Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Novel Writing learning Curve

What to write? In my case it simply had to be a novel;nothing else seemed challenging enough and ignorance is bliss. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Of course we read lots of published books that we perceive to be boring and uninteresting. Surely I could do better than that and dosen't everyone have at least one book in them? How often have you heard these sentiments expressed?
     Of course there are lots of weak books on the market but that's a function of the way the publishing industry works, wringing every last word from bankable names to the exclusion of new unknown talent.
However at least these books are usually correctly written from the standpoint of the technical aspects of the craft. Learning the craft is the biggest hurdle facing new novel writers. Having a good story to tell, creatively plotted is only the beginning. Getting the point of view right, showing not telling, balancing dialogue and description, maintaining pace, injecting twists all have to be in harmony to keep the reader interested and turning the page. The writer has to learn how to do all this creating a personal style and distinctive voice.
    This takes time to learn and can only really be done by writing a lot. Reading certainly helps; a certain amount can be absorbed by osmosis from the pages of others and specifics, such as how to start a thriller with a bang, can be learned by looking at how the greats do it. So the novice writer is hopefully on a learning curve leading to publication quality work. However a combination of impatience and inexperience often leads to sub-standard work being submitted and rejected.
     Getting good critical feedback is essential, allied to ruthless editing. Often you have to cut out bits that you were proud to lay on the page and polished to perceived perfection but which in relity are getting in the way of the story. It can be like losing a good friend.
     The Stuart Agenda certainly underwent three major structural revisions and a host of minor ones on the way to the final version. 
      I’m grateful to a lot of people for helping. In my writing group, Lindsay Townsend has been a constant source of help and encouragement over the years and Clio Gray helped with the very final version. 
      Having read a lot about the Stuarts, the final trigger for the novel was finding the reports of a young Belgian turning up in Edinburgh about 20 years ago and claiming to be a descendent of Bonnie Prince Charlie. That posed the 'what if' question that gradually gave shape to my Stuart family with its ambition and motivation to take on the seemingly impossible challenge. 

In the opening post I mentioned an interest in wine. I sometimes alert friends to wines that I feel are particularly interesting or represent good value for money. My current fascination is with Beaujolais from the 2009 vintage. This appellation has suffered a lot from the poor quality of the cult Beaujolais nouveau and being generally rather thin in poor years and is thus avoided by many. Occasionally the weather conditions allow for the full expression of the Gamay grape, giving wines which at their best approach the quality of their northern high class neighbours in Burgundy but at a fraction of the price. Majestic has a good selection of single village examples from the different communes. They have such beautiful names, Julienas, Fleurie, Brouilly, Moulin a Vent etc. Do try and I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

The uninhabited Island of Stroma  in the Pentland Firth opposite John o’ Groats is doubly interesting for it’s seabird diversity and it’s history as a crofting community that ended in the 1960’s when the last people left. The skeletons of the croft houses are a potent reminder of a past way of life, leaving the way open for many species of birds to nest in the open ground. Great until an enormous aggressive black- backed gull dive bombs you for straying too close to its chicks. Lazy eider ducks lay their eggs in common gull nests. More about Stroma later, as well as the rest of the Caithness coast.

See the Stuart Agenda at for download pdf. Amazon and for Kindle

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