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A Different Path – First Draft

If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll already know I’m working on a novel, which I’m calling A Different Path. I’ve been making excellent progress, and am on track to finish the first draft in three weeks, a little ahead of the target date I set for myself.

Since I started writing the novel at the end of May, I’ve envisaged it as a semi-autobiographical, nostalgic, coming-of-age story set in Lancashire, England.

Does that original vision still hold water?

Semi-autobiographical

I’ve been saying the work is semi-autobiographical, and that’s true for some of the scenes and events I’ve written about. However, my life hasn’t been quite as interesting as the protagonist’s. In some ways I wish it had been, but in other ways, I’m very glad it wasn’t!

In truth there’s now so much stuff in there that’s made up, I’m thinking of dropping the ‘semi-autobiographical’ label altogether.

Nostalgic

Maybe wallowing in nostalgia is a symptom of getting older, but I love it. Some of my favourite fiction works are deeply nostalgic, including Stephen King’s The Body, which was made into a film, Stand by Me, and has to be top of my list. Another is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which comes a close second.

Writing about the area in which I spent my most formative years has brought memories flooding back to me with such clarity, they could have happened yesterday. On that basis, I’d say the novel is very nostalgic.

Coming-of-age

The phrase coming-of-age means different things to different people. It’s classic definition refers to the point at which a person transitions from childhood to adulthood.

I agree with that, but I don’t believe it’s a legal milestone like the age of consent or the legal drinking age. For me, coming-of-age is more about an emotional maturing process that happens over a period of time. Mine happened when I was around twenty, and some of the scenes in the novel are real recollections from those days of youth.

Set in Lancashire

The beginning of the book is set in Lancashire, around some of the towns and villages of the Ribble Valley and Forest of Bowland AONB. I revisit them throughout, right up to the final scene at the end of the story.

Even though I moved away a long time ago, writing about these places reminded me how much love I still hold for the area. At times, I became so emotional I could barely see my computer screen through the tears.

Next steps

After the first draft I’ll be working on the edits, which will take me some time, but a good novel is made during the editing process, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take a step back and look at the work with different eyes, identifying areas in which it can be improved.

I’ll post further updates here, and on my Facebook page.

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Why I Write Fiction

Part three of a three-part series on how, what, and why I write.
(Jump to: Part One | Part Two)

So far in this series I’ve considered how I write and what I write. While both posts required a bit of thinking to pull together, this final instalment was the hardest.

When George Mallory was asked why he climbed Mount Everest in the first of three British expeditions in the early 1920s, he responded with the now legendary quote:

Because it’s there.

I prefer the updated quote by Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle:

“Why do we do these things? George Mallory said the reason he wanted to climb Everest was because it’s there.’ I don’t think so. I think Mallory was wrong. It’s not because it’s there. It’s because we’re there, and we wonder if we can do it.”

This is the main reason why I write. When I read a great novel, I’m inspired. I see the mountain the author had to climb in order to complete it. I wonder if I could do it.

Some other reasons

I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a complete list of reasons for anything. The deeper you dig, the bigger the hole, the more you’ll uncover. Therefore, what follows is a list of four more reasons that came to me when I asked myself why I write. I’ve tried to put them in order of importance.

Leaving a legacy – I never tried to have a child of my own, and sometimes feel sad that I will not leave anything behind when I die, apart from a house, a little money, and some belongings, most of which will end up on eBay, in a charity shop, or buried in landfill. People who have children are to an extent able to ‘live on’ through their offspring and leave a lasting legacy. That’s something I will never be able to do, so perhaps by writing I am trying to fill that fundamental gap in my life.

Exploring how I feel about something or someone – One of my friends used to accuse me of thinking and analysing too much. He was probably right. However, inside me there is a strong desire to ruminate over how I feel. I enjoy exploring my emotions. As humans, most of us feel them, and most can relate to the emotions of others.

Reliving the past – I recently turned fifty, and have more than half a lifetime of memories stored in my brain. As far as I know, I still have many years to look forward to, but I do like to reflect on the past and remember some of the good (and bad) things that have happened. Some of these may seem insignificant, but they are defining for me, and I try to get that across in my writing by allowing my characters to have the same experiences.

