Today I finished Draft 4of my new novel TheFullEnglish, a racy tale of ex-pat shenanigans on the Costa del Sol (breakfast not included).
Pause for congratulations.
But it ain’t over yet. It’s good that I’ve finished my first non-rubbish draft but there is still a long way to go. I’ve previously talked about how I rewrite each draft from scratch until I have one that doesn’t need to have every single sentence completely redrafted. I don’t mind so much as I enjoy typing and doing it all again several times is a good way of reminding myself of what is happening over the 100,000 wordscape. My memory isn’t what it was.
I’d forgotten for instance that in Drafts 1-3, I had actually left out three quite important set pieces. I had glossed over the responsibility by glibly inserting things like ‘put bullfight in here’. I knew what the purpose of the set pieces was so the plot advanced as it was supposed to but I still had thirty new pages to write from scratch as well as 250 others to rewrite. In writer terms I’m both a ‘putter inner’ and a ‘taker outer’, so it still ended up 100,000 words long.
‘This is the first thing I think I discovered after years of trying to work out how to write a novel: forget about writing a novel. Forget about the big indistinct Goliath you’re going to create. Just begin to write. Write out a scene, then develop another scene. Create some original characters, some exciting/funny/romantic scenes and play around with the world. Do odd things. Do clichéd things. Do things that you didn’t expect. Surprise yourself. Be crazy. Be serious. Do whatever you think fits the moment.’
You’ll never read better advice than that. Chip also thinks you shouldn’t write more than two drafts. He hasn’t seen my early drafts. For me, writing is a joy. I love making up stories and even if they don’t get published, and mine invariably don’t, the pleasure of completion still exists. Plots are better when they unfold and its certainly more fun for the writer to have an open mind about what is going to happen. When I started writing The Full English three and a half years ago, I had no intention of shooting my narrator, but shoot him I did.
Like me, Chip hasn’t found a publisher for his books. It’s not the end of the world but it does mean that the completion cycle is never fully realised and that means that when you approach the end of a book, you brace yourself for the inevitable rejections and marshalling of the mettle to start another one. Like Chip I have neither the ability nor stomach for the long years of writing letters to agents and then publishers. I do it because it must be done. I politely thank people who suggest I self-publish and endure the embarrassment of friends and family who all think I am hopeless. My mother whimpers if I mention that I’m writing. Whimpers! You just have to ignore it and keep going.
I finished my first book A Republic of Angels in 1992 and sent a sample chapter off to Sheba Feminist Press on the recommendation of a friend who had just signed with them. I wrongly assumed since it was about an anarchic young woman playing in an indy pop band and obeying few rules of conventional society that they might be interested. This is how it was rejected,
‘We are unable to accept your work for publication. Possibly a publisher of more Romantic Fiction.’
I think we can safely say it was misunderstood and I can assure you it contained proper sentences, unlike the above extract of my rejection letter. I didn’t bother to try Mills & Boon.
None of the rejections for The Way of the Pearwere quite as bizarre although one agent was clearly affronted and informed me very grumpily that the work was not what she was expecting. Sorry dear. Pear is a ‘love it or hate it book’. What more can I say? Quite a lot of people who’ve read it all, including a published writer of my acquaintance, advised turning it into a much more conventional book. I didn’t want to and that could have been to my cost. These are not easy decisions to make but I do think that sometimes the right advice is not necessarily the best advice. There's not much point in writing if you can't trust your own instincts.
Having said that, The Full English is that conventional book so I did take my friend's advice, just with a different book. It's much easier to apply it before you start writing than after. With Pear I wanted to play with language and I wanted an anti-heroine, one who wasn’t predisposed to play by any rules except her own. I prefer my women rebellious. I wanted to write a literary book. I’m over myself now. The Full English is more or less a straight-up thriller cum love story. I like those too. I’ve mentioned before that the next one is going to be a fictionalised account of the life of my garrulous convict ancestor. I like historical fiction also.
I’ll have a few days rest now; perhaps do some washing up or go back to fretting about moving. Then I’ll start on Draft 5. It’s not going to be a rewrite. I’ll just go through it, paragraph by paragraph; a nip here, a tuck there. When that’s done, I’ll post the first chapter here and see how we go.