A Novel’s Writing

 

how to write a novel

 

This is the third in the series my novel-writing journey. You can read the first two posts here: On Inspiration and here: On Research.

As I writer, I am also a reader, and among the many many books I read, of course, are the books on writing, and of course there are many different methods of writing a novel, and the writing of a novel can change from one book to the next, even for the same author. Here’s my writing process, for this novel.

Working title: ‘On Demon’s Shores’, a play on words of the location ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, started 3 and a half years ago on a bushwalk with my now-husband. That was December 2012. A woman – Elspeth – standing over the grave of her infant son. I knew straight away it was a historical fiction, and, having a Masters in History, I thought I knew what areas I was familiar with, and what areas would need a bit more research. I planned to write my novel during Nanowrimo* the following year and spent the following eleven months reading in the areas I knew I needed to brush up on; like Scottish folk magic, and colonial history – especially the interactions (good and bad) between the Aborigines and the settlers.

By November 2013 I had a folder thick with notes, as well as the odd scene that came to me through the year: One from the point of view of Elspeth’s daughter, another from her dead husband. Scenes of Elspeth’s childhood had filled several pages, and it was from these scenes I started to write: born with a caul – a sign of one with the Sight – Elspeth followed her grandmother’s footsteps and became cunning-woman of her village. How she got to Van Dieman’s Land was easy – as a convict – but why? What did she do? And why did she do it if life was following a path it should?

That draft brought up many more questions than before, and really revealed how little I knew of the tiny details that would bring my story to life. 2014 was back into the research again, writing the odd scene here or there all the while researching those odd little points that would make my story ‘real’: like what period the colonial government offered land grants to former convicts, and when the Queen’s Orphanage first opened, and what happened to the children of convicts who were brought out with their parents.

Big changes were happening in life that year too – the birth of my third child, and the closure of my older children’s most wonderful little school.

When Nanowrimo 2014 began I was a Nano-rebel for the first time in my 5 years of taking part, almost completely re-writing that first draft, keeping only the few scenes I liked.

2015 was more a mixture. More research, several redrafts, and always reading – both fiction and non-fiction, anything to help me connect with my characters, experience life as they may have known it: Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott.

Another re-draft over the 30 odd days of Nanowrimo, squashed into the gaps between homeschooling and caring for a now walking toddler (and achievable only with a supportive husband). But Nanowrimo that  year I had a different aim. By now I’d been over the story so many times, and removed the dull, unimportant bits, and clarified the story, and really felt I knew where it was going. Now I needed to polish it to the best of my ability, ready for the outside input. Late January 2016 I sent the story off to beta-readers, mid-March I received 3 different readers comments, and reworked the story yet again. Next step was to send it to a Manuscript Assessor [The Tasmanian Writer’s Centre offers affordable manuscript assessment]. The Manuscript Assessment was everything I needed. I reworked the story, changing some sections completely (sections which, incidentally, I knew weren’t right, but I thought I didn’t know how to fix, and so I was taking the lazy way out. But as I worked through the minor changes the way to fix the larger problem came clear. A re-read confirmed what I suspected at the end of that process – the story is as good as I can make it at this point in time. And so I sent it off.

So now I wait. But the waiting is not with twiddling fingers, no. Since I submitted my manuscript the idea for my next novel burst, fresh and exciting, onto the page, and now I’m pondering where this journey will lead me.

 

 

 

National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the term. And if you are a writer – check it out, it really is an amazing resource for writers, and a great way to get a good start on a novel.

 

 

Advertisements

Interview – Historical Fiction Author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil

I’m a little bit excited, because this week on the blog I’m interviewing a fellow historical author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil! Barbara’s latest book ‘Fair Weather’ has just been released and she’s come over to have a chat about the book and her writing process.

Welcome Barbara!

  • To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks so much, Heather. I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my life, starting in
my teens publishing articles and short stories while working for publishers and television companies as a tutor, script writer and editor. However, I took a large break for domesticity and bringing up three daughters, two of whom are identical twins. Once my children were grown with lives of their own, I spent some years sailing the Mediterranean and living in several European countries while indulging my sense of adventure and learning, first hand, what romance is all about. Now I live in Australia, and write of medieval England while gazing out of my window at kangaroos, parrots and kookaburras. A considerable contrast – but my imagination soars from one to the other with no problems. It all adds to the joys of inspiration.

