Structure in Novel Writing, James Scott Bell’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ and a Certain Way to a Unique Writing Voice – Joy.

 

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I am sure there is a lot of happiness mixed up with the anxiety, in this elopment…

I read something the other day that made me think (unaccustomed exercise: new pathways created, and all that).

It was actually in an intriguing book about how useful the novel (excuse that Freudian slip) approach of ‘writing a book from the middle’ is, in giving a clear, effortless structure. This is, in fact, a book full of a good advice on structure for every sort of writer. It can be applied by those who begin writing with only the vaguest plan –(I am one of those, in good company with Stephen King) – for those who plan their novels like a military campaign, and for those who are in  between.

In fact, I would recommend this book, which explains how if you have the strong core at the centre of a book (a bit like Pilates for wordsmiths, I suppose) then the rest of it can hold up.

It’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ by James Scott Bell Compendium Press (2014).

The author quotes various massively successful novels which have, for all their superficially rambling, epic nature, that ‘Magical Midpoint Moment’ that gives structure and coherence to the whole. This, he suggests, applies to films as well as novels of all genres.  He quotes ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Casablanca’ as two perennially successful examples of stories with a watertight core. He quotes ‘The Hunger Games’ as another example (I am still meaning to read that, though I have seen the film).

This intrigued me. I was interested enough to pick up some of my favourite novels – Margaret Attwood’s ‘Bodily Harm’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ were two – and in fact, the conflict that lies at the base of both plots is indeed at the centre of the novels.

I have gone into both in depth elsewhere, so no need to repeat myself in detail about that conflict here. But briefly: –

In ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ there is a discussion between the heroine’s parents about the rumoured fickleness of her preferred, stimulating, but supposedly dead lover and the dogged devotion of her still living cousin, whom she finds dull. This really, is the core of the novel. Which one will bring her long term happiness (if either)?

In ‘Bodily Harm’ we have this: ‘Paul smiles: a kindly, threatening smile. “I like you,” he says. “I guess I’m trying to tell you not to get too mixed up in local politics.”’ And there it is, the core:r Rennie is a journalist who writes superficial ‘lifestyle’ magazine articles, who, after some devastating real life experiences, decides to ‘escape from it all’ on a working holiday in a little known Carribean island; here she gets drawn into local politics willy nilly.

I  couldn’t resist looking at one of my own novels, my first,  ‘That Scoundrel Ėmile Dubois’ to check the middle. Sure enough, there at about the centre, we have the anti hero taking his bride Sophie to their newly rented house after the wedding ceremony.

There, waiting to greet her, along with other staff members, are their new butler and housekeeper Mr and Mrs Kit. It just so happens that they are former associates of his in his old career as the highwayman Monsieur Giles. Ėmile is an incorrigible scoundrel yet – in fact, potentially a far worse one, for he has been possibly infected with the vampire virus – and Sophie sees that she will live in a household (with the exception of Agnes, her maid) run by his former disreputable cronies whose first loyalties are to him. She is uneasy about that, without knowing why…

…But, she doesn’t run off. She’s too besotted; besides, she knows underneath that she is going to stay and fight to bring out the best in the rascal.

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I was – of course – pleased to find the story has a strong core, in fact, done unconsciously. Perhaps, the unconscious sometimes tidies up those issues which the conscious neglects?

I am not saying that novel doesn’t arguably have other faults in its composition. Some find the plot too complex, for instance.

Anyway,  that was a novel I particularly loved writing. I have loved the actual writing part of all my novels (I have whinged often enough about how I hate the editing), but that one – it was, to quote a silly pop song, ‘like flying without wings’. It was a joy ride in the best sense.

And that brings me on to a point the author of ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ makes: ‘When an author is joyous in the telling, it pulses through the words…Because when you’re joyful in the writing, the writing is fresher and fuller. Fuller of what? Of you. and that translates to the page and becomes that thing called Voice.’

And isn’t a distinctive voice what makes a novel stand out?

Now, I would love to write like Margaret Attwood. I am going to repeat that: I would love to write like Margaret Attwood! But I  never will  write like Margaret Attwood.  I can only  write as the best Lucinda Elliot possible, and the only way to do that is to write what I love.

What happens to people who write what they don’t love is illustrated all too clearly in the case of the writer Patrick Hamilton.

The contrast between the wonderful vigour of his early works, such as the trilogy ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’ and the tragic comic grandeur of his vision in his masterpieces, ‘Hangover Square’ and ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ and the sour impression left by last work, ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’ is painfully obvious.

Hamilton had lost, not only his faith in people and the progress of history, had not only descended into alcoholism and bouts of depression, but also his joy in writing.

