Sunday 17th June 2018

Finishing a novel

Is there such a thing as a finished novel? Well there is; it is finished when it published and appears in print. But when it is finished as far as the author is concerned? Back in 2016, I thought I had finished my novel ‘Holiday‘ (working title). But, over the past couple of weeks, I have been going through it all again. I talked about this in my last blog post – Changing Course. More work still remains to be done. I will return to the manuscript and deal with the issues that I think are left to consider. One of these issues is how to start the story. At the moment, the story begins about three days into the timeline of the sequence of days that make up the fourteen days over which the story takes place. How do I explain the main characters got to that point in time?

The Saint Gotthard Pass. This picture has become a metaphor for writing a novel.

My original draft began right at the very beginning – when the main character went into a travel agency to book his holiday. I started not to start at that point, when I came to the third edition. I still think it important to tell my readers who the two boys came to go on holiday to Italy, back in 1966.

Structure and the flow of a story are considered to be very important. The way the story is told is considered to be part of the art of story-telling and how to write a novel. There are many elements within the story, elements that have to make sense as they read. Things happen and the reader has to understand why they happen, how they happened in the way they did and, after they have happened, what the implications are.

The characters are the story

My novel is a tale about two teenagers and their friends. That is what the story is about. What they do, what they say to each other, how they relate to each other – these are the elements of the plot (if it can be said to be a plot, in the traditional sense of the term.) Some scenes need no introduction – other than being family with the characters involved. It is just a narrative about people talking and doing things. But some events are put in and require later analysis. That happens. The main character is a teenager writer. What a surprise! That gives me a way of dwelling on what he thinks and I use this technique in ‘Holiday‘ and also in ‘The Streets of London.’ Michael, the main character of ‘Holiday‘, talks, acts and is seen doing things. But we really get into his mind and soul when he writes. The narrative has brief pieces of his writings. As he goes through the holiday, he writes about it. His thoughts could have been handled through dialogue. My concern is, however, to portray Michael as a writer and, as such, he is different to those around him and different in the way he experienced people, events and the things he sees and experiences.

That trope is one of my key characteristics as a novelist. Insert bits of written script into the narrative, draws the reader into the nature and art of writing and into the way that writers experience the world and the events that happen to them. Other authors do the same thing by narrating what the characters think; as though the narrator was capable of seeing into their minds. In two of novels, I make the leading characters write about what they are thinking. I want the reader to see what life is like as a writer and how the realities of daily life can be expressed in writing. Not everyone carries a notebook around with them and writes down in it things they experience in their day-to-day life. For authors with non-literary characters, they can equally well sit down and write a letter. It’s an alternative way of doing much the same kind of thing.

For me, I like to portray characters as writer. As Michael, the lead character in ‘Holiday‘, writes in his holiday diary:

Being a writer makes me different to other people. They keep asking me why I am always writing things down in my notebook and I try to give them serious answers but I don’t think any of them understand. For me, writing helps to sort out my thoughts and feelings. In my notes I can record what I have seen and done and how it is has affected me. I write about what other people have said and done and what I think about them.

This is a recurring theme in my work – that the writer is not just another bloke; a writer is a different kind of person. How he sees the world, how he thinks, and how reacts to his experiences, are recorded with a pen and paper. That makes him different. He is psychologically different and existentially different to people who never writer anything. That is a premise which I want to stand up to scrutiny. In The Streets of London, I take it to the next level. Adrian, the writer and main character, is writing a novel and that is part of the story line. What unfolds is a novel within a novel. A story being told about telling a story. Of course, the book is not just about Adrian writing a novel; there is a lot more to it than that. Adrian’s writing is a sub-plot. What the story considers is the way in which his experienced as a person feed his creative writing. It also reveals how his desire to write about specific things drives his life and even the lives of his friends.

For now I am putting the manuscript of ‘Holiday‘ to one side and returning to work on The Streets of London.

Previous blog posts

Sunday 10th June – Changing Course

Changing Course

Sunday 10th June 2018

Changing course

I missed a couple of Sunday posts because I was busy doing other things. Mainly going to festivals and other gigs and having to write them up for Music in Leicester magazine.

Since early January, I have been working on my third novel – The Streets of London. Now, I have decided to give myself a break from that. I have gone back to my first novel – Holiday – and am working on that. I feel it should be put out to potential agents and publishers. But first. I need to revise it. There is no such thing as a ‘finished’ novel. Not until it had been published.

Holiday is a story about a group of English teenagers who go on a packaged holiday to Italy. Set in the year 1966, the story centers around two friends who take advantage of the emergence of cheap packaged tours and end up on the Adriatic Riviera with a bunch of other teenagers and their parents. The work contains a variety of themes, including the clash of cultures, the nature of adolescent friendships, sexual awakening and reflections on history and modernism.

I felt I needed a break from working on my third novel. Having got a long way into it, it seemed it was time to sit back and reflect on what I have been doing and where I am going with the book. Having worked on three novels, I find I have not done very much about trying to get them published. A few manuscripts have been sent to literary agents but that has not resulted in anything. That is mainly because the structure of the books fails to fit with the accepted way of doing things. Reorganising the flow of the story has been my main preoccupation and continues to be my main concern as I go back to the manuscript after a break of two years.

I spent the whole of yesterday reading through the manuscript of ‘Holiday’ the working title I have given to my first work of fiction. I spent many happy hours reading it but now I have to be objective and critical about it. A lot of it appears to be very self-indulgent. Few people have read the complete manuscript. Friends have read bits of it but I have not yet asked other authors to look at it and give me their comments. That is something I need to do. But not after I have gone through the whole thing with a fine-tooth comb.

Previous posts on my blog

20th May 2018. – How I am writing my third novel.

13th May 2018. – Drawing as an aid to writing

6th May 2018. – Masks and characters.

See the home page for my blog.