  •  Briefly, can you tell us what Fair Weather is about?

FW CoverMystery – history – dark magic – romance – and adventure! Fair Weather is set a little earlier than many of my other novels, going back to the reign of King John. It is a time-slip story with a large dose of the paranormal so the heroine, at first against her wishes but increasingly eager, is pulled from her modern comforts into the dangers of the past.  The storyline delves deeper and deeper into the threats and the mysteries, but as the plot develops the mysteries begin to unfold, and the principal male character shows himself as multi-faceted and far from average hero. This very unusual hero is one of my favourites but neither of my two heroines find him an easy companion. This book and its plot are multi-layered, and carries many twists…

  • What inspired you to write Fair Weather?

Vespasian Fairweather came marching into my head one dark and chilly evening, and introduced himself without permission. I found him immediately intriguing, challenging and compelling. This is actually a novel I first wrote back in 2004 when time-slip plots were rare! But I have polished since then – and I believe the book has grown a little. But for all that time, Vespasian has been with me. He’s not always the easiest companion, but I love having him around. He is charismatic and never predictable. So he has been my inspiration right from the start. Where he came from – well – I’m not sure!

  • I see you’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What drew you to this genre?

I suppose originally because it’s a genre I love to read, and I grew up with an adoration for Dorothy Dunnett, Shakespeare and Mary Renault. I became interested in researching the dark cramped and brutal life of the ordinary people during those long-past years. I also love fantasy – and I think both fantasy and historical fiction draw the reader into new worlds. Escapism of the deepest and most compelling kind. I adore wandering other dark roads in my mind and exploring what made people think and believe as they did. I am greatly interested in many important figures from the past (Richard III, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wellington and many more) but it is the huge heaving population of the poor that absorbs me, and how they coped with such difficulties. We are now what the past has made us, and I find that an absorbing puzzle to study.

  • Fair Weather is not strictly historical. Is this your first time-slip novel?

Yes, it is, and I have loved writing it. I believe the time-slip plot draws the reader into the past along with the characters, and that is always my aim in all my books, even when time-travel is not at all included. When I actually wrote Fair Weather back in 2004, time-slip was quite a rarity in books and I cannot remember a single book I had then read based on time travel, although now it is quite fashionable. My mother had recently died, and I think my mood was generally dark – and from there I slipped into the past myself.

  • I’ve had a peek at your website, and I’m intrigued by your story line. You mentioned that one of your main characters ‘Vespasian’ arrived fully formed and proceeded to dictate the story (I’ve experienced this myself!). Was there much research involved?

Yes, isn’t it a wonderful experience when a compelling character seems to come alive!

I have always loved researching the past and started with massive academic research on the Viking era when I was just 12 years old. So yes indeed, I researched the time period for Fair Weather with much passion, even though the plot of my novel is not based on historical events. Certainly the presentation of old London and the way of life at that time are all very accurate. Vespasian certainly strode through my head and wrote my book for me, but I still had to check that the facts were right. Now I have trouble with fading sight, and research is a problem. However, I will never write a historical fact without ensuring its accuracy.

  • I’ve found research can be a bit of a black-hole – there is so much information out there. How did you know when you’d done enough?

Yes, it can be hard, but that black hole has never swallowed me up. I enjoy research and never stop, and it is endlessly valuable. You need a feel for the period, and an understanding of what life was like then. I have researched many periods of history without the slightest intention of setting a book in that time. The past has fascinated me most of my life and I am passionate about understanding the way we have grown from previous mistakes. I have a passionate sympathy for the terrible experiences the ordinary people suffered before we learned tolerance, before medical science understood disease and hygiene, and before a regard for equality was accepted. Battle was the most brutal business and yet people accepted the inevitability. Many fought willingly, but the suffering continued unabated through every reign. I will not turn away from the misery those poor souls faced in bygone eras, and I write of their lives with the utmost care. Now humanity is maturing beyond those past horrors, but we still have a lot to learn. That is what research means to me. I have never entered into any research purely as a short term exercise for one book alone.  I dream of these times, and feel as though I live there as I write my books.

