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Monday, 4 June 2012

Bewildering Walls

Well, I've reached almost 80,000 words of the novel now and loved every moment of writing it. I don't want it to end in some ways, but I'm really excited about reading it through for the first time. I'm going to leave it for a month first and try to approach it in a collected, detached and critical way. I'm aiming to reach about 100K and probably delete about 10% of that. All of which seems very mathematical and organised for me, but I think that's how it will go. Or maybe I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing again. I'm pretty sure he says that's a reasonable aim. There will certainly be some deleting.

With the last 20K or so still to write, I was having great fun with it this week, having reached a crucial part of the main character's journey, the part I had looked forward to so much. And I had to stop. I hit a brick wall. Which is ironic, since the theme is walls, both physical and emotional. And here was mine.

It made me laugh to start with, this wall. I was supposed to be the author, steering and guiding my people up to and over their walls. And I'd met one I couldn't circumvent for them, bringing the whole process to a ridiculous stop. I spent the day trying to sort it out. The problem was that this turned out to be an historical novel. Initially, I planned to bring in a thread or two from history and just sort of weave them loosely into the fiction. But the history-aspect grew and grew. And I discovered that I'd set the whole thing a year late for the story-line I wanted. But changing the year would mean changing dozens of details, a painstaking editorial job that might really challenge my hitherto positive attitude to the whole work.

I paced and seethed, ate a lot of cereal and drank a lot of coffee. I was angry that I'd overlooked the details that might have shown me much earlier that I was heading the wrong way. I then stopped being a twit and tried looking at the problem with great care, researching my research before ploughing ahead with these massive, sweeping changes.

And I discovered I was OK! It was such a huge relief. I had panicked, misunderstood some facts and tied myself in knots for nothing. It was just a matter of not reading some information properly. My original research had been in order after all. (I think.) So I can carry on as planned and hopefully reach the end very soon before I put it away for that important month's break. I'll try to read it through in one sitting, setting aside a whole day to do so, without any nit-picking alterations, just being a reader rather than a writer and getting the feel of the whole thing. Then I'll get down to the cutting and developing and stitching disconnected bits together.

This novel began as a short story that became a favourite of mine. It was shortlisted several times in competitions, but never placed. I began to wonder if that might be because it wasn't complete as a short story. Maybe it was the beginning of something more, an introduction to something bigger. I liked the characters and wanted to know what happened to them next. They've kept me entertained ever since, so even if nothing further happens, I will have had a brilliant time writing it and learned a lot from it as an exercise.

I heard last month that I'd been shortlisted in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen short story competition. I don't think I've got any further than that. But it was good to be in the final twenty five in that particular competition, since William Trevor is my hero. And I came second in the latest Yellow Room competition, which I was very happy about. I love the fiction in that magazine.
I'm also excited to have been invited to meet pupils at Henbury School in Bristol later this month. They have created artwork for ShortStoryVille, organised by The Bristol Short Story Prize. The details are here. They chose my story from the 2010 anthology as inspiration for their art and it's such a thrill to know that and to get the chance to meet them. The story was surreal, involving a man who became an ostrich. It's rare for me to write anything surreal, but sometimes I get the urge and it paid off that time. However, I've never managed to interest anyone in my story of a lady who levitates. Maybe that one was just too silly. I'm looking forward to seeing how the students have interpreted the image of the man/ostrich.

I'm still trying to write short stories as well as the novel, but it's hard to fit both in. Mostly I just choose whichever jostles for position with the most urgency. I love both so much. The pleasure I get from writing never diminishes. When I'm immersed, I always wonder why I spend so much time procrastinating first. The writing is such a joy, even when I get it wrong, that it's odd to think I've sat there putting it off with visits to Amazon etc. I'm not on Facebook any more and I haven't ever really got into Twitter, but I still lose a lot of time gazing at things on the screen that have little to do with writing. However hard it gets at times, it's never as hard as the realisation that it's midday and not a word has been typed yet!

I hope you're all enjoying the bank-holiday break. It's nice not be rushing about. Having said that, we've been laying a floor and finding it very hard work in a large room that has no straight walls or true corners. Walls again!

12 comments:

  1. Wow, Joanna - first of all congratulations on hitting 80,000 words :-) And on the competitions - AND having your story as an inspiration for art.
    You are such a talented writer, you deserve every bit of your success and I very much look forward to reading your novels one day :-) x

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  2. Oh, Teresa, thank you so much. That's very kind and massively encouraging too. I feel excited at the thought of you reading it. It's a spur for me to keep going! I really appreciate your lovely comments. x

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  3. Joanna - you know I love your writing, having read many of your published short stories. I can only wait with anticipation for your novel! Well done with getting so far and having such a great plan for the read through and editing.

    And many congrats for all that short story success - how lovely to be asked into the school because they're using your story! Enjoy the experience.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rosemary. I really appreciate your very kind compliments. It's wonderful to feel encouraged to keep going.
      I'm looking forward to going to the school and hope they have lots of questions for me. I keep thinking of all the things I'd like to tell them about the story and about writing in general, as well as asking them all about their art and how they interpreted the story.

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  4. Great news on your short story success too - and - wow! - fancy being asked into a school (I used to be a teacher!). They're very picky (I seem to remember - a lot of discussion in the staffroom about 'suitable visitors'). Interesting reading about you writing your novel. I've never got further than twenty thousand words, and that was difficult enough.

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    1. Thank you very much indeed, Biddy. I hadn't thought about the 'suitable visitors' aspect and it makes me feel quite honoured to be asked. They have to be so careful about visitors now. When I had an appointment to see a member of staff at my daughter's college, I had to fill in lots of forms and wear an identity badge before I got past Reception!

      That first twenty thousand words of the novel were the hardest. Once I got past those, it definitely became better! The characters start to dictate the direction and feel a bit more real too. I just hope the last 20K aren't too tricky - I'm not sure I'll be able to let my favourite characters go!

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  5. Well done on your latest competition successes. I remember your ostrich story very well. It will so exciting to see what the pupils have made of it. Have a lovely time in Bristol

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    1. Thank you so much, Joanne. It's lovely that you remember the ostrich story - thank you! It was a bit removed from my usual kinds of story and feels special for that reason. I'm so glad it was memorable!

      I'll make sure I do a post about Bristol next month. I'm so looking forward to it.

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  6. Well done on reaching the shortlist, and then being placed in the Yellow Room competition! That's terrific! Also, going to meet the kids at Henbury school, it's all very exciting, I hope you enjoy it all, you deserve it.
    It sounds like your novel is going really well, well done, I'm glad you're enjoying it (apart from the odd wall).

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  7. Thank you so much, penandpaints, you're very kind. I feel so lucky and blessed at the moment to have things going well. I think I'm so happy writing that I almost don't mind if the successes don't come along all the time. But when they do, I realise how massive;y exciting it is to have that response. It makes all the hard bits feel so worthwhile.
    Thank you for your lovely comments. x

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  8. Well done on another success.They do help us to keep writing when times are tough.

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  9. Many thanks, Myra. Yes, it really does help to know that someone out there appreciates the words that have come from your heart. I try to remember those successful moments when rejections arrive and it does prevent that disheartened feeling from lasting long.

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