It is not that he wrote about some very unpleasant people in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’; becasue he always wrote about mainly unpleasant people.  However, before his last novels, he portrayed their absurdities, snobberies,  bigotories and impossible behaviour so humorously that one was left with a sense of being uplifted. Not only that: in his earlier books, there is always what he called ‘the country dance’ where the reader is truly inspired, and sees – along with the admirable character who is always there at the core of the novel  – that life has its joyful side.

In his later novels, the portrayal of that decent person is weaker and weaker, and finally, in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’  it is actually lacking. He had forgotten that the normal reader wishes to be left with a feeling of having been ‘brought out of himself or herself’ as well as bieng wryly amused.

Had he, with his massive talent, only somehow kept in touch with that joy, he could have avoided that dying fall.

We must remember to write with joy. And that, by the way, is my true answer to a blog post I wrote maybe a year ago, about a novice writer friend of mine who was devastated by her first one star review (and I am still proud I did not say in reply ‘How nice to have only one of those: would you care to count how many I have?’ ).

One should ignore unfair criticism (just criticism with some basis for it is a different matter; we should take a lot of notice of that) and go on in revelling in the joy of writing. There will always be detractors, and anything that stands out must come under fire, but the best way to treat that is to keep on having joy in what you create.

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Authors Basing Characters on Real People: Some Examples from Classic Novels

I don’t know how much most authors base their characters on people they have known. I would guess that most combine various characteristics taken from numerous people in real life with some from those they have encountered in fiction to create something original.

A writer observes on this website

https://litreactor.com/columns/keeping-it-real-a-rough-guide-to-using-real-people-as-fictional-characters

‘Fictional characters, especially main characters, almost never behave exactly like real people would.  They’re smarter, more persuasive, more appealing, more sensitive, better looking, stronger, more hot-headed, braver and at least twice as sensual as anyone we’re ever going to share office space or an apartment with. Make your characters too real and the reader will soon lose interest. Give them some real characteristics and they’ll jump out of the page and into your audience’s mind with a single bound.’

As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with all of that. Most people do meet larger than life characters, people who are outstanding in all sorts of ways. It is merely that they are vastly outnumbered by the greater number of smaller than life characters one meets …

It is however true that they probably don’t combine all these fascinating characteristics together.

For instance, perhaps my own best looking character is Reynaud Ravensdale in ‘Ravensdale’ (though some might prefer the looks of Harley Venn in ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’).  Readers might imagine that I must have invented his appearance, or based it on some idealised portrait.

In fact, a man I knew looked exactly like that,  wide-set, heavy-lidded eyes, Grecian profile, waving chestnut hair and all. He was a petty villain I knew, who was a nice enough guy, but – to put it mildly –  rather stupid.

Reynaud Ravensdale is certainly more of a man of action than a studious type, and decidedly impulsive and given to theatrical gestures, but only stupid about his love object Isabella Murray and her predecessor Georgiana Toothill. Above anything, I wrote him as an ‘Ideal Type’  of the hero of the traditional robber novels like ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ and ‘Dubrovsky.

According to various books and websites, a fair number of writers of classic novels did base their main character roughly on someone they knew in real life, or sometimes, someone whom they knew only slightly. Or it could be, on someone the author had only glimpsed once.

For instance, it seems the appearance of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of d’Ubervilles’ is based on a farm girl Hardy saw, belabouring some unfortunate mount and swearing.

Various pieces of advice on writing such as the website above strongly advise aspiring authors not to make their characters recognisable as real people. Still,  I remember reading that Kingsley Amis deliberately made the ridiculous Professor Welch in his first novel ‘Lucky Jim’ a wounding portrayal of his first father-in-law.   I don’t know if the unlucky man recognised himself.

What is interesting, is that it is a witty portrayal. Many portrayals dictated by malice seem to read as savage rather than amusing.  Also in the same novel, I believe that the Jim character was based on Amis’s friend Philip Larkin.

It seems that Samuel Richardson said he based his character Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarissa’ on the conversation and attitudes of a man he encountered. I only read this in passing in some piece of literary criticism, and find it rather an astounding notion, given the puritanical notions of that author.

Did Richardson encourage this appalling conversation about the seduction and betrayal of a series of innocents?   Was the man possibly self-deluded, boasting of conquests and betrayals that never happened and persuading Richardson to believe his boastful anecdotes?

But, as the characters that authors create are after all a part of our  own psyches, surely a large part of Lovelace was  the dark part of the puritanical Samuel Richardson’s own unconscious mind?  That he managed to keep such a scheming, exuberant, emotionally abusive and finally rapist aspect to his psyche under control is, if so, evidence of what an astonishing job an effective conscience does.

As it was, all Richardson did was write novels which expressly designed to  oppress generations of women with false notions of purity…

I had wondered on whom Oscar Wilde based his infinitely corrupt Dorian Grey in his famous novel. It seems from this website:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/ten-famed-literary-figures-based-on-real-life-people-3537929

that his appearance at least was based on one John Grey, a minor member of his circle . If so, according to the website below,  the fate of this person was vastly different from that of Wilde’s character. John Grey later took holy orders.