  • What inspires you to write?

The whole world and everyone in it becomes my inspiration. The sunset over the hills, the dawn rising in soft pastels over the ocean, forests in the spring and open moors bleak in the barren winter. Every person I meet and every word they say inspires me. I get sudden ideas from dreams too. My dreams are vivid and compelling, and they remain with me long after I have woken. Some films have inspired me too, and books of course, for reading the work of others is perhaps the biggest inspiration of all. I also have my own memories, and after leading a very varied and interesting life, there is plenty to remember and plenty to inspire within those memories.

  • What is your next book about?

I am now writing a Tudor adventure. As usual it contains romance, adventure, crime and mystery, as well as a good deal of historical context. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are important characters within the book, but I follow my normal practice by bringing my own fictional characters into the foreground as the principal protagonists.  But the book is only about half way finished, and it will be some time before I choose to publish it. I insist on rewriting and polishing my work several times, and therefore finally publish my very best attempt at perfection. Well – nothing is ever perfect of course – but I can try.

  • What is your writing process? Do you have a daily routine? Do you plot your stories – or do you let them come to you as you write?

More or less a routine, and I try to write for many hours each day, depending on other duties such as marketing and keeping up with articles, and fascinating interviews such as this one. I love writing. I have no problem with writing for hours. I always start off with my basic plot and characters very firmly in my mind, but then as the book begins to develop, it takes on a life of its own and runs away with me. In the end I always feel as though it has written itself. Sometimes it feels so real that I think it has written me!

My leading characters leap into my head fully formed and demand that I give them the freedom to do whatever they wish. And that’s exactly what I do. I have written a crime mystery before, where I have changed the culprit half way through simply because the original character I had chosen as the guilty one, turned around and told me in no uncertain manner that he was innocent. Who can argue with a character stamping his feet inside your head?

  • Why did you decide to self-publish?

My traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster) treated me very well. My books sold well and I intended continuing in the traditional manner. But then I began to dream of taking back some of the control I had inevitably had to surrender to my publisher. I had no complaints, but most matters were no longer my choice and even the basic direction of my books was sometimes altered by them. Only one book a year is published traditionally of course, they chose covers, and with a small budget allotted (large budgets are kept strictly for the famous names and huge best-sellers) there was very little possibility for publicity or marketing. Eventually I decided that self-publishing would bring me vastly more pleasure, and renew all my freedoms., So that is what I chose.

Sadly there is still some stigma hanging over those who self-publish, as though they have all initially failed. This is most unjust. It may sometimes be true, of course, but usually it is not. I was offered the traditional path – accepted with pleasure – and then backed out. Self-publishing has become a great joy, although challenging – but it is the way I now wish to travel.

 

  • What advice would you give to people just starting to write, or considering self-publishing?

I don’t think I am in a position to advise anyone really, as I am still learning what I want to do myself. I suppose I would advise any prospective author to take the idea seriously – never to give up – and to re-write, re-write, and re-write again. Many new authors finish a book quickly and assume that is good enough. In the following years they inevitably regret having rushed the process. I think a measure of perfection should be attempted through endless polishing before going out to face the public. Beta readers can be extremely helpful in this.

  • Do you have any website/social media links you’d like to share?

My Amazon author’s page,

www.amazon.com/Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil/e/B005M8E3ZS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

My website – and please do subscribe –

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

and my F/B author’s Page –

https://www.facebook.com/B.GaskellDenvil/?fref=ts

I should dearly like to meet you all on any or all of these sites.

 

– Fairweather is available now from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

and Amazon UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

 

– Thank you so much for having a chat with me today Barbara – I’m really looking forward to reading Fair Weather, and learning a bit more about Vespasian Fairweather and the heroines who accompany him in this story.

 

Barbara’s bio:

barbara 3Born in England, I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. I broke off my literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.

When my partner died I needed a place of solace and came to live in rural Australia where I still live amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for my solace has now become my passion.

