Saturday, 19 May 2012

Origins of a Novel

I’ve been busy preparing a final draft of the first three chapters of my second novel, currently titled ‘Adam Strauss and the Three Sisters’, to send to literary agents and potential publishers in the hope of securing a proper book deal that will actually see my work reach readers. 

I’m inordinately proud of what I’ve achieved with this second novel.  I started writing it in December 2010, after a few months of thought, and wrote the first fifty or so pages through to mid-January 2011 when I stopped.  I was starting to write screenplays for the first time, and they took over.  Through 2011 I returned to the novel rarely, writing just ten or twenty pages before stopping again.  I completed the first draft of another novel in that time (a novel I can’t decide what to do with, as it’s good, but not great) and I wrote at least seven screenplays (three of which hit either the BBC Writersroom, where they recieved reader commentary, a rare honour, or The Red Planet Prize 2012, where I finished in the top 100!).  But always I’d return to this novel.  This novel was an itch I had to scratch.

Not an accurate likeness.  Image stolen from:
I began writing again, solidly, in February 2012, after a five month break, and worked until I had finished the first draft.  This new burst of energy saw me actually write a new one hundred page opening and a hundred page ending to complete what had now become the middle of the novel, but had once been the opening.  Those first one hundred pages still read brilliantly, and apart from the first four pages that needed major work, have had little surgery – they work as they are.  They work well because I knew where they were going, what they had to achieve.  That is not how I usually work – I like to write blind, feeling my way into a work.  Often when I start I have no idea of where I am going to end up.

Let me elucidate: 'Adam Strauss and the Three Sisters' was born simply out of a desire to write about the three sisters that grew up across the street from me.  I was intrigued by them as a teenager, talking with one of them became the closest I got to actual contact with a girl my age at that time.  I worked for a while in a shop with another of them.  All three of them have gone on to live fascinating lives – BBC reporter, teacher in Japan – and I was fascinated by how these three girls had become the women they are.  So from the basis of three real world people I developed three fictional characters.  But writing about three sisters lives wasn’t enough; I needed some other glue to bind them narratively, some prism through which to see them.  This led to the creation of Adam Strauss, a boy who had been in love with one of the Woolf sisters as a teenager, but who hasn’t seen her for ten years.  Then one day he sees her. 

This sighting became the springboard for the novel.  I wanted to ask the question: What if you see, one day, the one that got away?  What if, for her, you were the one that got away?  Would love, born out of a decade old crush, survive?  And what if one of the other sisters fell headlong in love with you too?  It is by asking, and then answering, such questions that my novels are born.  In October 2010 I saw one of the sisters for the first time in ten years, and it was by first asking questions of who she might have become in my mind that all those other questions bloomed.  Now I have a novel, inspired by three real women but not about them.  I hope very soon you can read it too.

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