My Next Novel – Beginnings

Close-up of a yellow front door.

Hello, and I hope everyone reading has been keeping well during these strange and difficult times. I’m back to share some news of my next novel with the idea of documenting its journey from early idea to completion and then, one way or another, onward to publication.

If you’re a book-lover, I hope you might enjoy a little look behind the curtain at the creation of a novel as it happens, and if you’re a fellow-writer, maybe you’ll be interested to compare notes on process or approach. For myself, too, it’ll be an interesting record to look back on. I don’t keep a diary, so this blog might help to bottle a few experiences and lessons for a future me!

What’s been going on?

It’s been quite a while since I shared an update on my writing, and that’s largely because, until recently, it had been some time since I sat down to write with any regularity. Life was a bit too busy, and whilst I tried to write now and again, without a consistent commitment, I wasn’t all that satisfied with what I was doing. I find there’s a sort of momentum to writing – I’ve talked about finding flow before – and with so many stops and starts, it was difficult to get anywhere.

The events of this spring, though, together with a planned career change, have meant that for me, life is quieter for now. I realize that for many people, that’s not the case. I’m very fortunate in many ways, including in having this window of opportunity for writing. I also realize it won’t last forever, so I’ve been determined to make the most of it and to write in earnest again. I had a basic outline of an idea and a few chunks of writing from last year, and that’s where I began.

The trainers of a couple sitting side by side in a garden.

What’s it all about?

Well, it’s probably no surprise, I’m writing another romantic comedy. Writing comic fiction seems to suit me and I hope my voice as a writer suits it too! Whereas The Art Trip was set in the late nineties, this time I’m writing a more contemporary story, set in West London just a few years ago.

My heroine, Steph, has always thrown herself into her image-conscious marketing career, despite not really fitting in. She knows what she wants, she can even see what she wants, but somehow, it’s just out of reach. When she loses her job, she loses her connections to former friends and then her confidence. Social media seems only to highlight what she lacks, until one evening, after sharing a rather rash and ridiculous post of her humble dinner, she receives an utterly unexpected response, and her virtual life becomes a pathway to a new real life.

Meanwhile my hero, Jason, believes he’s well on the way to building a happy and rather stylish future, only to discover he’s horribly mistaken. The things he wanted, the things he had, and even his own identity turn out to have been built on shaky foundations. The descent from in-demand commercial photographer to his brothers’s sofa feels like a painful and humiliating regression. Ultimately, though, it’s giving away the trappings of his old life which opens the door to a new one.

Along the way there’ll be plenty of food and cooking, some vintage shopping and more than a cameo role for a cat – all things I like! Of course, I’m planning that there’ll be a lot of laughs too!

Three light bulbs in modern angular  wire frames.

Where did the idea come from?

It’s difficult to pin down exactly, but I can point to a few experiences and a couple of key moments. Like a lot of writers, I draw on my own life to some extent in my work, and I’m not shy about admitting it. Nothing I write is based on real people or complete events, but naturally, little memories or observations that have stuck with me will crop up, and some of my bigger reflections on life tend to underpin my work.

In this case, I’ve been looking back to a time years ago when I had just moved to London and was starting my career. In terms of choosing settings, and the experience of living in a house not dissimilar to Steph’s, that all helps. I’ve also worked in marketing, and had the experience of losing my job a couple of times – not in any way I draw on directly – but still, it’s some background. On a more detailed level, it’s a fair bet that a few of the things that Steph or Jason will go on to do or think, I might have done too, but I’ll leave that down to guesswork!

In terms of those bigger life reflections, well, I think in this story I want to say something about loneliness, appearance versus reality and the gap between what we may think will make us happy, and what can actually make us happy. It’s a romantic comedy, though, so primarily, I want to make it both fun and funny! A lot of the plot (which is still taking shape) will be there for just that reason, and it’s a great reason. Like most authors, I want my books to entertain.

Going back to those key moments, flashes of inspiration if you like, there were a couple of interesting times. The first was when I was browsing in a second-hand shop and happened to look at an old recipe book. For some reason, its tone of voice tickled me and that set some cogs whirring about eating alone and how food trends change over time. I was still in the midst of writing The Art Trip, perhaps not even through the first full draft, so I just banked the thought.

After that, I must have been gathering more inspiration without being conscious of it, because the next key moment was a long time later. I was out for a walk one day. I still hadn’t published The Art Trip but my mind turned to my next project and I suddenly found that I had a basic plot in mind. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m very pleased it did, and this time, I made sure to scribble down a few notes when I got home. So that was the origin of the novel.

How’s it going?

It’s going, that’s the main thing! On the long road to writing a novel, every step forward counts. I began to write again in late March. I’m part way through the first draft and I’ve got about fifty thousand words under my belt, which I’m pretty pleased with. Words aren’t the only measure of progress of course, but there are a lot of them in a novel, so the sheer act of generating them is important. I’m someone who needs to re-write and edit quite a lot after I write, but that’s for later.

I’ve got a plot outline, which is still evolving as I write, so it’s a circular process. I’m not writing the chapters in order, but I’m writing key sections and events, writing what comes to me each day, filling in gaps or expanding the plot as it feels right. As I write, I’m also getting to know my characters even better, which is both fun and very necessary. For example, I realized that Jason’s character and story line wasn’t as well developed as Steph’s, so that’s something I need to work on. Writing at this stage isn’t always easy, but overall, it’s a very enjoyable part of the process.

At the beginning of April, I decided to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo, which is one reason I managed to make good progress with my draft over the month. This was my first experience with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I’ll say more about it another time, but joining this online community of writers all working towards their own projects certainly focused my mind. With its self-defined targets and tracking, together with discussion forums, it was a helpful way to log my progress and keep my motivation through what has been a strange period of time.

A ginger cat walks across paving stones and out of shot.

What’s next?

There’s a long way to go with my first draft, and I need to keep up my writing momentum. I have to confess, the last few days have been a little slow, so in some ways, I’m hoping putting this blog post out there will give me another push! There’s that thinking that making your commitments public helps, isn’t there?

In moments of distraction or whim, I’ve allowed myself to jump way ahead, to think of titles and even ideas for the cover. It’s entertaining but so premature that even as I’m doing it, I frown at myself! All that lies over the horizon, after another fifty thousand or so draft words, at least one re-write and some fairly painful editing. I don’t think I’m even halfway to the halfway point!

I’d like to publish the book later this year, but already I’m wondering if that’s too ambitious. I’ve got some other big commitments coming down the track, and I don;t want to underestimate the challenge. That timeline assumes that I self-publish again too, which I very well might, but sometimes I re-consider that too. Becoming a successful indie author is by no means easier than than to becoming a successful traditionally published author. Beyond being a writer, marketing my own books is something I enjoy too, but it’s also a steep learning curve and a long haul.

Anyway. I’m planning to share the whole journey with you here, posting about triumphs and disasters, key milestones and, no doubt, some horribly thorny hurdles. Whatever the journey holds, I hope it’s an interesting trip, and let’s see how it goes! As ever, thank you for reading!

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