I left a perfectly good career because I wanted to ‘write a novel’. At the time, I imagined that it would grace high street bookstores that I’d visit and I’d run my finger along its spine... I didn’t imagine that it would take almost a decade from that decision to holding my book in the wild. A few people asked: ‘What have you really been doing all that time?’
Well, I was really writing a novel; a few actually. I was being an apprentice. Believing that I could write, that I had some writerly genomes in my twisting DNA, I still had to learn the craft. For me, the learning process (which is far from over) has involved writing and writing and then writing some more; getting some feedback on my writing, attending some classes and then rewriting and editing – until I eventually had a book.
Except nobody wanted it. Agents said I could write but to keep trying. So I did it all again and wrote another book. Ditto. Again. And then again… My debut novel, YOU, ME AND OTHER PEOPLE is the fourth novel I wrote. The final published version of it is probably its seventh re-incarnation.
Why am I saying all of this? Anyone reading this is either a writer or an aspiring writer so they already know how difficult the process is. I suppose I’m saying it because ultimately I want to encourage. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Perseverance is the key.
When I set out to write this piece, I was thinking to myself, ‘If there’s someone out there, like you were, feeling a little in the wilderness, probably about to give up – what advice might you give?’ So, for what it’s worth, here’s my tuppence worth:
If I ask myself now, ‘What’s this story about?’ I want to be able to answer with a finely tuned elevator pitch. “This is a story about a killer shark who gets cancer. Think ‘Jaws’ meets ‘Terms of Endearment’.” Pithy and to the point.
If I ask myself what’s the plot? I expect to repeat ‘and then, and then, and then, and then’ all of the time revealing what actually happens in the story.
With theme, it’s more about the underlying message of what I’m trying to say. For example, with YM&OP - rather than single words like ‘betrayal’ or ‘guilt’, theme, to me, was more about the underlying message like, ‘cheaters never win’ or ‘marriage is a complex relationship.’
All of the above said (and I do hope that at least some of it might help), I might also add the famous words of W. Somerset Maugham,
Fionnuala Kearney pronounced FINOOLA CARNEY lives in Ascot with her husband. They have two grown-up daughters (both with deliberately simply monosyllabic names). One of seven children, Fionnuala likes to write about the nuances and subtle layers of human relationships, peeling them away to see what’s really going on beneath. You, Me and Other People is her first novel.