Writing A Novel - My Struggle
The Novel Starts
There are some people who plan out their novel before they write it, documenting all the twists and turns and interplay. Many of us start with a blank page and see what happens. There is also a hybrid approach where one writes down the good ideas as they occur to you, and you look to this ideas bank when inspiration begins to flag.
Charles Dickens said that he enjoyed starting writing each morning because he was curious as to what the characters would do next. I agree.
There are genres where the reader has certain expectations, and the writer meets those expectations. Girl Meets Boy. Girl Loses Boy. Girl Gets Boy Again. is typical romance.
My novel does not fall within a genre, which is both good and bad. The good part is that I can create my own genre, follow my own style, and build a readership who appreciate what I write. The bad is that I have to find my audience rather than hook into a readymade audience.. If I wrote a thriller or a romance or a historical romance, there are millions of readers who want that. Something odd like I am writing will take longer to take off.
The novel "Mr Hewson Wins Tombola" is based on a man of roughly my age and location. He is an early retired widower living alone in a six bedroom house. He is modestly wealthy, and bored. He does free child minding for a family friend. The family friend goes off to a pop concert and does not come back. Eventually she is found dead near the pop concert.
In discussion with a social worker Mr Hewson says that he cannot hand the child over to social services "like an unwanted Tombola prize". For American readers a Tombola stall is a stall where you buy folded up cloakroom tickets, and roughly one ticket in ten wins a prize. The prize might be a food tin or a soft drink bottle, cheap toiletries, a doll, or something like that. The big prizes might be bottles of whiskey or a hamper. Often the Tombola prize you win is something you do not particularly want or need - hence "an unwanted Tombola prize".
Mr Hewson keeps the child. Social services are happy for Mr Hewson to bring up the child. He has helped to bring up step children, and the child and Mr Hewson have a good relationship.
A love interest develops with the boy's teacher.
Some months later social services have a crisis. They have seven children in one family who should be placed together, but no local foster carers can take seven children. The social worker who dealt with Mr Hewson asks Mr Hewson if he would be willing to take on seven "unwanted Tombola prizes". After discussion with his partner and the child the household agree to take on the seven children.
Later on social services have another crisis, with five Bengali Muslim children who need somewhere to sleep tonight, and until somewhere permanent can be found for them.
Mr Hewson takes them for three nights, and they stay nearly a year. With the child Mr Hewson and his partner produce there are now fourteen children from zero to sixteen years old.
One of the children is in a car crash and goes into intensive care, another becomes pregnant, and all the children develop characters and personalities. There is interplay between the people living in the house. Mr Hewson's character and history and motivations come out in small doses causing one to keep revising one's thoughts about him. He and his partner are very strong characters.
The First Reviewer
I was a little uncertain whether a young woman of twentyseven would form a relationship with a significantly older man. I know it does happen, but would this young woman do it? I gave the draft to my stepdaughter who is by coincidence herself twentyseven. She said that the young woman as described would be attracted by Mr Hewson and would form a relationship.
She said that two strong characters like this would have arguments and clashes, and I needed to provide these and to flesh them out.
The novel was written with various characters taking the lead and discussing the same events from different perspectives. There was too much repetition of information and I needed to edit out some of my golden words.
So I did.
The Second Reviewer
I had contacted a writer whom I respect hugely. She said it was better for her to input at this stage rather than to wait until I had fully finished. She delayed responding because she had some domestic issues, and I used the time to work on the sequel and to research for the third book in the series. She said that the narrator was saying too much. I should have the characters speaking for themselves.
Instead of the narrator saying things about the characters I should allow the reader to form their own opinions about the characters.
I agreed with this advice. I had to make a major rewrite from third person narrator to first person character. I put some chapters from the sequel into the book to round it off at a level point rather than leave the story hanging.
An English Social Worker
I have a friend who has spent her life as a social worker. I thought I would ask her to comment on the book in case I had any vocabulary wrong or any procedures wrong. She responded that my terminology was totally wrong and she gave me the correct vocabulary. She also pointed to a couple of areas where I had procedure slightly wrong. Nothing more than a half day to put right.
She said it was "a real page turner". She was impressed by Mr Hewson, calling him a combination of Orlando Bloom, Jeeves, and Lisbeth Salander. Orlando Bloom is the protagonist in Ulysses by James Joyce. Jeeves is the famous butler created by PG Wodehouse. Lisbeth Salander is a major character in the "Millennium" trilogy of novels by Stieg Larsson.
Four Good Friends
I thought the book was ready for publication. I intend to use Smashwords. It helps to have some quotations from readers that one can use.as publicity puff, and I am too honest to make them up. So I sent copies to four people whom I respect hugely. They are all people who read for pleasure, All I wanted was (1) some nice words to use and (2) suggestions for any tweaking or improvement.
I was expecting "Great", "Really Wonderful;" and so forth. From all four people I had exactly the same response.
When four people you respect all say the same thing, they are probably right. In this case the silence was the message. The book was simply not good enough to publish. It took a while for this to sink in, because I thought the book was great. It clearly isn't. My friends had too much integrity to praise a book that isn't good enough. And each of them did not want to hurt my feelings. Hence the silence.
Once I realised what was going on I spoke to a friend of 40+ years to whom I had also sent the novel. He is an author. He said that the fashion now is to begin with an earthquake and then build up. Long character development is just not done these days. Action first, then character comes out.
So I wrote to the four friends thanking them for having the integrity not to let me make a fool of myself by publishing a book that was not good enough, and for their concern not to hurt my feelings.
One said she had not realised I wanted comments! The story line had kept her up reading until 2am, and it was a strong story. And then she had dreamed about Mr Hewson! In her dream he was fighting a lion!
Then she gave me a number of comments which are all sound.
(1) There are a number of incidents which deserve many many more words than I had given.
(2) I had to give more emotional involvement. I had to describe the development of the great love between them, which clearly does exist. There has to be more passion in the relationship. And given the personalities some friction too.
(3) And more sex descriptions. Not "Fifty Shades", but more sexual incidents.
(4) A lot more dialogue is needed.
(5) The children need to be naughtier - they are too good to be believable.
(6) Although each chapter is supposedly someone;s voice, they all sound exactly the same. I need to differentiate in vocabulary, sentence structure etc.
To implement all the suggestions I will have to increase the text length to double or more. I think then it will be a very strong book.
This write or rewrite will take a couple of months or so -so watch this space!
At some point I will have another text that needs sending out for comment. If anyone would like to volunteer to read the next version, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .