Monday 20 January 2014

Compelled to Write - My Writing Process

Today is "My Writing Process" blog tour day, when writers post about their writing process. Last week, the inspired Kathleen Jones, posted hers.  Thank you Kathleen for inviting me on your Writing Process blog tour. I read your post and was inspired.  Click here for Kathleen's post 

My Writing Process

Q. What am I working on?  I have just sent to my agent the completed revision of my novel ‘Herding Peacocks’ about a group of writers on retreat in a house in France and...   ‘You can’t have rules for writers. That would be like herding peacocks,’ says crime-writer Ruthie Dancing, who suspects her plan for a Writer’s Retreat in might be a folly. Still, she gathers together a diverse group of writers - from young Joe, who lives in a homeless hostel, to the venerable romance writer Francine, whose life, going back to World War 2, is at the core of this novel. Then there are the cerebral poet Mariela and sociopathic Abby with her dangerously passive boyfriend Felix. Ruthie’s honoured guest at the retreat  is Booker Prize-winner Kit Hallam. And then there is American actor-playwright Tom Roache who comes join the fun and perhaps nail a part in the film of Kit’s prizewinning novel.’…

I hope my lovely agent and the editors like my new baby. The writing profession is unique in that with each major project we writers are reduced to an anxious infant, hoping that our parents approve of our precious product.

As Kathleen pointed out in her last post this situation is in a changing state with with the independent eBook publishing revolution. I have joined in this, recently using Amazon Createspace to publish my novels Paulie’s Web and Cruelty Games on Kindle and in Paperback. This was a truly pleasing and empowering process that I would recommend to anyone disappointed in the present state of mainstream publishing. My next personal publishing project with them will be to republish my two short story collections Knives and Forms of Flight.

In this intensely weird 'waiting game' I am also waiting for publishers reactions' to my novel Lines of Desire.
This one is  set on the island of Britain in 383 AD when a great love story blossoms between Magnus Maximus, (in the Welsh myth Macsen Wledig), the Roman military leader in Britain, afterwards for five years Roman Emperor. At th ecentre of the novel is Elen the legendary daughter of a powerful British king in the place we now call Wales. Magnus is fascinated by Elen, a gifted Seer and healer who is a ‘pathfinder’ and whose artistic, talented ancestors made straight roads in Britain long before the Romans. Now, as the Roman Empire begins to crumble, these two lovers symbolise the merging of the spiritual, sophisticated Celtic culture (with its esoteric rites and rituals) and the pragmatic military culture of Rome which is beginning to embrace Christianity as a useful political tool

At present,ever compelled,  I'm involved in reading and researching  for a novel about an as-yet un-named (do you have any names to suggest?)  ex-military prisoner, painter and poet. It's set in Bohemian London society just after World War Two. 
      I reckon you need to read and explore a hundred sources -  letters, histories, diaries and  artifacts before embarking on a fiction that will spring authentically  out of those times and events. 
      My working title for this one is Wraparound - after a short story written last year out which will be the basis for this novel. More about this on Life Twice Tasted anon...

Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?    A perpetual drawback for me -  in publishers eyes - is that my work is seen as not sufficiently ‘genre-specific’. This is demonstrated by above, I suppose, by my diverse (some say crazy...) work-in-progress list above.  

      Interestingly this diversity has never been any kind of drawback for my precious readers, who themselves are a pretty diverse, imaginative, intelligent, well-read lot,

Q. Why do I write what I do?  The past-in-the-present dominates my mind, my imagination and my writing. I always 'see' individuals, unique characters in their times. And I tell their stories.

      I have lived through interesting times and have been a compulsive writer since I was eight. Anais Nin once said that writers taste life twice, once when they experience it and secondly when they write it. This so very much expressed my own writing experience that I named this blog Life Twice Tasted.
     My novels are mostly set in some crosspiece of time, place and the unique lives of my characters. Look at my Lavender House set in London in the 2010s and goes back to life in the 1960; and The Woman Who Drew Buildings , set in present day Durham City,  which  goes back to Poland in the 1991.  And An Englishwoman in France set in contemporary France  2006 and goes back  through the Middle Ages to even earlier times. . My new novel, Lines of Desire, is entirely set in Britain in 383 AD but in its way looks back thousands of years and forward to imperial attitudes today.

