Tuesday, 30 April 2013

D-Day: publication at last

It has taken literally years, but it is all but done.

Writing a novel was an idea that, like many others, I toyed with for a long time before making the effort to begin. I seemed to have the necessary basic criteria for an author: I had something to say, was reasonably literate, and had read enough recently published work to form the opinion that I could write something that might be worthy of publication. I have loved and studied history for much of my life, and turned naturally to the past for my inspiration. It couldn't be so difficult, could it?

Naive, naive. Once I had sat down to do the thing, I soon discovered quite why many begin their novel but never complete it. To begin with, it was difficult to know where to start. I had the sketch of a story in my mind as well as a slightly more concrete notion of the themes I wished to explore, and of the time and place that interested me. It seemed a logical next step to make the plot my next project, but despite many hours of vacant staring and hard thinking it would not 'fall' for me. I wanted a plot that would allow the characters to live and breathe, that would allow an exploration of the age in question. Eventually I realised that the characters I had invented for the story were already demanding their say in the plotting, and I listened to them. I began to make progress, but extremely slowly and sluggishly.

All the while I worked upon it I was beset by doubts. Could I really do this? Did I have the literacy skills, the imagination, the sheer determination? One day I read back through some of the pages I had written and saw that although the germ of something was there, I was a long, long way off the standard I had set for myself. I had been too ambitious, in terms of what the work I wished to write; I had wanted something that would engage, thrill, amuse, entertain and yet be capable of short-listing for some major literary award. I had yet to find my style, in other words, and I began to appreciate the difficulties involved in achieving that goal.

All writers must go through this process, of course, assimilating influences and acquiring after some while something like their own true style, and how long that takes will depend upon many things; how widely-read they are, how analytical, how self-critical. In my case, it took years to fashion something that would satisfy at least the greater part of my ambition. There were long spells spent in the wilderness, racked with self-doubt whilst trying to resolve plot conundrums, and there were many times that I almost gave up. On my birthday last year, during one such episode, I heard the song 'Don't Give Up' and resolved just to push through, no matter what. What it was that gave way then, I do not really know; perhaps the process of becoming a story-teller had finally matured enough for something to be bashed out, and perhaps I had become more realistic in my aspirations, but within four months I had a first draft.

Tomorrow, the finished novel will appear at last in e-book form, available to the public for the first time. No literary agent has ever seen it, but I have spent so long upon it that I wished to see it published in some form. That in itself is a reward for the countless hours spent, but if anyone were to buy and enjoy it, how much more satisfied and delighted I will be!