Monday, 19 August 2013

My first novel - a 20 year work in progress!

Last night I was working on my novel. It's a rewrite of a book I began 20 years ago, so the foundations are laid, which I find quite helpful. Some of the characters are reasonably well created in my head, and since returning to the project I've also firmed up the plot so that the whole thing is more true to life and has a clear ending. The project ran out of steam 20 years ago and had no ending!

I've had a helping hand in getting this novel out of the closet, dusted off, and brought back to life, from my writing tutor on a correspondence course that I started over 20 years ago. No. That's not a typo. I really did enrol over 20 years ago, became demoralised, and stopped submitting assignments in around 1995!

One of the perks of the course was that you could take as long as you wanted to complete it. Imagine the school's surprise when I got back in touch to resume my course in 2011!

I looked back at my early assignments submitted between 1990 and 1995. One of them attracted a 6 word critique from my tutor at the time: "That's just not how it's done," he said. That was it. Nothing constructive or helpful. Six words. It was depressing.

As you can imagine, I didn't learn much from the experience in those days. I had a huge ring binder full of rejection letters and a tutor who thought my work was so rubbish that he couldn't even be bothered to tell me why!

When I looked back at that folder in 2011, I fully understood why I gave up. It seemed hopeless and I needed guidance - essential guidance that I wasn't getting. I recycled those unhelpful comments, the rejection letters, and the failed assignments, and I started again!

As it turned out, in the intervening years, the course had improved leaps and bounds. I was given a new tutor and my last assignment received 13 pages of detailed feedback from a knowledgeable tutor whose skill at fiction is so much better than mine! He's helped me work on the storyline, and helped me to plan that crucial ending in style!

The course is such a different experience today. And guess what? My tutor thinks the story that I began 20 years ago has the potential to be made into a film. Now I'm not getting too carried away. I've got to juggle writing the novel with my journalism work and any other projects - a mind blowing task! And then I need to find a publisher which is no mean feat... this might take some time!

But the moral of the story, is if you're on a course like that, and you're not getting helpful feedback, perhaps changing your tutor would be beneficial? It worked for me.


  1. Great post, Susie, and good to see another Chiltern Writer getting stuck into a novel after a long layoff. Looking forward to keeping up with your progress. Don't worry about finding a publisher until - as I know you will - you've got that first draft and given it plenty of polishing. Well done you!

  2. Hi Suzie.

    You are not alone.

    20 years? I feel that sometimes an idea or career simply needs to percolate for that long. In my own case, I've been sketching and writing extensive notes for a children's book and multi-media series for nearly as long. But in the last few months I have come back to it with a completely different perspective, and this week have cracked the story ending. (Familiar?)

    So let the creativity pour out! In fact I'm standing by for your story - now that you too have an ENDING.

    All the best
    Jonathan Gunson

    P.S. This brief video with Maeve Binchy may inspire :)

  3. This is also another lesson for writers: nothing ever written is wasted. Who knows when we might might find the inspiration to develop it further, or acquire the skills (or find the right tutor to motivate us) to be able to do something different with the text.

    Good luck with it!

  4. I wish you every success!