Three inch high watercolour of Irishman Thomas Langlois Lefroy painted by leading English miniaturist George Engleheart in 1798

Critics are still undecided on who is the original of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Some think his appearance at least was based on the  Irish William Lefroy, who admitted in old age to having as a youth been in  love with Jane Austen.

Some authors seem to have shown naivety in believing that characters they had based on people important in their lives could not be recognised by readers as long as they changed a feature here or there…

For instance, when reading the  ‘Forstye Saga’ by John Galsworthy, I noted his besotted, partisan attitude towards the female lead Irene, whose physical and mental attributes seem to be admired by everyone.

I was unsurprised to find out later that the character of Irene, and her marital misfortunes, are based on Galsworthy’s wife (who was previously unhappily married to his cousin).  Galsworthy seems to have thought that if he changed her hair colour from dark to golden, nobody would draw any conclusions about her origin…

Indie Authors: Don’t Give Up On Your Original Voice When Sales Are Bad

https://www.amazon.com/Longbourn-Jo-Baker-ebook/dp/B00CQ1D3BYFive years ago, when I started writing online, I was lucky enough to meet some outstanding writers on Goodreads (I’ve met others since, on Authonomy before it packed up and elsewhere, but here I’m talking about that original base of writer friends).

They were mostly women, varying in age. Some came from my native England, some from the US, and a couple from the Antipodes. Their genre varied, but they all had one thing in common….

They didn’t write formulaic, predictable stories. They broke rules; they used humour; they featured strong female leads (otherwise, I wouldn’t have enjoyed their stories). They were often a bit cross genre, and this was probably one of the reasons why they hadn’t got that elusive contract with an agent or publisher.

They wanted to achieve something original. Yes, they wanted success and sales – who doesn’t? – but above that, they wanted to write with an individual voice and to get readers for the novels that they had loved creating.

In those days, things were a lot easier from the sales point of view. My goodness, back then Amazon hadn’t introduced Amazon Select and Pages Read, both of which have led to a catastrophic fall in sales.

Why, in 2014 my spoof Regency (technically, late Georgian) Romance ‘Ravensdale’ sold thousands – enough for me to take my daughter on holiday to Paris.

It also attracted a good many resentful reviews from readers who disliked their favourite tropes being satirized, however gently, but that is the price of notoriety, and I think most writers, like me, would rather attract sales and public notice than have no controversy, obscurity, and dismal sales.

Incidentally, since the introduction of Amazon’s new sales policies, sales of ‘Ravensdale’ have plummeted. Because it is sinking into obscurity, I have made it free on Smashwords. I have tried to make it free on Amazon, but they ignore me. Here is the Smashwords link for that:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721130

My own view is, that while it is nice to make money out of writing, that isn’t why I went into it; in fact, that is only the icing on the cake. The reason I went into it, is because I wanted people to read my stuff.

If I – as someone (I hope) at least partially sane – had gone into writing to make a profit out of it, then I’d be writing: ‘The Duke Gets His Breeches Down: Dastardly Duke Series 101’.

That is the way to make high sales and money out of writing.

Most of those writer friends haven’t sold as much as they deserve. But then, if they got their just deserts, they’d be best selling authors.

Sadly, the market doesn’t work like that; the market recognises the price of everything, and the value of nothing, as someone once said.  As often as not, it’s not the talented and original authors who are among the most successful.

Sadly, I think some of them have become discouraged about writing. Some are taking a long break from the whole business of writing and the weary slog of publicity, and finding it a relief. Of course, many of them are very busy; some of them still have children, and a job…The wonder is anyone in that situation produces good work at all.  But I suspect some have been discouraged by mediocre sales, and the lack of a breakthrough.

I personally, think it would be a great loss if they gave up altogether. Rather, I think that if an author is making a pittance from her writing and it has no visibility on the sales ranks on Amazon, she might as well make her books free.

Smashwords will do it happily enough. The problem is Amazon, who seem to turn a deaf ear when it suits them.

However, they have made my first book, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ free. For anyone interested, the new edition, complete with a faster start, is available here https://www.amazon.com/That-Scoundrel-Émile-Dubois-Light-ebook/dp/B00AOA4FN4

and here

By the way, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that all wonderfully original works are doomed to poor sales and lack of public recognition.  Many receive the recognition they deserve (though sometimes it happens after the author is dead).

There is Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’, for instance. What a brilliant work!

I found it such a refreshing change to read a book set in the UK of the Regency era which is about ordinary people – not the aristocracy (the families of approximately 700 men) or the gentry (approximately 1.5 per cent of the population).

But I will be writing a post about that soon. For now, I would like to say that I wish that all of my original writer friends were back to writing again. I miss them.

