It has to start somewhere – in the middle, at the end, or sometimes at the beginning – a dilemma for any writer planning his or her plot, but also a difficult question to address as I think about how my own recently published book/story/novel (call it what you like) came about.
To start at the end ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’, my debut novel, was published in March this year by Wivenbooks, on a print-on-demand basis. On 26 April I had a wonderful book launch evening in Wivenhoe and sales of the 225 page paperback have been ticking away nicely since from Wivenhoe Bookshop and also Red Lion Books in Colchester. My main aim in publishing in this way was to allow family and friends to read my book without breaking the bank and not necessarily to make money out of the project – I am just about breaking even on the print costs.
So that’s the end, but as for the beginning it’s hard to say when that was. I’d worked in Sri Lanka for 3 months in 1978 so I guess that’s when it really started but the actual story was inspired by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which so badly affected that country. Retirement in 2010 from a busy life as a GP gave me time to practise writing and a short course with the Open University called ‘Start Writing Fiction’ gave me a little confidence. I played with various story lines and created characters to take part. Each main character was given a filing card with personal details and dates logged to help me keep track, and I drew an extended flow chart to link their interactions. I read more about Sri Lanka and the politics of recent times. ‘Woolf in Ceylon’ by Christopher Ondaatje and Leonard Woolf’s ‘The Village in the Jungle’ were fascinating and ‘Sri Lanka in the Modern Age, a history of contested identities’ by Nira Wickramasinge was helpful for reference while ‘Brixton Beach’ and ‘The Swimmer’ by Roma Tearne were just fun to read.
Procrastination followed – I could never find the right time to actually get on with the writing until I read about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo (are you tough enough?) in Writing Magazine. I logged on, signed up and truly got started on 1st November 2011. I did just what they said and wrote without stopping to edit or correct grammar, pouring out 50,000 words in the month of November. At the end I got a certificate and the satisfaction of being able to say I’d written the skeleton of a novel, to either leave in a drawer somewhere or to rework into something more polished.
I enjoyed fiddling around with it, adding bits, subtracting bits, changing words, changing names, but with hind-sight I was far too attached to my first 50,000 draft to change the structure and that could have been a mistake ( Stephen King in ‘On Writing’ does advise ‘kill your darlings’). By now I had 67,000 words and it felt more like a novel.