I've attended Caroline's classes, written one novel – Green & Pleasant Land, a set of Sci Fi short stories – Approaching Paradise and err... that's it really. As my friend once said, “Why not have a go at writing? What have you got to lose?” Seventeen years later...
Green & Pleasant Land is a political dystopian novel which I started work on way back in 2001. I've had the title for longer than I can remember. It was always that. When I first started it this was the only good thing about the novel. I hope it's improved since then.
I wanted to write something in the same genre as things I like – Brave New World, 1984, A Clockwork Orange. Whereas the idea of totalitarian governments and regimented societies had been done before. I wanted to look at a weak government, a fragmented society; a world which was in some ways familiar but in others, strange - to create a sense of alienation.
THE LITERARY CONSULTANCY
Last year I sent the novel off to The Literary Consultancy. They were absolutely brilliant if you don't mind harsh criticism, which I don't. They were very to the point. I think it crystallised many of the things I'd already thought and known about it. But also raised a number of other things I hadn't really considered and gave me about half a dozen major pointers to work on. It put things into sharp focus. I realised how much I needed to do. It's taken me a good six months to rework it. I spent about two months simply drawing up an action plan on the basis of this report, of how it needed to be changed.
A couple of the main things they pointed out were
- the novel was too long
- the tension was lacking in places
One of the problems I have as a writer is I tend to focus on ideas rather than the thing we all engage with as readers - the characters, what's happening in their lives. I still want to write a book about ideas but also sharpen up the drama between the characters and what they're about, how they affect each other's lives.
There was too much rambling. The report contained the word verbeage – verbal garbage. It's the word you never ever want to hear as a writer. When I read that I thought yeah I really have written a load of toot. I always try to be honest with myself as a writer. You're never going to get things right the first time but I think that particular draft was a finished draft at the time. Having it finished was great but then the doubts started to grow.
After I got it back I thought, “Okay, I'm nowhere near finished.” It forced me to think about what I was doing, focus on everything rather than have lots of random ideas going on. I knew I needed to make the story feel richer.
I got back from Australia just after Christmas to find the colleague who was away on secondment came back earlier than expected. The job I thought I had wasn't there any more. So I've been working on the novel pretty much 8 hours a day. It's mentally quite draining because I came up with something that was just way too complicated. Changing it meant a number of other ideas had to shift. I found that very difficult.