About the author:
By the time you read this, I’ll have published one book. That’s not enough of a track record to offer writing advice. But if it happens there are aspiring writers reading this, may I share one thing I hope might help when the going gets tough? It’s not advice; it’s an admission of delusion.
You already know that writing a novel takes a long time. The story can fall into a messy heap without warning. What you thought was a good day’s work can, on rereading, make you cringe. But if you can push through and get the right words on the page or into your head, you might bring a person to life. Maybe lots of people. It’s not the same as birthing an actual person – I promise. The characters you summon will become fully formed as fast as your mind lets them. You’ll see how they stand, the colour of their hair, know in a snap what annoys or interests them. They’ll speak to you in a voice that’s not yours but is a mix of some part of you, your cousin, that boy you never saw again, the woman you overheard on the street. You’ll feel it when the right combination of mannerisms, voice and attitude fill what may have started as a vague outline or shell. You’ll have called up a person. And that can feel more satisfying than any other aspect of writing.
I write at night. Everyone else in my house is asleep. Sometimes my dog will pad out from the bedroom, yawning, and flop on the floor beside me. But when I sat at my desk to write Half Moon Lake I regularly felt the hovering presence of people I’d invented. Which was strange, but not unpleasant. We’d have silent conversations about whether they would or would not do a certain thing. ‘But why not?’ I’d ask. ‘It was a different time,’ Grace would reply. ‘Because I’m not you,’ Mary would say. ‘What if you just try it?’ I’d ask. They’d roll their eyes, resist actions that made no sense, speak nonsense on the page until I deleted it. Which was annoying, but that can be the way with collaborations. I’d nod, stare at my screen, and try to write something that worked better for all of us.
This is delusional. You’re alone when you write, of course. Physically. But writing can, if you’re lucky, bring characters forth who feel so three-dimensional it’s as if you’re standing beside them. They can make the most solo, introspective task less lonely. You won’t always like them or their choices. But when you’re finished writing your story and delivered these imagined but real people into the hands of readers, you’ll miss them.