Rewriting my life – Who wouldn’t want to go back and live their life differently? I’m not a bad person, but I’ve certainly made mistakes in my life, even if they are only small ones. Maybe I regret buying something extravagant or saying something stupid when I was in a bad mood. Perhaps I wish I hadn’t written a life-changing letter, or then again, maybe I wish I had. What would have happened if I hadn’t given up with something when I did? How would my life be now if I could rectify just one little mistake? I like to explore these possibilities through my fiction.

Write for whatever reason

Some people write for money, others write to get famous. Everybody is different. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong approach.

Whatever makes a writer tick, that’s the reason they should be writing.

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What Type of Fiction I Write

Part two of a three part series on how, what, and why I write fiction.
(Jump to: Part One | Part Three)

Before I thought about writing, I was an avid reader. From a young age I devoured books, both fiction and non-fiction. Like many people of my generation, my childhood was spent reading stories by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and C.S. Lewis. However, unlike many others, I also liked to read Greek mythology. In our house we had an old set of encyclopaedias which contained adaptations of Homer’s Odyssey. I read them word-for-word, fascinated with the tales of adventure.

As I grew up my tastes changed, and in my teenage years I gravitated towards horror and the supernatural, which was fashionable at the time. I used to borrow these books from my local library, much to the concern of one of the librarians, who wasn’t keen on my taste for this genre at such a tender age. I read lots of books that had accompanying films: Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist. My favourite author of the time was probably Stephen King.

The Horror Years

I started writing in earnest in 1994. I had plenty of free time, and after a run of Stephen King novels (including his epic, The Stand), I felt inspired to try writing myself, just to see if I could do it, and what it felt like to write for pleasure. To my surprise, the words came easily, although whether or not they were any good is another matter.

The first novel I wrote was Augustus O’Kane, a story about a haunted computer. It was around 41,000 words in length, landing in that grey area between full-length novel and novella. I enjoyed the experience of writing and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I completed the project.

Cult was my second attempt at a novel, a tale about a religious cult that carried out human sacrifices in a forest. This was a full-length novel, and once again I found the process of writing easy and enjoyable. I wrote this in 1994, straight after I had finished Augustus O’Kane.

My third novel was Raise the Dead, a story about a trainee priest who discovers his old friend from school is trying to raise the dead from their graves. I wrote this in 1996, with much less time on my hands because I was newly married. The only way I could get through the first draft was by writing late at night or early in the morning when the house was quiet.

The Thriller

Around this time, I was broadening the scope of my taste in books, and had moved away from horror onto thrillers, reading novels by Jeffrey Archer, Wilbur Smith, Michael Crichton and others. It seemed logical at the time that I should try my hand at writing one.

My fourth novel was Deadly Obsession, a tale about a rich man who would stop at nothing to collect archaeological treasures. I wrote this in 1997 and tried a different approach. Instead of just letting the story develop as I wrote, I plotted out each scene in advance, until I had the full plot. This resulted in me having to go back and complete the daunting task of filling out each scene in detail, a plodding and mechanical process that I didn’t enjoy.

Short Stories

I didn’t write for a long time, mainly because I was focused on setting up a consulting business, commuting up and down the country, trying to find new work, etc.

Eventually, the urge to write returned, and I began penning short stories. My wife also enjoys writing, and the two of us would come up with an idea for a story, which we then wrote over the course of a week. When they were finished, we would do a swap and read each other’s work.

Due to my busy lifestyle and also the advent of the Internet, I didn’t spend as much time reading novels, although I had started to read more classics by authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, Evelyn Waugh, and Leo Tolstoy. (Anna Karenina nearly killed me, but I finished it.)

The stories I wrote during this time seemed more authentic than anything I’d written before, probably because I wasn’t inspired by a particular author or genre. They are contemporary, full of nostalgia with a strong sense of place.

Fifth Novel

I am currently writing my fifth novel, provisionally titled A Different Path. It’s the story of a man in his twenties, single, lacking in confidence and stuck in a rut, who finds his life changes when he meets a well-dressed stranger.

Once again, it’s contemporary, with elements of nostalgia, love, and that same strong sense of place that I enjoy getting across in my writing. I’m reading more novels now, but I haven’t allowed myself to be influenced by other writers or genres.

What works for me

Over the years I have been writing, I have found I produce my best work when I try to be myself and just let the words happen instead of trying to emulate other authors or write for specific genres because they seem to be going through a boom.

Some authors have found great success in following the market and anticipating its trends, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach if it makes the individual writer happy.