Blog Entries: writing a novel
Given the typical state of our British summer, I've had plenty of time to read as opposed to doing all those summery things one ought to be doing. Like breathing fresh air. Or weeding the garden. Or yomping in the hills. So here's an update on my favourite reads of the past few months. Rainbow Rowell's beautiful Eleanor and Park and Phil Earle's Heroic are both excellent and will appeal to adult and YA readers alike. Eleanor and Park is a love story that had me blubbing and turning the pages in anticipation right up to the very end. In fact, I read the end several times, not quite believing the story was over. And especially over in THAT way. Thanks to the joy of Twitter I've asked the author for a sequel. Will potentially resort to bribery to force this to happen. That's how much I love it.
I've also read a couple of novels from the Orange Prize shortlist. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple made me laugh out loud (huge respect for writers who can do this) as did A M Homes May We Be Forgiven. The latter is particularly clever and while both are satirical I think the depth and assured polish of Homes' novel might mean she takes the prize. Not that my opinion counts! I haven't yet read the others from the list - not sure I'm excited enough about the premise of Zadie Smith's NW to do so and whilst I'm a massive fan of Kate Atkinson, again, I'm not overly tempted. But we'll see. Another corker is Lionel Shriver's Big Brother. She writes so well about dysfunctional families and although I loathed almost every single one of her characters the novel was addictive, fascinating and riddled with the darkest humour.
As for my next book - yes I am writing it , and no I haven't finished. Writing "the dreaded second novel" really is as horrible as everyone tells you it will be! But I'm saving that story up for another post. Currently, my lips are sealed for fear of the jinx effect.
Yesterday evening I was lucky enough to be The Guest of Honour (something I have never been before and am delighted to be described as any time you like) at St Mary's School in Cambridge for their inaugral Creative Writing Competition awards ceremony. It just so happens that I teach at this lovely school, but last night the addition of some fabulous children from primary schools in the region made the evening extra special. There were a huge number of entries and some impressive writing. Meeting so many enthusiastic young writers was a fantastic treat.
Anyway, I gave a speech ( which was actually partly a story) and I thought I'd share part of it here. It's about the power of finding a story and why writing when you're young is wonderful. I've borrowed Stephen King's idea from On Writing that stories are like fossils.
A lovely blogger, Sarah, invited me to contribute to her blog - here's the link so you can read all about it. Thank you saz101!
I've been thinking a lot about romance this week. For my current WIP to really pack an emotional punch, two of the main characters need to have a convincing "I'm so in love with you I can't live without you" type thing going on. So, that led me to revisit my own teen romantic moments and remember what a sucker I was for a bad boy back then and also that I actually found romance in books, not real life.
The first stanza of Plath's Daddy seemed such fitting lines of poetry to open Black Heart Blue, setting the tone and the atmosphere for this terrible tale of girls in danger of, or already destroyed by, their cruel and abusive parents. There were some other great lines I considered; I would also have liked to use Emily Dickinson's:
It would have starved a gnat-
To live so small as I-
And yet I was a living Child -
With - Food's necessity.....
I love giving my characters names which mean something. According to Shakespeare's Juliet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I don't know if that's really true. If the play were called Donald and Juliet for example, would it be quite such a brilliant title? Of course, Donald is a lovely name and I have nothing against it but it doesn't have quite the same tragic ring, it doesn't ooze Italian romance. Your name should define and identify you. Without a name we are dehumanised, deindividualised. I remember being shocked reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, thinking about the reasons why a character would be called Sixo. And then we have other examples like Curley's wife and Margaret Atwood's Offred. The way they have been named tells us an awful lot about the society in which they live. Names can be political - a means of control or of imposing a definition on individuals. Dickens is great with names, as everyone knows. Uriah Heep is one of my favourites - it sounds as obsequious as the character himself.
So, I thought I'd write about writing. The first thing I feel about it today is that it's not easy. You've got to overcome that whole "it's a bit hard to make this good so I'm going to give up" thing if a lovely editor is awaiting your manuscript. You've got to overcome it if you want to write anything in the first place. So where to begin?
Well, once you've got the long-awaited book deal, what happens next? I had no idea what to expect. I thought you wrote the book, it got itself a cover and a blurb and then Abracadabra! a couple of weeks later it ended up in a book shop near you. Not so.
If you've taken the time to read this, I think I ought to give you something interesting to mull over. So, perhaps you'd like to know how I came to get a publishing deal with Penguin. This is indeed a good tale. Well, I think so anyway. When I was an author minus a book deal, I hunted the net, searching for stories of success and triumph - for people like me who were writing away and had actually made it; if my suspicions are correct, there are an awful lot of us writing out there, all with the hope of seeing something we've created make its way onto a book shelf, somewhere, anywhere, please. I rarely found any stories to give me hope, or at least to give me the kind of detailed insight into what it would be like to actually achieve my dream. So, in case you, like me, want to be inspired by the thought that yes, it can actually happen, then read on. But I warn you. This isn't just a case of talent will out, there is a bit of luck thrown in for good measure too.