Chris TSRA has been kind enough to feature posts from my blog on four occasions. Each time, I’ve looked at his Authors Hall of Fame Guidelines and thought I really want to do this. But then I’ve held back. You might understand why in a moment.
But I’ve taken the plunge and if you’re reading this, I guess my hesitancy was unwarranted; or perhaps my powers of persuasion are stronger than I imagined.
Like many would-be authors, I dreamed of earning at least part of my living from writing. That is, writing fiction. I’m already fortunate to be earning a respectable living from writing for business. In a sales and marketing career spanning (pause for a moment’s uncomfortable finger-counting) over 25 years, I’ve written every kind of commercial marketing material you care to imagine, from brochures and proposals to soundbites and straplines. I’ve been freelance since 2002 and enjoy the independence and flexibility it’s given me. That’s just as well, as I’m pretty sure I’m unemployable now. As a home-based freelancer, you get used to doing things your way and it’s great not to have people looking over your shoulder.
It means I can:
- Watch re-runs of Breaking Bad whilst I’m having my breakfast, instead of getting my bones crushed on the London Underground
- Have no make-up days (When I’m not available on Skype. At all. Not for anyone.)
- Pop to the garden centre in the middle of the week, when it’s a haven of floral tranquillity
- Read whatever I happen to be writing, out loud, to see how the words sound. Yes, even e-mails. I read everything I write, out loud.
So in 2010, I hit 50 and fell under the if-not-now-then-when spell. Work was ticking along nicely and the writing bug itched away at me. I went on a course called Starting to Write with the Arvon Foundation. On that course I met my first writing buddy, now one of my closest friends, and… I started to write.
The tricky part was deciding what to write, and the course tutor coached me through some ideas, along the write what you know pathway. I knew (far too much) about singles holidays and that’s where the idea for Singled Out took root.
For a writer, a singles holiday is a great self-contained scenario, like a locked room in many ways; one location, more or less – a sumptuous one at that – and an uncomplicated timescale. For a novice like me, that was encouragingly manageable.
On a singles holiday, you spend one or two weeks with between 20 and 30 strangers. Some will be easy-going and friendly, some tiresome and irritating; still more will be decent but dull; and there will always be an oddball or two, unique personalities, not necessarily in a good way. Invariably (unless you go on some wild-and-crazy extreme adventure jaunt) women will outnumber men by around 2:1, which isn’t great – if you’re a woman. The faces of this motley crew will fill your photographs but dissolve from your memory. Months later, you’ll struggle to recall the names of more than one or two.
Singled Out was originally intended to be a light-hearted fictional ramble around the sort of characters that show up on singles holidays and the way they interact. I very quickly realised that for a story to be, well… a story, something has to actually happen, preferably something bad. That was more of a breakthrough than it should have been, since I’ve been reading and enjoying stories in which stuff happens since the age of five.
But that’s when I realised what sort of books I wanted to write. I found when I introduced a malevolent and essentially sociopathic character, to darken the tone and make the (totally, wholly and entirely fictional) bad stuff happen, I really enjoyed it! (No, don’t run away… please don’t run away!) I found I enjoyed writing the sort of traits, emotions and behaviours that were the opposite of me; a person who was not who they seemed to be; who would think the unthinkable and respond to their environment in ways which would horrify normal people.
The other thing I realised was that I prefer writing stories which are morally ambivalent, offering no easy answers. No neat ribbons tie up the loose ends of my stories. I want to leave people debating for themselves whether certain characters did the right thing or not, or whether they would have done the same in their shoes. In my would-be author fantasy world (aka positive visualisations), I saw the moral dilemmas in Singled Out being debated at book clubs. (As far as I know, this hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time.)
What I didn’t understand was that in creating a book with a very dark crime and moral uncertainty at its heart, I wasn’t just being bold. I was hobbling my chances of getting agent representation. In my gritty subject matter, my treatment of some of the male/female dynamics, and my moral shades of grey, I’d inadvertently handed too many agents too many reasons to reject it.
What can I say? I’ve learned my lesson m’lud. I’ll play nicely next time.
Is Singled Out the best book I could write? At the time… yes. But it’s also my practice book and I’d like to think I’ll take all the learning and write an even better book next time around.
I began my novelist’s adventure not knowing if I had sufficient skill, imagination or creativity – or dogged determination – to write a page-turning novel. Now I know I can, and the product is … not bad, not bad at all – for a first attempt.
So, another author realises her dream. Singled Out is slowly finding an audience in the self-publishing arena and I’m enjoying the sense of achievement that comes from mastering a new skill-set and completing a personal challenge. Next step – I’m actively contemplating this – is whether I put that annoying habit of reading everything out loud to proper use and record Singled Out as an audiobook.
Meantime, I’m still thumping the keyboard for clients and blogging questionable writerly wisdom for whoever passes by.
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