Q How does your writing process work?  My writing process has evolved from the early days when autobiographical scraps stumbled on into stories that were published, then into longer stories that evolved into young adult novels which were also published,  then into much longer adult novels that required reaching and research to absorb the feelings of a time and a place to I could write my novels freely and imaginatively. These were also published.
 (Add to this the practical and personal insights obtained from my five years as writer in residence in a women’s prison, from which emerged my novel Paulie’s Web emerged.)

I suppose my ingrained habit of  writing every day, every year, has meant I have taught myself a good deal about the writing process and how it works for me. I read, think and dream for some months - often years – before a  whole idea emerges, in the end welding all this together into shapes in my head, like iron filings tapped by magnets.

This is the most  exciting part of the process and often happens when I am editing and working on the earlier novel, I sometimes have to fight quite hard  to keep it at bay until I’ve completed and sent off the earlier novel. Like Kathleen Jones I start writing by hand in notebooks and drafting books. (See my last post…)

Then I transcribe and tentatively edit this draft onto my computer and play about with it for a time. Then by some kind of organic magic I begin to recognise that I have a novel there.

Then I print off the whole novel and look at it before giving it two buddies - my colleagues at RoomTo Write for their opinion. Then I enter all my own amendments and viable suggestions from my buddies. Then I go through it editorially yet again, And again.

I relish  this editorial stage. It is finicky and detailed – the opposite of the seductively exciting flamboyant early stages where the words flow onto the page and the pages pile up,
       I think all writers nowadays have to develop editorial skills to a high level because publishers are not prepared to invest so much in the editorial process and like near perfect copy and joined up storytelling.

Equally important is the fact that in these days of personal and independent publishing - enabled by companies like Amazon Createspace - the writer her or himself has to ensure the perfection of their own copy before they upload their baby and send it out into the world.  
       For me the kingdom of self-publishing  out there is divided into two categories. One category features good novels so well edited that the reader’s mind never thinks about the edit, The other category features potentially equally good  novels whose under-edited  state sticks out like a sore thumb and does the writer no justice.  Nothing is ever perfect but it is our job as writers now os  to make our babies as perfect as they can.

I am well aware that  everyone has a unique approach to the writing process but I think the great key is to begin by writing freely and very consistently - eventually to create a critical mass of relatively coherent prose text with an original story at its core. In time will inevitably form up into articles, poems, short stories and novels.
        In this critical mass of writing the writer will find her voice, her style, her themes, her  form and the default errors built into her intuitive writing.  Recognising all this through several writing processes must show in better and better writing in each successive novel.

Now I am passing the Writing Process Baton on this Blog Tour to a writer whose work I admire,

So the baton goes on to novelist Avril Joy.

Avril Joy writes novels, short stories and poetry. Her first novel The Sweet Track was published in 2007 by Flambard Press. In 2012 she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award. .

Click here to  Read Avril



  1. Lovely post Wendy - I can't wait to read your new novels. Fingers crossed for the publishers' responses!

  2. Thank you Kathy - and also for your much valued encouragement - not just for me but for all writers in your magic circle. Wxx

  3. This is good advice for the budding writer, Wendy – how to become immersed in a specific period by looking at many sources so that eventually, a real sense of the times will spring from the imagination.
    I think the fact that your work is seen as not sufficiently ‘genre-specific’ is good. Diverse means interesting and always new. There is always something different to become involved with when you produce a new novel and I always find that there is much to learn, in addition to immersing yourself, as a reader, in a new story. Your characters are always unique and a product of their lives and times.
    It is good advice to focus on the habit of writing every day, every year and also to read, think and dream for some time before a whole idea emerges for a new novel. By writing consistently, the writer will find her own voice. It is good to learn how you begin to write – not straight onto the computer, but in lovely notebooks – so that the ideas flow from the creative part of the brain, onto the page through an ink pen. This is fluid and satisfying and then once the draft is typed onto the computer, it can be played around with. In these days of the ebook, it is essential that editing is thorough so that the reader does not become frustrated with badly set out work and glaring mistakes. The novel must be set out and finished as well as it possibly can so that the writer can be really proud of the end product. Thank you, Wendy, for your excellent blog.

  4. Hello Geri. Thank you for your very welcome thoughts in response to this post which is very close to my heart. As always you are insightful and analytical.and show your own writer;s perception. Also in taking the trouble to write you add your own point of view in the discussion,. Bless you.



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