August 30, 2107
Quite a few years ago, I met a woman who described herself as a novelist. ‘I’m a literary writer,’ she told me, setting herself apart from those who write commercial fiction. I didn’t know the difference then and I still find the dividing line between the two categories blurred but her attitude made me curious.
I told her that I had been writing for years first as a journalist and then as an advertising copywriter.
She gave me a horrified look. ‘I would NEVER write advertising!’
A picture started forming. It was a pyramid. On top were literary writers who wrote things of worth that did not necessarily sell well. Below this were commercial writers who wrote less worthy words but sold more books. I lumped journalists in with this lot because at this point, you could still make a living from writing for newspapers and magazines. At the bottom of the triangle, rubbing shoulders with the ne’er-do-wells rustling sheep and stealing money from pensioners were advertising copywriters.
The woman’s dismissal of my writing career affected me. It made me question what I had been doing with whatever talent or skills I had managed to assemble. Her snobbery could have very easily put me off attempting a book of my own but instead her words made something flare inside me. It was bright and hot, like the tongue of flame from a Bunsen burner.
I decided to write a novel.
I had no idea how to start a book. What I did have was a story to tell, several in fact. I also knew how to string sentences together. What was missing was an understanding of novel structure or form. I didn’t know that fiction needs a spine of sorts, a narrative arc to carry its characters through trials and tribulations and to give the story tension and intrigue. Basically, the narrative is what compels you as a reader to keep turning the page. How the writer tells the story is what makes you love what you are reading.
I had to learn how to write fiction the hard way through a long process of trial and error. My first book was written and rewritten many, many times. Early on, I threw away the first 40,000 words and started again. At another point, I threw away the latter 50,000 words and rewrote the second half completely. I didn’t want to write any old book. I wanted my book to be brilliant.
The novel that came out of all this is called ‘Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar’ and after many years of waiting, it will soon be made into a feature film.