The Blog Tour
Collaborative blogging seems to have been a feature of my blog world this year: I’ve written guest posts on ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ on two other blogs; I’ve had guest writers on my blog for my ‘Why I Write’ series, and now I’m taking part in ‘The Writing Process’ Blog Tour. The blog tour is the electronic progeny of the old chain letter, where you used to receive a letter and have to pass it on to ten of your friends to make something wonderful happen. I used to avoid those, but the Blog Tour is a fun way of creating links between writers and perhaps introducing readers to authors they wouldn’t otherwise come across.
I was asked to take part in ‘The Writing Process ‘Blog Tour by Jeff Phelps, a novelist and poet on this year’s West Midlands Room 204 writer programme. The idea is that all the writers who take part answer the same fourquestions about their work and their writing process, and together they form a great electronic blogging chain in the ether! You can read Jeff’s blog (and more about his writing) here . I have asked Sally Gander, Lorna Fergusson and Jenny Heap to grab the baton from me – read more about them at the end of this post.
So, the four questions:
1) What am I working on?
As anyone who reads my blog even occasionally knows (occasionally? Shame on you!), my current novel has caused me endless anguish! The novel that got too big. The novel that stalled. The novel that was one when it should have been two.
However, I have finally come through that particular bed of nettles and, if not quite onto the sunny slopes yet, I feel I’m definitely free of the nettle rash. (Okay boring myself with the image now!) I’ve unpeeled the two narratives from each other, and although I’m hoping to write both of them, I’ve settled which one to work on first.
Its provisional title is ‘Phoenix’, and as with my other novels, it’s about relationships, and in particular, the complexities of family relationships.
- Its theme is: family versus individual fulfilment; ties that bind/compromise versus freedom and individuality.
- The two main characters are Ollie and Louise, who are brother and sister, and involves their parents, and the tangled web of their emotional relationships.
- The story centres on a family-run hotel in Plymouth. The hotel has been in the family for generations and it has a wonderful position on The Hoe in Plymouth with tremendous views out across Plymouth Sound.
The view from the hotel (almost) across The Hoe to Plymouth Sound
In addition to my new novel, I’m promoting (somewhat haphazardly) ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ – it’s doing reasonably well, but I’m always hungry for more readers, and teaching my creative writing courses.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a horrible question, but one that is frequently asked of writers, along with questions such as why should people read your book? What on earth are you supposed to say? Because I spent years of my life writing it. Because my self-worth depends on people reading it. Because I need the royalties. It’s impossible, but I’ll have a go. I don’t know if this is different enough, but I try to make readers think as well as feel. I used to be told by agents/publishers that my writing was too commercial to be literary and too literary to be commercial. At the time, this seemed a disadvantage, but I now wonder if – as far as readers are concerned – the reverse is true. They want to have to think, to perhaps work at a novel, to explore their responses to characters, and to be made to question their own responses. But they also want a jolly good story, one that they can immerse themselves in, and live for a while in this fictional world. I know there are other books that do that, but I’m not sure how many combine what has been called ‘the darkness’ of my novels, with the easiness of the read. A final word from an email I received from a reader about The Piano Player’s Son: I lived every character, you have (in my experience and I am old!!) the rare talent of being able to bring each character to life. That will do me!
3) Why do I write what I do?
This question is probably easier to answer. My writing focuses mainly on personal relationships because that’s what I find fascinating. People and how they interact with each other, who they love, who they hate, why they do what they do, why they so often seem to make foolish decisions are the stuff of life for me. And I often write about families because I think it’s there that the most wonderful, life-enriching relationships can be found, along with destructive forces that can never be shaken off. And as the opening sentence of ‘Anna Karenina’ says Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
4)How does your writing process work?
Slowly is the best answer I can give to this. The trend now is to write novels at speed. I know some self-published authors who are putting out two, even three books a year. I seem incapable of doing that. I write most days when I’m not teaching or spending time on ‘life’. I’m happy if I can produce 1000 words a day. That feels like the right sort of length for me, although the other week I managed 1700 in a day and was thrilled. When I only manage 500, I feel incredibly frustrated and start to resent every little thing that takes me away from writing. Obviously recently, I’ve struggled because of the two-narratives fighting in in one novel issue, but now that I’ve ‘sort of’ sorted that, there should be nothing to stop me – in theory! If I’m stuck on a character or plot development, I find walking helps. There’s something about the movement, the rhythm of walking that allows the brain to clear out some of the chattering clutter, and to be creative. I also do quite a lot of planning. I know some writers just sit down and write (and I think I probably did that years ago), but now I need to have some sort of structure in place, not only for the novel as a whole, but also for chapters. I find I write more easily if I’ve sketched out the different scenes in the chapter with their key moments – it helps to gives me footholds across the scary terrain of a new chapter.
And so to pass on the baton for ‘The Writing Process’ Blog Tour to my three writer friends. As promised you can read more about them here:
- Sally Gander http://sallymgander.wordpress.com/
Sally M Gander writes novels, short stories and radio plays, as well as teaching Creative Writing at Bath Spa University where she gained an MA in 2006. She recently published a novel for teenagers titled The Big Deep, and has had short stories published on old-fashioned paper, online and broadcast on the radio. She lives in Frome with her two children and is currently working on a new novel for teenagers.
- Lorna Fergusson http://literascribe.blogspot.
Lorna Fergusson is a writer, creative writing tutor and runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy (www.fictionfire.co.uk). Her story ‘Reputation’, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 competition, appears in The Beggar at the Gate and Other Stories and her chapter on Pre-writing is in Studying Creative Writing (PHP Creative Writing Studies series). Last year her unpublished children’s novel Hinterland reached Pan Macmillan’s Write Now Prize shortlist and she republished The Chase, previously published by Bloomsbury.
- Jenny Heap http://jeneferheap.wordpress.com/
Jenefer Heap writes fiction for grown-ups. After winning Good Housekeeping’s annual creative writing competition, she was sidetracked by babies for a while, but is now on the brink of publishing her first short story collection ‘The Woman Who Never Did’. Her alter-ego, Jenny Heap, writes for a younger audience and has run creative writing and poetry workshops for primary schools and the National Trust.