I’ve been writing all my life and professionally for the last eleven years. As you’d expect, the journey (sorry to use the ‘j word’) has been interesting. Over time I’ve progressed from being a purely instinctive writer with little knowledge of point of view, the effect of tense, story arc or pace, to honing my skills. I’m still very instinctive at heart and planning doesn’t come naturally. I still adore telling myself the story in the first draft, watching my characters grow. I also love the research, especially if it’s historical (a bit too much, if I’m honest. I frequently disappear down a research rabbit hole). What hasn’t changed, ironically, is that each book is different. It’s different in its research needs, its approach, the feel and how it lands onto the paper.
The last book published was an idea I’d had knocking around for ages. Inspired by a man modelling jumpers in a John Lewis ad (I know, I know, but inspiration strikes in the strangest of places) and how it felt standing under three chestnut trees which grew opposite my childhood home. I’ve an appalling memory but can distinctly recall standing beneath these mighty trees, looking up and listening to the wind rustle through. Add in a love of Doris Day, old movies and gardening, and Janey Trelawney’s Year of Surprising Triumphs was born. It’s a Calamity Jane update and for research I re-watched the film halfway through writing the first draft. I soon realised modern readers wouldn’t accept how Wild Bill treated Calamity Jane, so I took elements from the film and had great fun referencing them in some plot elements and names. Keen fans will spot them but the book itself developed its own life very quickly. It was a dream to write, it simply fell onto the page. I love writing a villain and this book has a corker!
You’d think, with it being the same process each time, and with cumulative experience, that every book would write the same. But no. Much to the amusement of my Zoom writing pals who have ‘lived’ with me trying to write it, the new book has, quite frankly (and look away if you’re of a delicate constitution) a complete bugger to write. So much so, it’s become known as The Buggery Book That Refuses to be Written. It’s coming out in three parts, it’s set in Berecombe, my favourite fictional seaside town, and features characters which have appeared in other Berecombe books. And it’s a romance. It should have been straightforward.
Except it wasn’t.
It’s been one of those books I’ve had to force myself, with gritted teeth, to plonk down in front of the computer and tear the words from my bleeding soul. I’ve no idea why it’s been so difficult to write. I love the idea. I love the characters and am especially fond of one. It also has Biddy in it, who is my all-time favourite character from any of my books.
So, what has been the problem? Lockdowns undoubtedly had an effect. During the first one last spring, I couldn’t write anything. Frozen with fear for my loved ones, myself, and the world in general, writing seemed too trivial in comparison. Instead, I watched an awful lot of daytime television and ate chocolate. With the good weather (remember the blue skies unadulterated by air pollution?) I gardened a bit, settled in the new rescue dog, read in the sunshine, and began to adjust to the ‘new normal.’
And I started to write again. There wasn’t much else to do, well for me, I appreciate that wasn’t the case for everyone. Buggery still lived up to its name. Eventually, through determination (having a deadline helped) I wrote the first novella, edited to meet the requested revisions, wrote the second (ditto) and am now heading for the end of the first draft of the third and final novella. In some ways, this should be the easiest to write – it’s a matter of tying everything up and hurtle my characters to their happy ending. But no, it’s continued in the same pattern. Words grudgingly trickling out with me wondering if I can do this writing malarkey anymore.
Weirdly, as I’ve been writing this blog, something’s occurred. Although the new book is another in my series of Berecombe romances, it has more in common with my dual narrative or timeslips as it has a historical story running through it too. I love writing my historical romances but accept they take longer and that I need to plan them much more before I begin – sometimes in forensic detail (I learned that while writing While I Was Waiting). Wish I’d realised this sooner! I’ve written while working full-time, during a difficult OFSTED inspection and when my eyesight was severely compromised but no book has ever been this tricky! Maybe if I’d treated it more like a dual narrative, it might have flowed onto the page better?
I’m aware I’m coming over as pretentious. I mean, it’s not as if I’ve been down a coal mine every day, facing irate supermarket customers unable to buy three thousand loo rolls or been on the front line in a COVID ward.
My message is never to underestimate how hard it can be to write a book, even and maybe especially one which is considered easy reading. I’ve learned this through writing this one and I have nine others under my belt. If you’re on the first steps of your writing career and struggling take this to heart. Build your writing support network of trusted confidantes (only other writers appreciate the struggle and can offer useful advice) and most importantly keep going. A published writer is one who never gives up.
Wish me luck with the last stages of this one. I hope Buggery has a better title when it comes out next spring!