Thursday, 12 April 2012

Endgame: The Eight Day Novel

For me,  researching and writing a novel can take anywhere from eighteen months to two years. More! If you take all the inklings and stirrings and brainstorms that precede a novel you can add another three years to that.
My new novel AOR* was just a twinkle in my eye about five years ago and it's a couple of years since I started to write sketches - actual sequences that could end up on a page in the final novel; dialogue (ditto); idiosyncratic biographies which would help me to become intimate with my characters: I also gathered notes, poems metaphors, analagies, images, quotations. maps, images and drawings.

Every day something new occurs to me, Some of this stuff goes on the wall, some on the table, some in boxes.

The more I go through this process the more things come to me - gathering like iron filings on a drum. (I am reminded that psychology there is a process called set presupposing perception. That’s when you think of something and then you notice it everywhere...)

In this way I begin to build up a mass of relatively shapeless inchoate material which has sprung out of that the original inkling: that first twinkle in my eye.

There comes a time when the mass becomes critical. In The Romancer I described this point as like fragments in the interior of a kaleidoscope. You shake those pieces and a distinctive shape emerges,

To develop my iron filing analogy - at this point you put a strong magnet under the drum and the iron filings shift into coherent and meaningful shapes and patterns.

This is the point where I find at last where the novel will begin;, what might be the issues; the possible low points; the possible high points; the ultimate climax; a possible ending. This is also when I discover significant gaps in the meaning and the structure of the narrative.
So begins a new brainstorming process to create credible links and  substantive new material to make the prose and the narrative work.

Clue to AOR:New Novel
Earlier this year with this current novel, AOR*, I felt as though I had more than enough material and the novel was going out of shape again. I could feel the energy of the novel outstripping its form. This can be quite a worry,

Somehtimes, at this stage working at home one can get stuck in the rich alluvial soil of a novel. For An Englishwoman In France at this stage I  went to France for two months to clear my mind to sort this out.

 This year my solution to this problem was - with my good writing friend Avril - to spent five days in the peace and quiet of Balliol College in Oxford to regain control of this mass of writing, material and inspiration and make my novel work.

And in that academic peace and quiet the final shape of my new novel did emerge. Reaching this point can be truly magical. This time it was like a key clicking in a lock: a door closing behind me. I knew that was it. I had the shape: all I had to do now was finish the novel,

ALL! Well there you go.

Oxford Wall Plan
On element that emerged in Oxford was that this novel would take place over an eight day week. While I was there I made a wall chart that showed me how all my parts fit into the whole.

I am now working in and on the crucial Saturday in the lives of my characters.


*Title under wraps just for now, but it’s a good one.

PS Next!  - a work in progress extract from the end of the novel...


  1. A fascinating glimpse of the novelist at work Wendy. First the kaleidoscope built and shaken and who really knows what's there? Certainly not the novelist herself. Next with this mass of pieces, of 'iron filings' work with the magnet begins, to find the'shape and pattern.' Getting away, as you say, can be vital in this process. With distance and nothing else to think of, new insight emerges, new shapes and solutions begin to grow, uniquely in this instance from mapping the novel visually, which you often do Wendy - somehow writing it large - bringing it to life outside of words.We can all learn from this great example. Can't wait to get my first sight of the completed manuscript of AOR

  2. Thank you Avril. I love your phrase 'Life outside the words.' That's new! Permission to use it? wx



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