My First Novel

Post date: Oct 17, 2014 10:40:02 PM

Draft One is done, finished on October 6th 2014 at 122,763 words. Is it good? Not really, but it is different, there is a nugget there. No one else has read more than a chapter so perhaps it is gold dust and I am merely modest, but that is unlikely. This is a different look at my creative process than the post on Hungry Dress, so I will start at the end product, where it began, how it evolved, challenges and finally what I have gotten out of it so far.

Utopia, current title, bit optimistic and already taken by Thomas Moore, but it fits (plus they are hardly going to get mixed up on a shelf). It is Science Fiction and I think it falls under Young Adult (YA) but there is sex and suicide and later religious themes that I fear may make it uneasy reading for some, so how do I describe it? Every person I try to explain it to gets a different synopsis, if they ever compare notes I'm afraid they will think I'm lying, but it is a novel and there is a lot going on. Short answer: UTOPIA is like the Matrix but everyone knows they are inside, so there is no poverty, no fear, everyone is rich and happy, and it is divided into 'worlds' where people can spend their lives gardening or surfing or flying or travelling, whatever. Plus immortality! Instead of true death you can have your memory erased and just start again as a baby, this is called end-gaming. If you want to raise a child you must raise him/her on STANDARD so they learn the basics of life, but at the age of nineteen they go off for a year travelling the 'worlds', a small price to pay for immortality. Liss, the main character, is about to turn in nineteen when she falls in love but nothing is as it seems and this is what happens after.

It's basically Matrix meets Alice in Wonderland meets Romeo and Juliet part II. That shouldn't be hard to pitch to a publisher or agent, right?

Anyway it is only at stage 1, draft 1, I can worry about neatening the edges later. It began in 2012 when I was working Tesco. I was stuck not making art and I saw this three minute TED video by Matt Cutts titled TrySomething New For 30 Days which hit me at the right time and at the right stage in my life. I needed its simple idea of doing one thing for a month as it got me out of a rut and into focusing on what I wanted, it also introduced me to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month (actually International, but you know how Americans are with naming things). The plan behind NaNoWriMo is that you sign up, and make a personal commitment to writing a 50,000 word novel from the first to the last of November, there is no financial cost, no cost if you don't make it and not much for winning, beyond kudos in the NaNoWriMo community, and the personal knowledge that you can do it. I missed the first few days of it as I had signed up for a half marathon, but when I was free I started writing, with only a vague sketch for a plot. And I wrote. I did not go back and edit, and near the end I realised that I had changed one characters name half way through, but I found the characters surprising easy to bring to life, and they were quite happy to get on and live their lives on virtual paper. It was creatively freeing to write, you can invent anything, everything, as big or small in scale as you need and in a few words it exists! I had no training in creative writing, no teachers beyond the hundreds of books I have read, but Liss and her family and friends did not mind my clumsy dialogue or boring details. They did go off and do things I did not expect, but the plot stood and deepened as it went along.

And after 50,408 words I stopped. By February 2013 I had 60,903, by November 2013 I had 66,365, the characters stayed with me, you understand? The story still existed in my mind, but not in keystrokes, and it wanted to get out. But I let it slide, and let other things take priority. Then I moved to London, a new exciting city where I knew no one. I would not consider myself a social butterfly, but back home I could find myself booked up for weeks at a time, meeting people and going to events, shows, talks etc. So now I had time, and a need to return to something creative that did not require the tools I had left in Dublin, ergo novelling! I have surprised myself by working on it five days a week on average, on my lunch breaks at work, so averaging 1,500 a day, Woo!

The ideas for the characters come from my work in a secondary school (teenage girls ages 12 to 19), the same one I had gone to as a teen, as well as my frustrations with the Twilight books. It also took many of the themes I had explored in my Masters, so there is quite a bit of philosophy, which I think works well with Science Fiction as a genre. I did not intended for the story to be YA even though I love YA, although I only dip into it occasionally. I honestly believe it is one of the bravest sections of modern fiction, without the pigeon-holing of adult 'genres' and yet retaining coming-of-age, bildungsroman stories as a universal thread reaching back through the history of novels.

