, hoping for a secret from the deep. Maybe it’s because there’s something particularly possessable about a poem: a few spare stanzas glint with the kind of truth that you can hold in the palm of your hand; a...
There are many choices to make when you begin writing a novel. Some you can choose from a starter menu - present or past tense, first person or third? - while others you will discover off-menu along the way, making what may feel at the time like a mistake. Personally, I’m fearful of going off-menu after learning, at the tender age of nine, that frogs taste like chicken, but with a lot more tiny bones.
Fiction is more forgiving. The brilliant thing about making mistakes in novel writing is you can fix many of them in a later draft. If you read your novel like a critical reader, rather than as the writer, and you’re willing to do the work, you can absolutely salvage and sharply improve the book.
Writing is rewriting.
But let’s talk about the menu because choosing wisely at the outset can save pain later. The first thing I like to do, when I have a plot and story in mind and ready to be written, is to audition the voice.
First, I pick my narrator....
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