Writing a novel is all about reading

This week ‘The Storyteller’ will be out in the world. Not only is it my first book, but it is also almost the first piece I have ever published. There were a couple of academic articles ten years ago (in my maiden name, so good luck finding those). There’s this blog, and my Facebook page. But that’s it. This week will be the first time my name will be out there in proper print. Here are five (big) things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Writing is about reading above anything else. There are ‘how to’ books that can teach you some useful stuff. But after a while if you’ve looked at one then you’ve absorbed them all. ‘The right method’ is whatever works for you. Forget those books and websites: mostly you should be reading. Read everything from celebrity gossip to classics to pulp fiction to hipster lit. You want sentences that are able to do anything; for that, reading is the only way to go.
  2. Breaking the rules of the apprenticeship is fine. I didn’t write short stories first. I wasn’t published in literary magazines. I didn’t build a portfolio. I didn’t get an agent. I didn’t befriend other writers, ‘workshop’ my drafts, attend writers’ conferences, do a Creative Writing MA. What I did was write a book that only I could write, with utter honesty and with self-directed brutality where that was required. And then start to do that again.
  3. The perfect publisher is first and foremost a lover of books. The first time I met Robert Peett, we talked for 3 hours with neither of us watching the time. He missed his next appointment; I was late to work. We were talking, you guessed it, about reading not writing. I signed up with him because he read the way that I do. I completely trusted him to edit my work.
  4. The whole process takes a long, long time. The first draft is 25% of the way towards a manuscript to send to agents. Writing just that first draft takes a hour a day for a year. That’s how long it takes (me) to find an original voice. The publishing timeline is extremely slow. That’s time to get the next novel well underway.
  5. To get through, find the people who will encourage and those who will criticise. I have cheerleaders on speed-dial who will praise my every effort. ‘Of course you are a writer’, they say. Or, ‘I want to be a writer like you’. ‘Find your creative power’, they tell me. ‘I’m so impressed by what you do’. Those people have been gold dust. I would not have a novel in the world without them; they give me confidence on my darker days. On the other side I have strong-viewed critics. They have read at least as much as I have. They told me when my initial attempts were worthless. They recall me to my day job. They make sure I do the things that keep me sane. I cultivate both the encouragers and the critics. I need both sets on my side.

Five things, I said. So that’s it.

Enjoy The Storyteller. Please tell me what you think. As I say, it’s about the reading most of all.



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