I’ve been trying to write a book for a while now. It feels like most of my life. I’m on my second attempt. I gave up on the first one when I stalled at 20,000 words – unfortunately, it wasn’t a children’s book.
I wish I’d known at the outset that writing a book would not be as straightforward as it looks. Unfortunately though, it appears to be an itch that needs to be scratched.
The main problem with writing fiction is that the story can begin to infiltrate your life and it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between fiction and reality. Which is why I’m far too invested in this new story now to seriously consider letting it go. It would be like losing close friends.
The Harrisons, the family that I have given birth to in my book, has become a second family to me. Our lives have become intricately interwoven. The challenges and the tasks I set them and the way in which the characters evolve, is all down to me. I feel like some sort of God, and it’s a huge responsibility. Not dissimilar to parenting. And to be honest, sometimes that responsibility is quite daunting and I have often looked at the words lined up in front of me on my screen and admitted to myself that I’m creating a pile of crap.
Apparently, it’s normal to think that your writing is crap at any given time.
I started writing my first attempt at a ‘book’ when my children were babies. I suddenly found myself at home, a full-time mum, chained to these two mini ‘dependent’s’ and it scared the living daylights out of me. While the super mums from my birthing class were shouting from the rooftops about the amazing f*cking ride of motherhood, I was alone, sobbing in the corner of my bathroom.
The loss of my independence, the infernal noise, and the fact that I was confronted by something I couldn’t control turned me into a blubbering mess.
That was the first time that writing became my therapy. It showed me a way of regaining control, a way to decipher the parent code, to exorcize the hell. I found that when I put the words of those terrifying new experiences to paper, when I admitted to myself how shocked I felt inside about motherhood, I didn’t feel quite so alien.
The working title for my ‘first born’ was ‘Maternally Challenged’. It was a kind of ‘Brigitte Jones gets pregnant’; a satirical chick-lit look at the antithesis of motherhood, at those women who struggle to bond, can’t breastfeed, have babies that cry all day; those women who start drinking at 4pm just to get through the day. You have to remember that in the early nineties, it was frowned upon to moan about motherhood. But I knew that there had to be others out there like me, who didn’t quite fit the mold either, who were falling off the motherhood pedestal too.
These days, being a ‘slacker mum’ is almost de rigeur.
Anyway, I finished that damned book and then I choked (metaphorically speaking). I simply couldn’t take it any further. I lost my confidence in my potential as a writer. Something in the characterization didn’t quite gel; my ‘family’ turned out to be disappointingly tepid. What did I really know about writing anyhow? And I didn’t have the energy to research the minutiae of getting published, writing books and being a perfect mother.
The idea for my second book was conceived about a year ago. This time I sat on the project for a while, cautiously, like a hen on an egg, warming it, allowing this new baby to gestate properly, to develop over time.
If I had to define this book, it is a hybrid of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time and Twilight. (Did you know that if you can compare your fledgling book to another, it is more than likely completely un-original and you’d probably have more chance of bedding George Clooney than getting it published?).
I have read a lot about how impossible it is to get published; a mistake I regret now. I prefer the romance of hope. What else do we have?
So now there are only a few hundred more edits standing between me, and the decision of whether to throw this second outpouring in the bin or brave a shooting squad of agents.
Funnily enough, the writing itch doesn’t seem to go away, not matter how much you rationalize the chance of success.
Apparently, everyone has a story to tell. And I love the telling.
Many new writers base their characters on people they know and mine are no exception. For a first book, I wanted to give myself as few reasons as possible to disengage from my work, so where possible, I have ‘borrowed’ from my circle.
And my characters have become intimate friends, which means that at times I become so completely immersed in their lives, their motivations and actions, their feelings and emotions, that I find it impossible to draw the line between fiction and reality; I can’t simply leave them hanging in space. It just doesn’t feel right.
And I find myself laughing at their jokes, crying at their pain, enjoying their intimate moments together; even though I hold the power. I am in control.
One of my main protagonists suffers from ADHD, which I am something of an expert on. And even though my character, Will Harrison, is older than my own son, I find that as I continue to create Will on paper, the story line unfolding before me is the life I hope my son will experience. All the hopes and dreams I have for my own son are bound tightly in those words that describe Will’s journey. If only we had that much control in our children’s’ lives.
It is strangely fulfilling to role-play the fate of your child through the invention of a character.
Writing has given me the power to create and destroy, to mess with fate. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that power in our real lives too?
- Who Owns Your Characters? The Often Blurry Line Between Fiction and Reality (girlsheartbooks.com)
- Seven Tips From William Faulkner on How to Write Fiction (openculture.com)