Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Genesis of a novel

Nearly a year ago now, in February, I came up with the idea for a novel called Another Life. It drew on a character, a situation and indeed a title that had been in my head for a while, but which I could never think of a way of fashioning into an actual story.

Then, something occurred which rarely happens to me – I actually sat down and thought hard and tried to work out an interesting, hopefully original storyline... And it worked. I suddenly knew what Another Life was, how it fitted together, and how the story should be told. I was so excited that I couldn’t stop getting up and walking around the room, thrilled to have come up with what I thought was a pretty bloody great idea.

Alas, however, something occurred that often happens with my novels. The storyline idea was great, but the actual writing of it, the turning of this idea into words on the page, presented a problem.

Another Life is – or will be – a fairly short novel, told from the alternating perspectives of two women, Linda and Rachel. I won’t talk much about them here, because I don’t want to give much away. But I was pretty confident that I knew Linda well, I knew who she was and how to write her.

Rachel was more difficult. I felt much less certain that I could write well the type of character she needs to be, or that I even knew how to properly express some of the thoughts she has and the experiences she has been through. Because I knew she would be the more difficult of the two to get right, I decided to start with her. I felt if I could do a half-decent job on Rachel, then Linda would be easy.

My estimation was – and still is – that the two characters will get about 30,000 words or so each. Last spring I got about 23,000 words into Rachel, quite a way in, and had to surrender in despair sometime in April. I’d started off with great optimism and enthusiasm for the project, but as Rachel’s section went on I became incredibly glum about the quality of what I was writing.

It just wasn’t good enough. Not for the first time, I was burying a good story idea under poor quality prose.

So I abandoned Another Life, although even at the time I didn’t think it was forever. It was an idea I was too enthusiastic about for that. I just thought I’d have to give it some time, come back to it with  a clearer head at some point, and start again.

Later in 2012, I started writing little fragments of Linda’s section. If she was going to be the easier character to write, I reasoned, I may as well have a go at her before I went back to tackling Rachel. Nothing too intense, just tiny fragments here and there, a few hundred words every so often. But it was all right. It was okay. I didn’t hate myself for it as much as I ended up loathing myself for what I’d done to Rachel’s section.

So along comes 2013, and a promise to myself to get Another Life written. Late on New Year’s Eve, I came up with the idea that I’d try and write something every single day in 2013. Not necessarily a huge amount. Even just a couple of hundred words would do it. But at least something. Some effort being made.

And so far, it’s worked. I’ve done three thousand words this past week – no more than a thousand in one day, and usually just two or three hundred. But if I keep up even this slow rate, I’d still have three thousand words a week, 156,000 for the year. More than enough.

And I’ve been writing Rachel. I didn’t intend to, I just kept having ideas for bits for her section – new parts, or improvements to parts I wrote last year. I even started reading back over some of the earlier chapters I wrote for her first time around, and do you know what? The first couple in particular are... fine. Even quite good, in parts.

So Another Life may not be a complete disaster. It may yet almost be able to capture a little of the notion I have in my head for what it is. I am very confident that it will, at least, get finished.

And then...? Well, we’ll see.

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