The Greenhorn Novelist Blog – Post One, Part Two – Where does a story start?
Our Greenhorn Novelist Richard Walsh continues his engaging first blog post this week. In part teo he talks about how he was inspired to take up a novel idea he had long buried.
Having seen the potential in a story he had long abandoned his travels in Fiji encouraged him to develop it and now he is part way through finishing it as part of his first publishing deal.
Having penned several short stories it’s now time for Richard to step up a level to the literature.
Read on to find out how Walsh managed to go from student to prospective novelist in the space of a few months.
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The Greenhorn Novelist Blog – Post One, Part Two
I was in Fiji, travelling. I was sleeping on the floor of a friend’s hut. She’d gone to bed. The jungle night hummed. Geckos sprang ambush on the plywood ceiling. We had a television: battered, old, with a furry picture. An Australian documentary about a Scottish criminal two hundred years ago came on. I watched, marvelling at the randomness of it all, and half an hour later, I knew I had my question.
I’m not going to tell you what it was. I can’t; not yet. If this book gets published, you can buy it. If not, I promise I’ll tell you.
I returned to the UK
The service sector welcomed back their errant son with open arms.
It’s strange: this single idea is the seed for the whole book. It powers it, giving my protagonist her life and reason and journey. In trying to answer that story question, I know what the book is about. It connects the different fragments of my vision. I found a beginning, several middle sections and a vague ending. As new characters appear, I ask questions about them: and suddenly they have lives, and they began to move about, to talk and hate and love one another. Each is a new branch, now running through with the story sap.
I’m not recommending that as a way of writing a book. I think it is best to have the central story question first, and then weave through characters and scenes and feelings. But hey, that’s what happened to me.
So what is the book about?
It’s a historical novel set in America, with a teenage boy and girl as the central characters. I suppose it is what is commonly referred to as a crossover book, although I never designed it as such. I just want it to appeal to as many people as possible. I’ve always wondered whether the increasing categorisation of books (“pre-teen; young adult; crossover; literary fiction; fantasy etc.”) has led to readers being increasingly loathe to venture outside the walls of their designated section. That a child has little chance of sampling the complex food of a Dickens or Swift, or a sci-fi fan the gritty delights of John Fante, annoys and worries me.
The writing is often not easy. Writing time has to be carefully garnered and jealously guarded, against the demands of earning a living and keeping some kind of social life. Everything takes longer than expected. Careful research is needed, scores of books to be pored over and digested. I feel like I’m lagging behind the friends with whom I did my MA. They have finished their books: many have agents; a few have deals; one or two are fabulously wealthy. I suspect I’m just a bit slow.
But even in the barren times I write. It may be only a few lines, but each evening and morning and weekend it proceeds. It becomes slightly more complex; words and lines appear; paragraphs are lopped away, the new shape admired; the cursor crawls ever onward. Not for me the endless unspooling of words on butcher paper. I can’t do it. I normally sit and groan and curse the words I have written.
But then there are the secret times, when suddenly the blocks give way and you are writing and flying, struggling to get the words out fast enough and it feels, mysteriously and wonderfully, like it isn’t you writing. These are the moments that writers hunger for. Once experienced, this surrender of the self cannot be forgotten.
If I am lucky, I have this feeling perhaps a couple of times in a week of intense writing. It comes more often when (self-imposed) deadlines loom. Want becomes need becomes desperation. It is a whole body experience, and you pace around the room, acting out your characters’ parts, peering at your face in the mirror as you form it to their faces— now the old man, stooped and limping, looking at his tall son with pride, and what else? A shadow of jealousy, of regret?— now the young girl laughing with her friends, pretending to understand their smutty jokes— and then rushing back to the desk to tap out the words that have suddenly blossomed in your mind.
Method writing, if you will. Marvel at the intensity of Dickens’ public readings (they made him ill): this, and more, is the intensity with which he wrote. This is Shakespeare’s writing at midnight: conjure a play in a double handful of weeks to please both the illiterate groundlings, upon whose pennies the theatre survives, and the hyper-learned, the Greek- and Latin- steeped of the noble boxes, whose patronage you have to win and keep from the companies of your rival players.
This is the secret feeling, the muse. Writers don’t talk about it much, lest it go away.
I am at thirty thousand words now. Onwards!
Words: Richard Walsh
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Richard Wals will be returning in the coming weeks with a second instalment to his new blog, The Greenhorn Novelist Blog.
Watch Ian Rankin talk about his Rebus novel Exit Music below:
What do you think of Richard Walsh’s first blog? Was it helpful? What would you like him to discuss in his next Scribbler offering? If you have any questions to put to Richard pop them in the comment box below and he’ll get right back to you.