It’s been somewhat weird, after a lifetime of writing books under all kinds of challenging situations, to create this opportunity here in France to write my novel in a single sequence of uninterrupted time – two months, to be exact.
When my very first novel was published I was working full time at a very demanding job . I also had a house, a partner and two older teenage children to take care of. Now and then I even had a social life.
In fact that first novel LIZZA was a young adult novel – but I didn’t know that. I had no idea whether anyone in the distant publishing metropolis would be the least bit interested in it. I wrote it when my daughter was fifteen-ish and it is based on a story from my mother’s life when she was fifteen.
I wrote the whole of LIZZA one summer vacation. (Academic life did afford such professional space at that time…) In my naiveté I sent the novel to two major publishers, picked at random out of the Writers and Artists Year Book. I really didn’t know what I didn’t know! But neither did those (now delightful) metropolitan people. The first publisher said yes but would I make some changes? The second said yes please we love it. And I was away.
Today, the story I am writing here in France is about the nature of miracles. But LIZZA was my first personal miracle. In a remarkably short time it was in hardback then in paperback; it got some good good reviews, was in print for a good number of years and was in libraries being borrowed for at least ten years.
That was a good number of novels ago. Any writer will tell you that each and every novel has its own special story, but that first success, like a first real sweetheart, remains a very precious memory for me.
And now, this new novel, which I am writing here has its own extraordinary story. It was inspired by a very special place, a dramatic time, and some extraordinary coincidences. I have researched it for two years, I have imagined it, thought about it, and dreamed it.
It was the need to write this novel that inspired me to organise my life to come here for two months, to rid myself of other (sometimes delightful) duties, obligations and responsibilities and try to write the whole of it here - just as I wrote LIZZA all those years ago in one summer vacation, in one great glorious blast. The rule here in France has been no domestic constraints, no newspapers, no radio, no TV, of any kind. Just explore, think, feel. dream. write and be!
Well, as you may note from my brief ‘work in progress’ abstracts in these posts, I have been getting on with it. The influence of being here and writing the novel has been inspirational and amazing, but hard to quantify. Important to the success of this process has been working alongside my writing friend Avril and (for part of the time) my writing daughter Debora – both working just as hard on their writing projects. Working alongside like souls definitely keeps you going – workshop of two or three it you like
Has it worked? It certainly has! Is there a novel here? There certainly is! Two weeks to go now, and I have a draft of the novel, having had just two scraps of writing when I came. This draft is a worked, not a rough draft - one hundred and forty pages of typescript and the rest in ink in my two big drafting books.
I get impatient with the typing; I find that transcription keeps me back, it dogs the inspiration. Onto the screen too quickly, the prose is too deceptively finished, inaccessible to change. I like my drafting books, written only on the right hand side, blank on the left so I can scribble comments corrections, suggestions, annotations and alterations to my heart’s delight. It looks quite a mess, but is much more an image of an imaginative thought process than a neat screen too full, too early, of text in 12 point Times New Roman.
So, you may say, you have this novel in a few typed pages and two big, scribbled-over drafting books. All those changes and that self questioning! Isn’t all the work to do? Transcription, editing, shaping, cutting and pasting. consistency, syntax…
Well, yes and no. The hardest part - (nearly!) done – has been imagining this extraordinary story, reflecting the surprises and the true magic that so moved me on that original inspiration.
The easy part is to come - working on the novel at home under more ordinary and familiar conditions, to get these more workaday details right and the novel itself in really good heart for many readers to enjoy.
As with LIZZA, perhaps the miraculous best is yet to come…
PS What will it be called? Miracle At The Maison D'Estella. Probably