Writing a Novel

I’ve come out! I’ve decided to go public about the fact that I’m writing a novel and have been doing so for several years, trying to fit it it between the day job and the laundry.

I have no idea yet how the book will be received but I have high hopes that it will be the driver for more novels and a career in the written word. My ‘journey’ will be published in these pages for the benefit of anyone prepared to read and who may wish also to write.

I would never have thought I could write a novel; Not enough imagination, thought I. but perhaps that wasn’t it. Could it have been that I didn’t believe in myself?

My brother Simon Mendes da Costa is the trail blazer in our family. I get my confidence from Simon. He will achieve something and I, please believe me when I say that it’s not sibling rivalry, think, well if he can do it then I expect I can.

Simon was an Estate agent once, so was I

Simon was a computer programmer once, so was I

Simon is a playwright now. Watch this space

I’m not sure how long ago I thought of my plot. A few years? three or four I think. I don’t even know where the idea came from; it just popped into my head and I thought woah, that’s a great plot.

I ran it past Whiz and when I told him the punch line he laughed. He was actually surprised. I was actually surprised that he was actually surprised. His reaction gave me the confidence to start writing.

First I read a couple of books. One was The Craft of Novel Writing by Diane Doubtfire. I feel the need now to read it again but at the time, the most helpful thing was her suggestion to write the numbers 1 – 30 down the margin of a sheet of paper and annotate, briefly, the opening chapter against number 1 and the ending against number 30. Fill in a few of the intervening numbers and let the rest of the plot come during the writing process.

The other book I read was Novelist’s Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone. This one was an eye opener and helped me to understand the formulaic nature of ‘The Blockbuster’. However, a couple of points he made struck me as interesting: 1. Get to the end. Just plough on until you get there. 2. Make sure there’s an ‘and so’ to each thing you write, for example The man’s daughter disappears ‘and so‘ he goes to the police. The police tell him he needs to wait for 24 hours ‘and so‘ he decides to go looking on his own. Each thing that happens is the consequence of something else and leads to another consequence.

I’m sure there were more things imparted by these two authors but those are the ones that I carry with me.

To paraphrase an old joke: if I were starting my novel now, I wouldn’t start from there, but I had the beginning of the novel clearly in my head and so I wrote. About 10 – 20,000 words with hardly a pause. Oh, it was brilliant. The writing was clever and the story exciting.

I have hardly any of those first words left on my pages now. The first time I let a professional read the book she started explaining about showing and telling. This is the first lesson the would be writer must learn. Don’t tell about a bit of your story, show it i.e. write it as a scene rather than reporting it. This means that in many cases, flash backs are where the story starts, not as a flash back but as a beginning to the story. Of course that’s not always the case but it was the case in my novel and so I didn’t start here, I started there!

Writing a novel is, as the title of Dianne’s book tells us, a craft. A skill to be learned, and I am still learning.

Last year I took a class with Jan Morran Neil. In Jan’s classes I met other people, fellow writers. I am still in contact with many of them and we share our writing and help one another. It was a good way to get feedback on my writing and to hear the work of others in a supportive and constructive atmosphere.

After completing a year with Jan I decided to strike out a bit on my own. I still had a lot of words unwritten, even though I had, in some skeletal way, got to the last chapter. I started again at the beginning and found to my dismay that I was cutting out more than I was writing. It was like walking uphill in snow, you know, one step forward etc.

I joined Chiltern Writers, a local group, and met some very local, much more experienced, fellow writers.

Co-incidentally I went to Beaconlit, a literary festiva, here in my own village. I listened to crime writers S J Bolton, Alison Bruce and Elena Forbes, and a romantic fiction panel, comprising Kate Lace, Carole Matthews and Sue Moorcroft. It was very enlightening.

It was at Beaconlit that I met Belinda Hunt of Mardibooks. It turns out that we are distantly related and that I am also related to the Rothschild family. I wonder if I could tap them for a few quid! Anyway, Beaconlit is a cross between a conventional publisher and a vanity publisher. If they accept you onto their list, they proof read and edit for nothing but you must pay for your publishing. This sounds an expensive exercise but actually it’s a great deal and offers all the benefits of a writing course but on a one to one basis. What’s to lose?

Well, they accepted me, must have seen some potential in my writing, and now I have a deadline – 1st March.

I must now contend with the frustrations of family life while trying to write. Whereas before I was happy to spend an hour or two writing while waiting for Mavis to come out of an after-school activity, now I must try to squeeze in a bit of writing at every opportunity, hence: 1. I forgot to take Mavis to her Musical Theatre lesson last week, 2. I thought I had pre-paid for the half term but it turns out I hadn’t so the teacher had to remind me. 3. I am prone to circumnavigating roundabouts more than once on absent minded journeys but now I feel dizzy most of the time. 4. Mavis or Whizz will ask what we are having for dinner and my reply will often be ‘I haven’t a clue. Something will turn up.’ 5. Most of our knitwear has shrunk after erroneously passing through the tumble drier.

So, as I said, watch this space – for more Tales of the Unconnected.


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