As to the story; I had a beginning, middle and end, I was just unsure what the route would be, so I was lucky that each character fit so well, and when one character, Rill, turned up unexpectedly it improved the story immeasurably. I took notes and towards the end I had a time-line. I won't give you spoilers but this is not a romance, although there are romantic parts, and it changes direction halfway through although I hope it is well signposted in the story.

I do not like the writing style, although it was the only one I had open to me. A big part of the world is that it is visually led, other senses are secondary and so I constrained myself descriptively, which is not a natural style for me. I could only mention smells or tastes if they were important, not as atmosphere, which has led to the world being quite flat. I have not read the first half in a few months, and I have not edited anything, only going back to add little bits in case I forget to do it when I do go back next month.

It needs to be re-read and quickly edited before I give it to anyone for a second opinion, after which I will start the intense editing process, wish me luck! Perhaps by next year it will be worth submitting to whoever publishes novels.

I learned a lot during this process, mostly that I can write a novel and that I can dedicate the time and energy to something as ephemeral as words on a screen. I was inspired to return to Utopia in a large part by going to the inaugural Young Adult Literature Conference (YALC) at London Film and Comic Con this July (2014). It was introduced by Malorie Blackman and featured lectures such as Heroes of Horror, I'm Too Sexy For This Book, Sisters Doing It For Themselves and It's The End of the World As We Know It; The Ongoing Appeal of Dystopia all of which were chocked full of amazing authors and industry types. I have therefore found that authors are better at explaining the artistic process than artists,

although the steps are similar; from kismet to serendipity being only a fancy way of describing the subconscious fusion of marinating ideas which leads to a spark. The hard work, the actual writing and how that is a necessity, the doing. Then the editing, the showing to a trusted reader (audience) and re-editing, and again. That it is never finished to perfection, just until it is good enough to be let go. And the process of letting go, and giving your work up to public interpretation, change and it's metamorphosis to this other finished thing.


“Are you not working this evening sweetheart? It is Forthday isn't it?”

“Malkin wants me to work a full day on Sixthday instead, with the speeches and celebrations going on he is hoping for busy day.” Liss pulled a chair out and sat beside Janele at the dining table, plucking several thick and juicy leaves from a particularly odd lavender squatting beside them. She chewed the leaves slowly, tasting the tartness of raspberry blended with the expected lavender. “Are you home this evening?”

“No plans yet, why do you ask?”

“Rill wants to come over and see what else she can squeeze out of you.” Liss looked down at the workscreen that had extended to cover half of the table in front of Janele, “But if you're in the middle of something..” The screen was an indecipherable tangle of letters and numbers with the rare small diagram of a molecule that Liss assumed had to do with the genetic blueprints of the hybrid plants occupying the house, or perhaps of plants that had yet to be written.

“Of course she can join us, it will be a good excuse to have a sit down meal. Jaz will be home from soccer in an hour, so that gives you enough time to tidy your room, possibly even find enough space in there to sit down.” She smiled at her daughters reflexive grimace. “Do you mind working on Sixthday? It will be a big day for the town, I don't want you to miss it.”

Liss plucked a few more leaves to bring up stairs with her, pulling herself to her feet as she replied, “Nah, it's just another demolition, I'll take a break to see the winner for the replacement garden, I want to see if Rill gets it. But otherwise I'd prefer to help out in the café, I'll get to hear all the details and if we are busy Malkin will need me.”

“How is your own garden coming along?” Janele was cautious, unsure if Liss was genuinely happy with Rills creative successes.

“You were right, I got too distracted with the statue, the garden itself was an afterthought. I had an idea and it just, I just couldn't...” Liss shrugged. “I had this idea and I just couldn't express it. Anyway it doesn't matter, I already know I'm not going to make my way as a creator.”

“What was your idea?”

Liss turned back slightly, “Oh I wanted to have the statue made of stone and have it affected by time, you know by weather and it to get a bit worn and crumbly and stuff. Just for the people in the garden to come across this sort of faded and damaged figure, of like a person.” She sighed and continued up toward her room. “I just wanted to see something old in a garden.”

Janele shook her head at the retreating figure, something old, how odd. Her daughter had the funniest ideas sometimes.

I do not think of myself as a writer, I am trying to think of myself as an artist who also writes, which is quite enough of an effort some days.