Sunday 18 September 2022

The Writing Process: The Relationship between notebooks and publications.


“Writers live life twice – once when they live it and once when they write it.”

Anaïs Nin.


My friendship with literary archivist  Dr. Donna Maynard has always been interesting and continues to be fruitful. She was excited when she saw the hundreds of notebooks on the shelves in my little writing room, which go back through my fifty years as a working novelist. As she read through them  she realised that they mapped the 20 or so novels and the short stories and poetry which have been my professional preoccupation through that time..

She came to a personal conclusion that these notebooks and the books themselves formed a very interesting literary archive. Since then she has begun to map the relationships between the notebooks and the books, cross-referencing them in a way which somehow reflects the creative process of writing novels. In essence this relationship between the notebooks and the novels would be an essential part of any emerging archive.

 So, part of this process has been our discussion about the individual novels and my own stories of the process whereby they came about. I have found  myself telling her about the underlying story of each novel in the creation of each novel, each story and each poem -  the stories as it were of the uniqur creative process.

 It has now emerged that an essential part of this process has been my self-imposed  task of writing on my blog an essay documenting the story of the creation of each of the novels and some of the short stories and poems. These essays will be published week by week on my blog/website and will eventually be collected together as part of the archive and possibly make a book in themselves.

This may take a year of so but it will be interesting and the collaboration with Donna is very inspiring.

 So far I have documented the stories of of the creation of five of the novels on my blog: Theft, The Real Life Of Studs McGuire, Lizza, French Leave. and I am now focusing on Under a Brighter Sky.

The Process:

 We began by considering my first published work – Theft, a children’s novel from 1972published by Corgi Transworld (I wrote a story about this novel here on the blog in an essay entitled ‘The 50 Year Novel.’) 

Our consideration of this  children’s novel was followed by another so-called young adult novel, The Real Life Of Studs McGuire published by Hodder and Stoughton.  Writing the essay about this book focused my emerging understanding  of the nature of friendship between boys as I observed the boys in my classes and my own son growing and changing. 

Then we focused on Lizza, my first young adult novel, published in 1987 by Hodder Stoughton, later transformed to Headline At the time it was seen as  my "breakthrough” novel, Lizza. And I thought then - I think now  that there is little or no difference between young adult and an adult novel.

 Anyway, Donna and I examined both editions: of Lizza - the hardback and the paperback. First we looked with new eyes at the hardback cover - illustrated by Steve Braund – and admired it for its sensitivity and its own visual storytelling arc. Then we compared this cover with the cover of the paperback which, as you can see, is much sharper and more modern, but still very appealing and charming in its own way.

 Although I remember the novel very well I had almost forgotten the details of the covers. Now a frisson of shock ripples through me as both of these images began to remind me of myself at the particular time of writing.  On the hardback cover the biographical blurb reminds me of myself at this time in 1987: a younger self that has  faded deep into the background of my life which in turn has faded into the background of in my older life. See again here - in the words of my first great editor, Anne Williams -  what it says about this young, aspiring writer :  #

"Wendy Robertson is senior lecturer in education at Sunderland Polytechnic. She has been writing since she was 16, but because of a full-time career much of the writing remains unpublished. In 1973 her first novel Theft was published in paperback k by Corgi Transworld and for several years she also wrote a weekly article on a variety of subjects for the Northern Echo and she has published and she has had several stories published in magazines.

Wendy Robertson lives in a Victorian house at the centre of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, which he loves because yours is obsessively interested in what she calls “the past in the present. What is reality and what is fantasy can never be disengaged’ she writes. “In my writing I take this a stage further placing my magic imagination at the service of the basic story which may be a well-rehearsed refrain.” She is married with two grown-up children a boy and girl."


Well , dear reader, that was 40 years ago and was very true of my life at the time, which was a combination of a very committed family life and a very intense working life, where my long-term lifetime commitment to writing had to be squashed in around college vacations, transporting children to their schools, visiting museums and art galleries for my interest and for their education.  

And so with the publication of Lizza by this major new publisher Headline,  I was given permission to acknowledge that I was indeed a writer and this allowed me at last to place the writing of stories to its proper place at the centre of my life  This meant tailing off my work in higher education, where I had learnt a lot and which I had really enjoyed. In reality I still sustained my commitment to education in that I transferred it to running workshops and a pattern of mentoring new writers through many years. I wrote about that here:


I could have written or expressed those same feelings this year and all the years since the publication of Lizza.  You will find similar sentiments expressed throughout my blog posts here on Life Twice Tasted.

 But always at the entre of my life were my long novels, which I went on to complete just about one every year for the next couple of decades. I became a novelist.

One interesting thing about this 1987 blurb - forgotten by me since then – are my quoted comments on the cover.

“What is reality and what is fantasy can never be disengaged’ and “In my writing I take this a stage further placing my magic imagination at the service of the basic story which may be a well-rehearsed refrain.”

I had forgotten that I had made this declaration on the cover of Lizza, but now must say that I have continued to write and work from these principles in all the decades since. Evidence for this commitment still exists in many of my posts here on Life Twice Tasted. I have also preached these principles in many of my writing workshops.  See: http:/

 Already we are finding and noting cross references between the notebooks and the books themselves. This is an exciting process. The next novel we are focusing on is Under a Brighter Sky and the writing of this - as with all the novels to come - has its own story. 

If you are interested you may read this essay next on the blog.




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