Day one of 2022 and I am starting as I mean to go on – writing!
When writers appear dormant, that is likely when they are at their most productive. During this ‘no-when’ time, I’ve written two novels, but since my publisher went out of business, I have been looking for a new home. It’s exciting and frustrating in equal measure, but that’s what it takes to find the right one. As author Gillian McAllister remarked on her own publishing journey, after years of rejections, it only took one yes. It can be so easy to imagine that book deals just happen effortlessly because that’s what we see on social media. No-one wants to post about their rejections, unless, as in Gillian’s case, it’s an origin story for publishing success. But it takes bucket loads of resilience, which thankfully, I just happen to have 😉 So far I’ve had a maybe, but in 2022 I’m looking for a YES! Watch this space folks, and prepare for a narrative arc!
In the meantime, here’s a little piece I wrote on how ideas and inspiration just flow to you when you set your story’s intention. Who’s to say the same can’t happen in real life…
When writers are asked, ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’, the perception is that there is one big idea from which the book just flows. While this is partially true, I have found as a writer that my books are more likely to be made up of several ideas, all drawn together in a seemingly random yet perfectly designed patchwork to form the storyline. What begins as a small, fragile idea, lodged in my subconscious, begins to attract other ideas that just magically seem to connect. It is during this ‘germinating’ phase that serendipity peeps out from behind corners, magazine articles, overheard conversations; drawing all manner of flotsam to the shores of your mind, creating a map of the story.
This makes it all sound terribly easy, which of course, it isn’t! Sometimes, patience and observation are the most difficult skills to master. Take my novel, The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. I had the initial idea and rushed at it, like an over-excited puppy. I was watching a TV show about an Irish chef living in France and she visited a renowned bakery in Paris that was shrouded in secrecy, as no-one knew who the baker was. No-one was ever seen entering or leaving and the patrons were very discreet. It’s all so long ago that I’m not sure where the TV show ended and my imagination began. Excited to get the story down, I rushed at my first draft, in which I hit the mother of all dead ends. My original plan for the story just didn’t work. I hadn’t given the idea enough time simmer, to see what other ingredients it might need. And one day, my main character Edith appeared in my head and took over the story, breathing new life into my draft.
Plotting a new book can be a very fraught time for a writer. After the initial excitement, the novelty wears off and you are left to plod the long road of the first draft, taking detours and getting lost along the way. Commercially successful authors are often required to release a new novel every year, but I wonder if this is to the detriment of the creative process? Maybe it’s a luxury, but one of my favourite things is turning an idea over in my mind for months at a time, watching it take shape and expand. I think the reader can sense when a story is following some kind of tried and tested formula and I know I always prefer reading books where the author is kind of out on a limb, taking a chance and letting the story unfold naturally.
I had a similar experience for my short story Betwixt. Inspiration struck when I spent a night with my sister in an old country cottage. Nothing went as planned! The cottage was damp and dark (although I had to admit, authentic!) and it rained the entire time we were there. As we walked the banks of the river that ran along the back of the property with our enthusiastic german shepherd, determined to enjoy ourselves, we got completely soaked and spent the evening in front of a peat fire. It was then that I could see the charm of the place, while we all huddled up together in front a massive hearth, reading books and listening to the ticking of the old clock. As the night drew in (not that it made much difference to the interior, which needed artificial lighting in the middle of the day) we felt a million miles from everything. The perfect getaway. Until… my sister began telling me about the owners, who rented out the cottage to visitors. Apparently, there were stories; strange reports of disturbances in the middle of the night; unexplained noises and one family who actually packed up and left the house before morning. Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep that night and I was glad of the reassuring presence of our very large dog. Yet the story stuck in my mind. I knew I wanted to write about that cottage, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take. Again, the magnetic field of creativity drew another story to me, in the shape of an old film about a gardener, who wasn’t altogether what he seemed. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I won’t reveal anything further, but once again my original idea needed to attract some additional elements in order to create an engaging plot.
In a recent podcast, the Irish novelist John Connolly (author of The Book Of Lost Things) said that lots of writers abandon their manuscripts at 20,000 words. He believes that this is the point when the initial idea runs out of steam and I have to say my own experience of writing has borne this out. But rather than seeing it as a negative thing, I try to see this as the point where the story is reincarnated into something better. If you don’t want to lose the original idea, you have to dig deeper and keep an open mind. The laws of attraction might take you in a direction you hadn’t originally planned for, but as a writer, that’s half the fun!