Monday, 25 January 2010

IN THE BEGINNING...

This article got me thinking about starting this novel – the fear and excitement that swirled in equal measure; the overwhelming nature of the task ahead. Why would anyone, with no guarantee of success, give a year or two of their life to creating a fictional world? (The first ever post of this blog asked this question.)

And now, as I near the end of my first draft, excitement and fear again compete, the former marginally more prevalent. There’s the thrill of drawing all the strands together, a sense (hopefully) that all your research and work have come together into a compelling story – a (hopefully) unique one that did not exist until you decided to write it. Still lingering, though, is the dread that you might not have pulled it off, that it will simply collect dust over the years, sitting accusingly in a drawer, it’s only company the constant stream of rejection letters that highlight its shortcomings.

Someone asked me at the weekend over a pint (it’s the standard retort to ‘I’m writing a novel’, unless you’re Peter Cook), What’s it about? Writers hate this question. I’ve taken to replying, It’s about 300 pages. Then, if they haven’t left, I say in my best Bernard Black affectation, It’s not about anything: there are some characters, things happen to them. Then, as they roll their eyes and sigh, I tend to give them the unabridged version that leaves me feeling empty. Don’t do it. The only time you should tell your story is when you’re writing it. My point here is that a novel begins around something – a fragment of conversation, a newspaper article, a conceit that fascinates you – and grows from there. It will consume you, inebriate you, obsess you. It will wake you in the night, sometimes in resolution, others just in a cold sweat.

Regardless of the levels of fear and excitement, you’ll do it anyway, because you have no choice.

8 comments:

Fia said...

I find telling people about my novel is the same as writing a synopsis of it. Painful.

bingol said...

Nobody ever asks me that. I say I'm a writer, and they just give me this long, pitying look, and change the subject to something cheerier, like Haiti.

Emma said...

Oh I love the Bernard Black explanation! Do you have to be at least six glasses of wine in to give it convincingly though?!

TOM J VOWLER said...

It does actually hurt, doesn't it, Fia?

So, bingol, what's your book about?

BB is my hero, Emma.

bingol said...

Sure, I recommend donating to Doctors Without Borders.

Rachel Fenton said...

What you forgot to mention is the surprise and expectation that accompanies the voice and face of the person who asks you what you're writing - and then watching it fall from them as you summarise your story into the cracks between the floorboards!

Sandra said...

I enjoyed this blog very much, Tom. It gave me hope. I'm presently trying to get grant funding to turn my novella into a novel, a story that's easy to 'sell'(whether or not it does, remains to be seen) - set in Sri Lanka, the war etc. However my real heart lies in the story I've recently written a first draft of. A much subtler story that if someone asked me what it was about, I'd just stutter helplessly.... and yet it's the one that puts me in a cold sweat and choiceless. (If I got the grant money I'd secretly work on this one and not the other....)

by the way congrats on the Willesden Herald short list and The Scott Prize ! (I'm with you on the latter :-)

TOM J VOWLER said...

That's true, Rachel. Be careful what you ask for, they should be told.

Good luck with the grant, Sandra. Cold sweats an inevitability, yup. And well done on Scott shortlist.