With a delight in medieval history dating back to my youth, I now principally set my fiction in 15th century England. I also write fantasy, tending towards the dark and adult. Within these two genres, I now write full time.

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

Tamar Valley Writers Festival 2016

tvwf image.gif

Last weekend was the Tamar Valley Writers Festival – two days (well, for me – there were other events on other days too), of non-stop panels and book-signings and networking!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while now, may remember that around this time two years ago I attended the Festival of Golden Words, in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. This is that festival – rebranded, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the name change.

Unfortunately I missed the opening of the festival, arriving just in time for the second time slot of the day, with two talks of interest to decide between. With three sessions for each time slot, there were a few clashes over the weekend, which make it hard to decide what session to attend!

The first couple of sessions of the day (Saturday) were sparsely attended, and I worried that the festival wasn’t going to draw the same crowds as the first time around, (a big concern as this is the closest writers festival to me, and I want to be sure it continues!) but by the third session of the day there was standing room only in the sessions I attended, and the atmosphere was bustling, though some of the panelists seemed to lack confidence speaking to such large groups. Sunday continued on much the same as far as attendance was concerned, though the panelists seemed to be much more comfortable and relaxed, with more banter occurring between panelists.

TVWF books
Petrarch’s Bookshop was in attendance, and with authors signing their books I spent up…

There were some fascinating discussions, and so much to think about – I ended up with seven pages of sometimes-barely-readable scrawl in my notebook! I won’t retype the whole seven pages here – just a few snippets from the weekend.

  • In ‘Mosaic Australia: words and cultural voices’, Ellen van Neerven (author of Heat and Light, which I read just recently – look out for my review soon!) commented on the use of the word ‘myth’ in regard to Aboriginal stories, for these stories are real and current for the Aboriginal people, and are held in the land itself.
  • In ‘Lost Voices: recreating historic characters’, Historian Michael Cathcart stated he was interested in confronting the mythologies of the past, that ‘they are not us’, and his interests lie in the differences between now and then. He said it was useful to look at the strangeness of the past, that we find the story in the difference.
  • In ‘Questions and Lessons from our History’, someone (my apologies – I didn’t jot down who!) commented on how stories from history are never actually finished, there are always ongoing discoveries. When asked about choosing the stories of ‘minor players’ of history, Steve Harris, author of Solomon’s Noose (a story about a hangman in Hobart during colonial times and now added to my TBR list!) commented that unless we acknowledge our own stories of the past – good and bad, we can never expect anyone else to.
  • ‘The Rich Tapestry: diversity in life and literature’, introduced me to Erin Gough, who spoke of her experiences growing up as a gay teen, and the lack of gay characters in any of the books she read. ‘We read to find our place in the world’, she said, and she wanted to write stories for teens today, so they can see themselves reflected back in fiction. (Seeing yourself in fiction is so important on so many levels and there’s a website ‘Visibility Fiction’ which promotes diversity in fiction – not just regarding sexual identity, but also colour, and disability, and any other way people may be different from each other).
  • Historian Patsy Cameron gave me goosebumps in ‘First Voices: Our Indigneous past’, when she spoke of trekking to a cave where thousands of years ago her ancestors left their hand prints on the walls. And later, in the session entitled ‘Our Island Home: issues in Tasmanian history’, my views on the past were re-arranged yet again (it’s happened quite a lot over the course of my research for my current WIP), when Patsy commented that she sees the war between the Tasmanian Aborigines and the white settlers as the ‘White War’, not as it is more commonly known, the ‘Black War’, because it was the whites that caused the war, not the original inhabitants of the land.

I’ve come away from the festival with so much to think about, not only from the panels and discussion, but from personal conversations with people – friends and acquaintances and those I only just met.

I have no doubt what-so-ever that my novel will be much stronger from the changes I’m making, due to what I learnt over the two days, and I’m so inspired and encouraged to continue with my writing.

Looking forward to the next one!

 

Review – The Alphabet of Light and Dark – Danielle Wood

download

“…it is often the silent who end up with the task of the telling. Perhaps it’s because, undeafened by the sound of their own voices, they’ve heard so much more.”

