Unsurprisingly for an English Lit graduate, I love literature. But here is my secret… I am a bit of a literary snob. But not in the way you might think.
Ever since I first picked up a penguin classic (Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, by the by) I have been charmed, obsessed and inspired by the authors ability to create a story. For four years, between fourteen and eighteen, I didn’t read a single novel published after about 1920 unless I was forced to by school. Why risk a contemporary novel when I could read something that had stood the test of time? But it was never the style or the imagery that I loved, and it still isn’t. I am a self proclaimed story chaser.
For me story and plot are the most important factors in any book I read. Keep your arty descriptions of landscapes Mr Hardy, throw your modernist approach to the inner world out of the window Virginia Woolf; it’s the twisty, often twisted, stories that I crave. (Imagine my disappointment, my utter HORROR, at having to read Mrs Dalloway three times throughout my formal education.)
This is one of the reasons (along with my obsession with Wilkie Collins) that ensured I would end up writing psychological thrillers; I chase the pace. What I never realised is how difficult it can be to create and maintain that pace, not to mention the hard work and skill involved in managing a plot to keep it exciting and unpredictable. I am happy to say that I read an awful lot of modern fiction now, primarily crime and thrillers, and I have a respect for these authors that far outweighs my respect for many of our literary greats (including Woolf)
To challenge, surprise, empathise, occasionally scare and, most importantly, entertain. You can keep your high brow literary masterpieces; I’ll take a well-written thriller any day.*
*There are, of course, exceptions. Exceptions are what make life interesting.
This month saw my name go into print. Not on my own novel, but as part of a collaboration with a chap from my village. The aim? To write a novella, no more than 20,000 words, set in and around our village in Somerset. Other than a poem by Wordsworth, called Anecdote for Fathers, there has been no literature set in Kilve. We planned to change that and raise funds for our village newspaper in the process.
I have never written with anyone before, all the work prior to this has been strictly a solo affair, and the difference was quite interesting. Olaf Chedzoy, the brains behind the novella, already had a set plot, structure and cast of characters in mind but needed help to write it. I happily agreed and so the process of creating the novella began, where my role was essentially to write roughly a third of the narrative, concentrating on a pair of characters in their late sixties who become obsessed with unearthing the true intentions of an inquisitive newcomer.
Overall it was a very different experience, as I am used to having full control over everything. I imagine it must be similar to ghost writing; you have to adopt a style and characters that you may not have necessarily chosen yourself, as well as a plot which is far from my normal domain of psychological thrillers. But I learnt a great deal; how to better write for a select audience, how to merge my ideas with someone else and how to interpret those ideas into the written word.
Happily our little venture is a success; we’ve sold over half the copies printed in the first week and those who have read it have enjoyed it. My name is in print, and the readers (who, let’s face it, are the most important factor here) are happy. What more can you ask for?*
*A publishing deal
*A Sunday Times Bestseller
I have a website. I have a blog. I spend my days banging on about writing on twitter. So it may come as a surprise to hear that, to my nearest and dearest at least, I have kept my writing a secret.
Why, you ask? Simple: fear.
I had been writing seriously for over a month before I even told my husband what I was doing on the laptop every night for hours on end. And what did I do when I eventually let him read some of it? Why, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. Obviously.
A wise man (hi, Simon!) once said that fear can heighten any emotion and make for a very explosive scene. Fear combined with anger, for example, is an excellent way to up tension and pace. Fear that my husband wouldn’t like my work (which he did, thankfully) combined with yet more fear that I was no good at it (which is not true, I have to keep reminding myself) combined with yet more fear that I would fail at something I was already obsessed with led me straight to the bathroom.
But with all phobias it is best to face them. In recent months I have been making a concerted effort to be honest when people ask me what I ‘do.’ I force myself to say ‘I am a writer’ whilst trying to suppress the fear that they will laugh in my face or boldly tell me ‘no you’re not.’
The nicest part letting this little secret out of the bag? I have a new team of cheer leaders backing me up. A good friend came to stay with me this weekend. I ignored the dread and asked if she would read the first couple of pages of my novel and tell me what she thinks. Not only did she like it but she kept reading for an hour and didn’t want to stop. So in this case, fear + determination = a big confidence boost just when I need one.