The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
Blood Orange was my first published novel. It was not, however, my first completed manuscript. I started writing back in 2009, beginning with a short story about a man who deliberately killed the tree that he and his wife had planted in memory of their dead son. Its hold on her was too great, so he gouged at its roots and poured in salt. Thinking about it, it wasn’t a bad story, although I had no idea how to present it on the page. Despite years of reading, and a degree in English, I couldn’t work out how to present dialogue. And at barely two thousand words, it gave me no confidence that I could complete a longer narrative.
My next (and last) short story gave me a little more encouragement. I was very proud of the first line, ‘It was the twelfth of August, and the grouse were preparing to die.’ Sadly, no one else appreciated that genius, nor did the rest of the story live up to it in any way. But at five thousand words, it showed I could go on for...
August is the cruellest month for writers. As it draws to a close, we salute all of you who have made it through the month with your manuscript a few words longer.
August is that 'jolly' month with the pitter-patter of Fitflops about the house, the teens and their friends rattling around your writing desk, presuming upon your goodwill, enjoining you to take part and have 'a good time'. It's a curse on the cardigan-clad novelist misanthrope trying to write pleasant things about humankind by dint of the contrivance known as fiction.
Lunch with a glass of wine in the sunshine with your loved ones? Again? Really? Must we?
We know you’d rather be writing. But how about writing when you’re not writing? Here’s how to get away with it and not be caught. (Followed by some September advice for getting back to work in earnest, Hemingway.)
Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of writers is that we like our own company; we value the quiet...
The immersive programme of events for this writing season at The Novelry includes live sessions with former Publishing Editor of Penguin's Doubleday imprint Marianne Velmans and guest tutors, bestselling authors, Louise Doughty, Harriet Tyce, Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Jessie Burton.
When you join us, you'll have 7 relaxed and inspiring days of lessons in the Ninety Day Novel course to consider and hone your idea, before your first tutor session.
At that first session, we sign off on together on the best idea to achieve your goal, and you start writing. You could be holding your novel manuscript in your hands on the 1st December. Sign up now and experience the joy of completing the first draft of your novel this year.
This autumn the focus is very much on PLOT. Our guest tutors have been chosen for their crafty expertise and plot wiles.
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...
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...
Emylia Hall, a bestselling author of four novels and a Richard and Judy Book Club favourite is joining The Novelry as a tutor. She's a wonderful teacher, a mother, a fellow of The Royal Literary Fund, and she's currently at work on a murder mystery. Read more about Emylia here.
From the Desk of Emylia Hall.
When I was 27 I left my job in a London advertising agency and went to work in the French Alps as a chalet chef. At the time I called it a career break, but it turned out to be the start of something much more. I’d wanted to shake off some responsibility and go snowboarding, but I also had the ambition to try to write a book. I had a few abandoned paragraphs on a floppy disk (this was 2005) but I’d got no further with it. Perhaps if I’d found the right inspiration or intervention, I might very well have applied myself to writing in London but, as it was, the move gave me the freedom and confidence to make a proper start. I was simultaneously...
Get on the list!
Get the Sunday paper for writers to your inbox.