Yes, I’m reviewing another of Danielle Wood’s books. 🙂 I recently finished reading ‘The Alphabet of Light and Dark’, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 2002 and it’s easy to see why. Reading Wood’s work you get the feeling that the sentences flow from the tip of her pen perfect and fully formed. The act of writing feels so easy as you are absorbed effortlessly into the tale.

This particular story really resonated with me at the moment, as the main character, Essie, is spending her days searching the past, trying to piece together the stories her grandfather told her so often, stories she has mostly forgotten, but of which she is reminded by the sea chest full of the trinkets to which the stories belong.

While I am not trying to recover half-remembered stories, I have been delving to the past as I research my latest WIP. Set in Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, in the 1830’s, my story features an indigenous character (with more on the periphery). But knowledge of the Tasmanian people is thin on the ground, as the focus was on removing them, rather than recording their culture, and so all we have is a smattering of history. In determining the narrative I am left to the same devices Essie is, opening herself up to let the ghosts of the past speak through her, hoping that the story that emerges is an accurate portrayal, if not of how life was, at least of how it might have been.

Writing with one arm, and a Review – The Astrologer by Scott G F Bailey

I’ve done something to my arm. My left arm, thank goodness, not my right (I’m right-handed). Pinched a nerve is my guess – all I know is it aches almost constantly (the only time it doesn’t is when the rest of my body is in an incredibly awkward position!) and if I move it in a way it doesn’t like, I end up with a sharp shooting paint. It means I cannot touch type, though the first day of my affliction I pretended I could and carried on anyway.

Have you tried typing with only one hand? I am used to being able to type 2500 words in half an hour, should the story take me, so to be struggling with one painfully typed word after another is quite frustrating (surprisingly, my right hand does know where the letters are on the left side of the keyboard, but with only 5 fingers to type instead of 10, progress is slow). Luckily though, I have not been writing (though I should be, I signed up for Camp Nano again!!) , instead I have been editing last years Camp Nano: Red Sky.

It’s been interesting, delving back into my story, finding weaknesses and strengthening them , moving lines, paragraphs, phrases and scenes, deleting things, adding things. I’ve felt like a real editor probably for the first time ever. But I have three pages to go, which need to be basically completely re-written, and I can’t type.

So… after my first day of pretending that I could still type, the second day (yesterday) I gave up and spent the day reading.

The-Astrologer

The Astrologer by Scott GF Bailey, is a recent publication from Rhemelda Press. I had the opportunity to receive a free copy for  review, and was instantly intrigued by the storyline – set in Denmark in 1601, The Astrologer tells the story of Soren Andersmann, Astrologer to King Christian of Denmark.

“If a man seeks the truth, he must be prepared to discover that the cosmos is both beauty and ugliness, birth and corruption.”

I loved this quote, to me it captures the essence of Soren’s struggle. Living in an age where Kings were enthroned by God and the sun revolved around the earth, Soren studies the stars and sees a different truth. After his mentor and idol is murdered by the king, Soren takes on the task of revenging his masters death by killing the king.

Throughout the tale, Soren discovers truths that alter his perceptions of his past, and sheds new light on the roles of those populating it.

It is a great story, but I had a little trouble getting into it to start with. I’m not sure if it was the language, which is very much appropriate for the time (although quite readable too!) or if there was something else, though one scene stands out in my mind where the Prince of Denmark – also named Christian – is speaking with Soren about the latter’s book. The conversation is not to the Prince’s liking, and he asks to change the subject, yet his very next words continue the topic. shortly thereafter he asks to drop the subject again, and the carries on the conversation. The happens 3-4 times in the one conversation and I found it quite off putting – I was not sure if this was deliberate – to show up an aspect of the prince’s character- or just bad writing.

Soon however, the story had me hooked. The author provided vivid descriptions of people and places that allowed me to disappear into the story, and the story line kept me reading till the end. A great story on the beginning of the age of reason, and it’s clash with the older beliefs of church and God.

And there was something else I liked about this story – two of the characters share a name – the King and the Prince are both called Christian. This is generally a no-no on the ‘rules of writing’, yet here there is no confusion at any point as to which character is being referred to.

Highly recommend this novel to all who enjoy historical fiction. It is well worth the read.