The writing process

Robert Sharp has tagged me in the Writing Process Tour, for which I feel most honoured. Robert writes fiction, as well as blogging prolifically, working as Head of Communications at English PEN, and looking after his three very small children. Read his writing process blog on his site, and click back, sideways and forwards (see my nominees below) for other stops on the tour.

What am I currently working on?

A novel called She’s Not There.  I actually finished it just before Christmas, and sent it out to four agents, who all said very nice things, but didn’t want to take it on. I mulled over their advice, and decided to ‘go back in’. As each of the four gave very different advice, implementing it all has proved impossible. I need to extricate myself, sew the thing back together, and dispatch it again, this time to 40 agents. And then I’ll be able to get on with Novel 2, which is beckoning impatiently.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Genre, genre, genre! Maybe I can draw on the agents’ feedback… She’s Not There is currently too ‘slow-drip’ and ‘cerebral’ to be a commercial thriller. On the other hand the ending is too ‘neat and tidy’ to be properly literary. It’s from the point of view of a child, but has a very adult plot, and is nothing like Room, or The Curious Incident, or Pigeon English. To be honest I’m very confused about genre.

Why do I write what I do?

My yearning to write novels has dominated my life since I was about eight (the age I started reading them). I come from a tradition of would-be writers and artists who have favoured public service and sternly relegated their creative aspirations to hobby status.  So I’ve been embarrassed about writing, and done it in the form of diaries, letters and emails.  In my 30s I did write some short stories and a couple of screenplays, but left them languishing in drawers. I told myself my ‘day jobs’ would do – writing journalism, web copy, and, most recently, speeches for government ministers.

Then, three years ago, I had some friends over to lunch, one of whom is a successful novelist. As I served up the food the novelist announced that she’d decided to give up on the psychological thriller she’d started. “What was it about?” I asked. “Oh. Just, a boy wakes up and his mother has disappeared,” she told me dismissively.

I missed most of the conversation that afternoon because all I could think about was the boy whose mother had gone. That night I didn’t sleep a wink, as the story unfolded. I started writing it the next morning, at my ‘day job’ desk, and three days later had amassed 10,000 words. (The only problem, of course, was how to square it with Lisa… I’ve written about that elsewhere.)

How does my writing process work?

I run around being busy, trying to earn money, and look after my children, and be social, and spiritual, and keep fit. And all the time brilliant sentences are writing themselves in my head, and new ideas are going off like fireworks. The desire to be on my own with my laptop is all-consuming, and I curse myself for all the unnecessary commitments I’ve made. And then it arrives, that three-hour period, alone at my kitchen table…

Of course I can never remember the brilliant sentences and ideas, unless I’ve managed to scribble them down. And often, when I read over my scribbles, I can’t see what’s so good about them. I wonder why I want to write so much, and I decide it’s all vanity. I should be making a useful contribution, not sitting here like I think I’m the next Charles Dickens.

So I do all that for a bit, and then I tell myself to shut up, and get writing. And the very minute I start it all makes sense, and everything’s fine.

As Robert mentioned, we are both descendants of An Insignificant Woman. I am passing the baton on to two other descendants,  Judith Laurance and Flick Allen.

My third nominee is Leigh Chambers, author of a riveting new WW2 novel Scapa Flow. Scapa Flow is a body of water off the Orkneys, which is where a group of Italian prisoners of war were held.

2 thoughts on “The writing process

  1. I was gripped by She’s not There… I so wanted to know where she was and how long the boys would be able to get on without anyone noticing … there’s got to be an agent out there who will realise how right I am!
    Keep writing, I’m waiting with eagerness

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