My Writing Life
I’m certainly not one of those writers who always knew that this was the career for them, who had six novels in their desk drawer by the age of ten, who wrote for their infants’ school newspaper, or had winning stories in junior magazines. Writing was something I did as and when necessary: essays for my studies, reports and manuals for work, letters to absent family members and shopping lists were the limit of my not so creative writing endeavours. So what changed?
I suppose that, initially, I started writing fiction out of pure desperation. I had an idea, a small excerpt from a story if you like, buzzing around in my head, distracting me from the things I should have been thinking about. By the time it invaded my dreams, I knew I was in real trouble. I decided to write out the story I kept seeing an extract from, hoping that if I gave voice to it, it would leave me alone. I thought it would take a few hours, a few pages, and I’d get this demon off my back.
But the sequence that I’d “seen”, dreamed and lived with was a culmination, an end-point, and so I had to grope my way backwards, so that I could write down the whole story – nothing less would have exorcised this particular invader! I found myself getting more and more involved in my characters’ lives and relationships, and trying to steal time to plan their story and write it down became a major preoccupation. Two years later, I had a 95,000 word novel!
And I’d also found an all-consuming and endlessly fascinating occupation. At the time I started writing that first novel, my four children were aged from three to sixteen, and as well as looking after them, I had a part-time job, so I tried to get up earlier than my youngest – not always possible! – and I wrote until he woke up. Before long, I found that I was gravitating back to my writing after the younger children were in bed, rather than to the television or to a book. Ever since, for me, it has been an activity that can sweep me out of my everyday life like no other. I can sit down to write for ten minutes, and by the time I look up from the page, a couple of hours has gone by. I get a great deal of satisfaction from sweeping my plot to a destination that is plausible and yet unexpected; I grow immensely fond of my current batch of characters, and even sometimes find myself talking to one of them; and my writing prompts me to try out or research all sorts of areas, if I need to have experiences or know about them for a story line.
Mostly I write novels. I have written short stories, either in response to a particular idea that suits that length, or to experiment with a technique, style or genre. But, ever since that first decision to write, fifteen years ago, I find that I relish the complexity of a novel, the many strands that must be woven together, the multitude of people, places, and sub-plots that must be juggled, and that have to come together to make a pleasing dénouement by the end of the book.
For most of the last fifteen years, I have been content simply to write: to turn an idea over in my head until it takes shape, to conjure up characters and let them talk to me until I know them intimately, to balance the various events and personalities until I feel I have told their story right. When I’ve finished the first draft of a novel, I’ll often let several months go by before I start another, and, in the meantime, I may work on, edit, or modify a previous one.
But now, it feels that the moment has come to prepare some of my books for self-publication. In this part of my blog, I’ll share that journey with you.