What Started Me Writing – Part One
Unlike most people, I have never had the desire to “write a novel”. The thought of going into a book shop and seeing a book with my name on it, there, on the shelf, is neither dream nor triumph. I have no story I want to share with the world. If anything, I’d prefer people not to connect my overly gelatinous form with any printed string of consonents loosly held together with punctuation, let alone one presented in book form. Once upon a time, I felt that if I ever, ever, begin calling myself a writer, I would immediately have to take a flamethrower to my own head.
Two things have prevented this.
- My overly large head combined with the ever increasing price of petrol have rendered this course of action financially unviable.
- I began to take myself seriously.
So, now I (sort of) call myself a writer. Even though I spend far more time weeping into my keyboard and procrastinating – rather helpfully via the method of doing the things I get paid for – I am (sort of) a writer. It’s what I am (sort of).
I think anybody who drags any spare minutes they have into the service of a Creative endeavour probably has, even in their darkest moments, a cheesewire of belief about what they do. Maybe they recieved a particular complement at a pivotal moment in their life, maybe they have a desire to emulate an especially admired peer, maybe they want to demonstrate to others that they can be more succefull than those others previously claimed they could be – whatever the reason, there is belief. There must be. I can’t imagine any other reason why I would have voluntarily become this out of touch with Coronation Street.
I remember what it was for me. It was a book – the second of only two I have read by that author – and when I finished it I felt I could write a novel. The book was Two Women by Martina Cole.
Here is the place where you might rather be expecting me to explain how I thought to myself, if this can get published, I’m jolly sure I can. That wasn’t what I thought. What I though was not a thousand miles away from it, but it was approached from the oppostie direction.
Previously to become aquainted with Ms Cole’s work, I felt as though writing was something other people did. I was not a writer. I was a dyslexic Fine Art graduate. I had nothing to say. The books aimed at my then demographic, those Chick Lit novels with the jaunty pastel covers and heroines desirous of shoes said nothing to me of my life, either as it was then or as it had been during the preceeding years. The other books, books reviewed by newspapers and which one consistently felt one ought to read, those were not written by guys like me – they were written by graduates of the UEA creative writing course, or else by people who knew anything about anything – they were reviewed in newspapers and interviews were taken with their authors and I was not, nor would ever be, that kind of person. I could not be literary; I was not intelligent enough to be literary and anyway, I was a girl in my early twenties: I was supposed to care about boys, my career or my friends.
So to Martina Cole. This is probably where I am supposed to become either fanatical or sneery, but really, I have only face value to offer you.
Her books were unlike anything I had ever read before. Her writing was fresh to me and when I had finished it, part of me thought I could do it too.
So I did.
At that time I was working in an Oriental Antiques shop and when it wasn’t busy, I wrote. Eventually, I had written all the way to the end of the story. I knew it had some serious flaws (largely because by the time I reached the end, I had changed my mind about what was going to happen) but I thought I’d write it up on the computer anyway, fixing the bits which were wrong with it, and then I’d see where I was.
This I did not do.
I started, but I did not finish. I was bored with early sections of it and, I reasoned, if I was bored writing it, how could anybody be interested in reading it? In any case, I was writing something else and that one was much better.
I wrote in an A4 lined pad I bought from Tesco, no less. I wrote in the shop by day and in bed by night. Sometimes I’d only write 50 words or so, but others I’d put down over a thousand. Eventually, this one was finished. Again, it was something of a mess because, again, I’d changed my mind slightly about how it was going to end, but this time, I did write it up on the computer, concurrently writing a longhand sequal by night.
It was 90-odd thousand words long, it was tentatively titled “This I know” and I idly researched literary agents who might be suitable to send it to. I was clearing out a few old Word files the other day and found one with the rough draft of the synopsis of that novel plus an outlined covering letter, complete with a rhetorical question as the opener.
I did not send it out, not then, but that was what started me writing.
After the longhand sequal, I wrote another, entirely different novel. I began a fifth, getting a good way through it before stopping, intending to return but feeling it was too broken to complete – the inciting incident was too contrived and I could not come up with a better one. A sixth sputtered out early, its heroine reincarnated for a seventh (one of whose early scenes was canibalised from the forth about which I had more than a few doubts) which, likewise, sputtered out in the face of busier things – I no longer worked at the shop and I had gradually fallen into a malaise. I was not a writer and I no longer even wrote.
It’s only now, writing it, that I realise how much I have done: four complete novels and a good hundred thousand words of another three. First drafts, true, with all the cliche, plot holes and nonsense which can be expected in a first draft, but nevertheless: 4 complete novels and a good hundred thousand words of another three.
I think I am perhaps a writer. Sort of.