The Novel, half way in

So, I’m 40,000 words – about half way – into The Novel. This is further into one than I’ve ever got, and, I’m told, the point of no return. As in if you get this far, you don’t pack it in. My last attempt at a novel got to 30,000 before I got screwed, in every sense of the word, by a combination of events and stopped. Now I’m determined, and consumed by it. I’m currently alternating between doing an approximation of a hula celebration dance and being panic-frozen over my finances (of which more to follow later in a separate post). That said, I feel marginally more in control of my life than I have for two-and-a-bit years (meaning’ ‘slightly’).

Some scattered observations….

  • Where it all began – I had the very first seedlings of the idea for what eventually became this book nearly twelve years ago, my last year at school, juggling A Level coursework with my first big piece of freelance journalism. Which feels both ridiculous and validating.
  • Writer fuel – My stomach-capacity is slowly shrinking back to normal levels after Retreats For You. But its capacity for tea and biscuits, is unrelenting…
  • Thinking in character – My main characters (in fact all the characters except the antagonist) are parents of young children. Which means always needing to think about what their children are doing and where they are if not present. There’s a difference between knowing kids well enough to write convincing ones (which I do, having babysat/been an SEN Teaching Assistant) and knowing what it’s like to have to organise your entire life around them (which, if you don’t can be quite the eye-opener). Amusingly, age 29 and currently a front-runner for World’s Least Equipped To Be a Parent, I’ve started thinking like one. Writing one particular scene my heart suddenly leapt and I found myself exclaiming “HELP, WHERE ARE THE KIDS??!!” like I was David Cameron and had left mine in a pub.
  • Research  – In the grand scheme of things the research for this book is quite straightforward: There are areas I know a lot about already, others can be fairly easily looked into/guessed at, I know – or vaguely know – the right people, the bulk of it’s set within the last three years, and I’m used to research through my work and study. Novels with complicated historical/procedural themes can need many years of research before you even write a word. But WAH OMG, IT STILL FEELS MASSIVE. 
  • Resources – My advice: Make a list of about 10-20, with 5 core ones and others you just dip into. Some particularly helpful ones for me were/are Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, about the psychology behind political differences, Andrew G. Marshall’s and Mira Kirsenbaum’s writing on marriage, Dr. David Grant’s That’s The Way I Think on adult ADHD (and the dys’s), Ralph Tench’s Exploring Public Relations and Alison Theaker’s The Public Relations Handbook as an insight into PR, Chris Mullin’s diaries from his time as an MP, and 5 Days In May/22 Days In May by Andrew Adonis and David Laws, respectively, about the workings of the Coalition government.
  • Discipline/Method –  For most writers this means going against their nature somewhat. Strict daily word counts are the only way I get anything done. Just how it is.
  • Conveying senses – Possibly due to my brain’s erratic processing of them, this is the hardest bit of writing fiction (and profiles) for me.
  • Anxiety – I’ve had social anxiety at almost teenage levels recently, via a fear of being judged for doing something many wouldn’t deem useful or proper. At circa 3am the other day I suddenly remembered a) I’ve influenced the HR policy of multinational corporations, which is rather useful and b) part of the purpose of this book is to try and help me get better. Better at being useful again, better at BEING at all. But it’s a risk. Risks are scary. Especially when most of those previously taken haven’t paid off…
  • Love life – You what? Basically I want nobody while I’m writing this. Those who bare all metaphorically and literally and then never exchange more than two lines of smalltalk again might make good muses but they’re not conducive to actually getting anything written. Ditto those who disappear months into a relationship. If I was with anyone now they’d probably be resorting to getting off on Uzbek throat-singing on Radio 3, and I’m self-aware enough to know I can’t do friends-with-benefits, so that’s out too. To say nothing of the “Mum and dad want me to marry someone with an acceptable job, but come back when you’ve got a book deal and maybe I’ll have a go on you then, eh…?” brigade. Maybe if this gets published I’ll fulfil the bitchy prophecies of the Tory offspring I went to school with and marry a female English Lit professor who wraps Christmas presents in old Guardians and knits babies from hemp…
  • Exercise If you can run while writing a book I would recommend it, not chiefly for getting rid of Writers Arse (see item 2) but to clear your head. I also recommend long walks, deserted fields and singing.
  • “Who would play your characters?” – You’re not supposed to think about screen potential because it’s not for you to say and in any case it’ll spend forever in development (my friend’s book was snapped up by a big TV production company months after it was published in 2007 and the TV series came out last year). But because I wrote part of the book as a screenplay I did have to think, and it’s the kind of thing your family asks. I’d love Shirley Henderson to play my main character, and either Ruta Gedmintas or Claire Foy to play the antagonist. I’m less sure about my main character’s husband. Every actor who plays those sort of roles is either a bit too good-looking, as in Jack Davenport, Patrick Baladi, Dominic West *,  or a bit too old, as in Robert Bathurst, and Roger Allam. Hilariously, an online Celebrity Lookalike Generator thinks that a bloke I part-drew him from looks like Leonardo DiCaprio. (Five years older and crossed with Alan Rusbridger, is that…??)
  • Fun – Other than fantasy screenplay-casting, the most fun thing about novelling is the Faber Academy’s spoof writing tips on Twitter: “Render your novel cuter by changing all the adjectives to ‘diddy.’” (I pointed out that this could have interesting implications for scenes of a certain nature. Not that there are many of those in my book…)

* actually, I’d quite like it to be Dominic West so I can remind him of when he ate my Malteaser but that’s a whole other story…


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