Monday, 31 August 2020

Writing a New Novel

For the past five weeks I’ve been writing a novel. It’s been going well. I’ve written 64,000 words so far and I’m enjoying it. There seems to be more freedom in writing prose, compared to writing poetry. But it’s just as compulsive. The story is in my head pretty much all of the time. But novel writing is more tiring, because it is so sustained. Usually it would take me only a couple of days to produce the first draft of a poem (which would then be revised over the ensuing weeks and months). I’ve been writing intensively every day for six weeks now, but I’m still only about halfway through the first draft of the novel. I just hope my creative energy and momentum keeps going.

The novel is set in 1961 and in a fictional place. So I suppose that makes it a historical novel of sorts. The place is based on the small country town where I grew up in Gloucestershire. I was inspired to choose 1961 by the Philip Larkin poem ‘Annus Mirabilis’, the first two stanzas of which are below (although he wrote the poem in 1967). The beginning of the 1960’s is interesting to me because it is a cusp between an older social order that has been marked by wartime and rationing and a nascent social order that is in search of new freedoms. Although the Larkin poem focuses on sexual freedom, the novel is concerned with a broader range of issues. That time was also the heyday of British social realist novels, plays and films.

I‘ve been doing little else than writing, eating, sleeping and cycling, for the past six weeks. It’s been much more exhausting than I expected. One day I wrote 3,500 words and my brain was fried. But I still woke up in the middle of the night with ideas for the plot and had to get up and write them down. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have got back to sleep at all. I began the novel with only a very sketchy plot, which has become deepened and massively altered as I’ve moved along through the story. As I’ve been writing one chapter, the next couple have also been in my head. But I’ve not been working a lot further ahead than that. This gives you more freedom to insert plot twists and turns. I’m thinking that any plot problems can be fixed in the second draft. However, I’ve just been able to envision the end of the book. All I have to do now is to get the characters there.

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.


Philip Larkin

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