Monday, 30 November 2009

Getting Back to Normal

I've been away from here for a while so I thought I'd let you into the secret of what I've been up to.

I'd heard about National Novel Writing Month from Sarah Salway on her blog. It sounded interesting but as a short story writer, the idea of producing a novel in a month seemed far fetched. With many other things going on, as they do in the lead-up to Christmas, I decided not to pursue it in 2009, not least because I wasn't a novelist. However, when I found out that three of my fellow students from my MA were taking part, I could no longer resist the challenge. The trouble was, it was already 2nd November by the time I signed up. I had no plot, just a vague idea. I started writing, building up the characters, describing their lifestyles and relationships to each other. By the 3rd November, I had made up the deficit accrued by starting late. I worked out that I had to write 1,666 words every day for the rest of the month. I knew that it would be tough but having taken part in Your Messages in 2007 and 2008, I was accustomed to the demand of writing daily and had enjoyed the challenge of writing within a word limit. I seemed to have forgotten my earlier resolve never to write a novel. Ever.

My vague idea expanded and developed but it wasn't until about half way through that I had a definite plan of how the novel would end. Even so, the detail of the ending, without which I don't feel that it would have been anywhere near as good, didn't come to me until I was within the last 5,000 words.

My adopted a varied writing style throughout. Sometimes, I wrote in an almost unconscious way and at others, I was far more deliberate and manipulating. Interestingly, the days when I resented picking up the laptop and getting on with it, those times when I really didn't feel that I had anything to say, were when I produced what I think are the best bits. Sometimes, I could feel my interest tailing off and I took this to be a signal that the narrative needed to be woken up. I worked upon the principle that if I was getting bored then so too would a reader. I believe that this helped me through the more difficult days when my motivation or energy was lower. I got a perverse pleasure from exceeding my 1,666 daily target, feeling as if those extra words were 'in the bank', relieving me of some pressure for the following day.

Just as I'm sure anyone else who takes part in NaNoWriMo does, I faced my own challenges along the way. Good television programmes, meals to cook, washing to hang up and children to ferry around to start with but in the last week, we had builders in demolishing a chimney right above our bedroom where I sit and write. But sit and write I did, amongst the brick dust and between making tea and I got to the golden 50,000 mark. The last few pages were difficult to write and perhaps this was some form of resistance to it all coming to an end. The novel's title didn't come until the day after I'd crafted the ending. I'd had two working titles along the way but neither seemed to hit the nail on the head. It was like searching around in the dark trying to grab something I couldn't see but once I found it, I was so pleased.

So, it seems that I can write a novel after all. It's really no different to short story writing. It's not such an overwhelming prospect when broken down into manageable chunks and if it is approached with the same discipline, authenticity and intensity of the short story, the narrative speaks for itself.

I have a huge pile of ironing in the corner and a number of other tasks to see to but I just can't wait to start editing. Neither can I wait for someone else to read it and tell me it's wonderful. Or to see it with a cover like a proper book. All I need now is a publisher.