Last week, we were on our annual residential writing course 'The Full English' in Dorset. The value of revision became manifestly abundant over the course of a very intense week taking prose through rounds of work towards a shining, tight truth by the end of our seven days together.
I began the week with a lesson on 'Glamour' - and how what is concealed up front in your novel will of necessity be revealed. We begin our story by showing that to all appearances all's well but the veneer conceals a lie. It's the nature of THE LIE which is at the heart of your story, and it's the chipping away at it, the revelatory process which drives the plot. If you're a writer in search of an idea, start with a big lie.
We looked at how with The Great Gatsby it was Scott Fitzgerald's intention from the start to establish a veneer of glamour in his prose and story. He had his eyes on the big lie - the American Dream - which he foresaw as doomed.
I told my writers...
The writers gathered, windswept and willing, in the vale of Marshwood on Tuesday afternoon last week.
We'd come past Stonehenge, down through valleys with breathtaking views, hilltops with clusters of Autumn-clad trees.
We were met with a warm welcome from the hostess, the Lady of Marshwood Manor, Romla Ryan. She showed us to the luxurious cottages with standalone baths, plushly-laundered beds and kitchens stocked with fresh milk, ground coffee and cafetieres. What more could a weary writer need?
I sat down on the sofa in my recessed sitting room, and looked out at an ancient oak tree from my cottage across the fields and thought - wow, this is quiet. Not a sound. No road noise.
'People say - we came the wrong way,' said Romla, 'but I say - no, there's only one road. It's just rural.'
As dark fell, writers gathered for tea and homemade cake and began telling each other the story of their novels. They discussed their plans for the sacred week. A chance to regroup,...