Good things come in twos

My idea of heaven
My idea of heaven

I did say I wouldn’t post again until the novel was finished and I meant it. It’s been a long summer of some discontent, a lot of hard work, and a gradual brightening of the light at the end of the tunnel.

And now I’m here, out the other side. Still reluctant to use the word ‘finished’ in the same sentence as my novel, what I can say is that I have completed the most difficult draft so far. Thanks to wonderful challenging feedback from kind and generous readers, I hope I’ve managed to fix some of the weaknesses that were bogging down this manuscript.

The other good thing I discovered first thing this morning is that my blog has been shortlisted for the Irish Blog Awards, Diaspora category. I’m thrilled to be included in this list and look forward to reading through the other blogs as soon as I finish work today. Thanks again to fellow exile Niall McArdle for nominating me and to the judges for overlooking the fact that I was on a break.

Without the distraction of blogging for the past two months, I have been able to write every day and have harnessed the power of that rhythm.

A three-week holiday in Ireland also helped with the daily time-stealing challenge and the inspiration, as my book is set in Ireland. Anyone who was lucky enough to be in Ireland this summer will tell you that the weather was superb. I wanted the country to be at its best so that my Swiss family would experience the magic of an Irish summer. In fact I wanted them to be enchanted and to develop some of the feelings about the country that I have. For once the weather came up trumps.

The novel is back in the hands of two readers and I’m hoping that only small changes will be required from now on and that I will be able to declare September the month of submitting.

I’ll be posting soon again, about a fascinating meeting in Bern with award-winning Swiss-German writer Pedro Lenz and his Glaswegian translator Donal McLaughlin. Not only is McLaughlin from Glasgow (via Northern Ireland), he also writes in Glaswegian dialect. Can’t wait to review the result of this unique collaboration: Naw Much of a Talker.

Looking forward to connecting with everyone again and catching up with your summer stories.

It’s good to be back.

Freddie had to go

There was a time when he was important. It was because of his charming deceitful ways that the whole story began. He made life unbearable for my main character, gave her the push she needed to run away and try to change things.

But when it became apparent that there was too much back story and too many love interests in this novel, Freddie had to go. Like any intense relationship, it was hard to make the break but bit by bit I have managed to delete all trace of him.

I had to ask myself the question: ‘Can I live without him?’ And painful as it was, the answer was yes. It’s a well-known mistake to cram too much into your first novel, one that you usually discover after the fact. I fell into this trap on a grand scale and it’s a difficult one to get out of. Difficult but not impossible.

So goodbye Freddie and everything that came with you:
The convoluted back story about the festival he was organising and embezzling money from – out.
The flirting scene in the pub – out.
The scene when they first get physical – out.
His jealous girlfriend’s reaction – out.
The successful launch of the festival – out.
Police raiding the offices – out.
Freddie going awol – out.
Police interviews – out.
The scene in the solicitor’s office – out.
Freddie featuring in other people’s conversations – out.
References to the court case – out.
The visit to Freddie in prison – out.

And finally, today, after my sly attempt to keep Freddie in the background of the story, even though no new reader could figure out what he was doing there, I have removed any last trace of Freddie’s character.

Amazingly it turned out that Freddie and the hefty subplot that went with him were not essential to this novel. In fact this overload of storylines was taking away from the true heart of the novel, which is about family. He may appear in another guise in another story, but for now the mischievous, restless Freddie is out of the picture.

I’m definitely not the first person to have to cut a character from a novel in progress. Sometimes two characters can be rolled into one if they are serving the same purpose or a peripheral character can disappear over the horizon without being missed. Has anyone else had the experience of cutting a major character? Am I right in thinking (and hoping) you never regret what you cut?

Caught looking for the best bits

Bring in the critics
Bring in the critics

It is surprising, when you say you are writing, who is interested in seeing the manuscript and who is not. Some people are (understandably) afraid your work will be terrible and they will have to damn it with faint praise. Others are genuinely not interested.

In my writing course I have got used to sharing extracts from my book and hearing feedback. It’s been a helpful and positive experience. It’s also been stimulating to listen to other people’s work in progress, as much to get a sense of what’s going on behind good writing as to learn more about the common pitfalls.

The other day, in advance of my next reading slot coming up in the writing course, I was with my writing buddy in the most unfashionable café in county Dublin, scanning my chapters trying to pick out the right excerpt to share.

What to choose? I interrupt my writing buddy for the fifteenth time that hour and hope that look does not mean he is rethinking our weekly arrangement of writing together. Well, he says, are you sifting through your novel looking for the best passages? Cue guilty smile. And what if I am?

The problem with writing a novel, I have realised, is that every page has to work and that requires great persistence and attention to detail. Nobody will wade through the clunky bits to get to a gem they don’t even know is there.

And the other thing about the best bits – they’re probably not that great after all. I think Samuel Johnson may have hit the nail on the head in the 18th century.

“Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

Beating the second draft slump

It was all so simple last year. Whenever I had time to spare I would whip out the laptop and write a bit more of my novel. I was able to use my writing slots so productively. It was just like mowing the lawn, keep going until you get to the end.

Now I’m out the other side of that process and can see what a rush I was in to get to the finish line. The words that I flung onto the page now have to stand up to scrutiny and carry the story.

These days when I sit down to revise the manuscript, more often than not I stray into other writing tasks. Revising is not a straightforward process. The grass is cut but now I have to finish the garden. I need to pull up bushes that are not thriving, plant new trees, create flower beds, trim the hedge, put in a patio and weed, weed, weed.

Where to start? It’s so much easier to procrastinate. In my case this involves dabbling a little in flash fiction, teasing out new book ideas or bashing out a post for this blog. Could I really be writing about writing as a way to avoid actually writing?

All is not lost. I have my writing course coming up in the Irish Writers’ Centre and in the meantime I will read up on revising so that I can tackle this job with the right tools.

If you have any good revising tips that have worked for you, please share!