Inspired Endings – That State of Transendence

I have written before about the inspired ending to Patrick Hamilton’s ‘The Slaves of Solitude’, which is, along with ‘Hangover Square’ considered to be his masterpiece.

I won’t do it justice here,  unless I explain something of the story, which is essentially a dark comedy. It concerns the grim – and often ludicrous – experiences of the lonely, early middle aged Miss Roach in a Henley boarding house called – with a typical Hamilton facetious touch – ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms’ – in England during 1942; in other words, in the middle of World War II.

She incurs the wholly unjustified vindictiveness of two of her fellow lodgers. One of these is a German woman, Vicki Kugelmann, whom she has previously tried to befriend, the other a type which I gather was common in the ‘genteel’ boarding houses of the era – the impossibly overbearing and reactionary Mr Thwaites. They encourage each other in taunting Miss Roach, and gibing at her support for democracy.

Miss Roach has developed a mild flirtation with an American GI, the generous but unreliable Lieutenant Pike,who wishes, if he survives the war, to enter the laundry business. He has even proposed to Miss Roach: ‘Though she had laughed at the laundry, she had never entirely discounted it’.

The predatory Vikki, taken along to a meal with Lieutenant Pike and some of his GI friends through Miss Roach’s charity, throws herself at the unreliable, drunken Lieutenant Pike, and contrives to come between him and Miss Roach and to steal him as ‘her American’, though she smugly informs Miss Roach that:  ‘I am not the Snatcher. I do not snatch the men’.

Then Miss Roach, already feeling undermined through the constant sniping comments from Mr Thwaites and Vikki, hears that Lieutenant Pike in fact is notorious for going about proposing to every woman with whom he becomes entangled, so his previous proposal was empty. She feels; ‘deprived of all dignity’.

Vikki gradually reveals herself as hating the British, and Mr Thwaites has always been a closet fascist. After a prolonged psychological battle with these two, Miss Roach finally emerges triumphant.

Lieutenant Pike shifts his allegiance back to Miss Roach, but has to leave when his unit is transferred. Having inherited a sum of money from her aunt, she leaves the boarding house in triumph. Mr Thwaites has now died of a sudden agonising illness  –  and Vicki has been asked to leave to boarding house for inviting Mr Thwaites and Lieutenant Pyke into her room in a drunken spree.

Miss Roach is invited  to see the retired actor Mr Prest – always despised as ‘common’ in the Rosamund Tea Rooms – brought out of retirement to star as the wicked uncle in a pantomime. This, and the delight of the childish audience, gives Miss Roach a feeling of transcendence: ‘There was an extraordinary look of purification about Mr Prest..and…Miss Roach felt purified.’

She has taken a room for a couple of nights in Claridges (able to pay through her small inheritance from her aunt): Here her strange feeling of purification continues:

‘An orchestra was now playing in the lounge, and sitting and having that last drink…something else was added to Miss Roache’s state of mind…there came a sort of clarification of mind, in which she could see in their correct proportions all the things which had occurred to her in the last few months…

She saw Mr Thwaites in his right proportions…The trouble with that man was that he had never stepped beyond the mental age of eleven or twelve, nature having arrested him at a certain ugly phase…

She saw the Lieutenant in his right proportions. Not strong of mind, easily affected by drink, in a foreign land, in a mood of sexual excitation, in fear of the future and over anxious to live life to the full, the poor man had gone about in drink making love to the girls and asking them to marry him…

She saw Vikki in her right proportions. A wretched woman that, more wretched than evil…savagely egoistic. And in her sex obsession, vain. And in her vanity cruel…She probably wasn’t really the concentration camp, stadium yelling, rich, fruity, German Nazi which Miss Roach had at times thought her (and yet she very probably was!) and now Miss Roach found it easy to forgive her.’

Settling down to sleep, Miss Roach, ‘That slave of her task master, solitude …hopefully composed her mind for sleep – God help us, God help all of us, every one, all of us.’

Patrick Hamilton was in fact an atheist, but if ever a line was written in a state of inspiration, that last line of supplication to the Deity is it.

To me, the feeling that it inspires sums up the state of mind in which the author must be himself or herself, in order to inspire that same leap of transcendence in the reader.

This is the culmination of that satisfactory ending. We’ve had the fireworks, and we’ve done the prosaic stuff with tying up the loose ends.Now you must impart to the reader a feeling  of peace and completion.

This is the culmination; this is where you leave the reader who has paid you the compliment of joining you in a sojourn through your imaginary world. You must leave that reader contented.

In a fictional work that has any aspirations to merit, that moment of parting is all important. .

You can’t afford to leave that reader dissatisfied. Unless you are writing a series, in those last pages,  you must tie up those loopholes in the plot, that goes without saying. You must resolve your main characters’ dilemma, end that quest, bring down those barriers .
You have to bring about completion as surely as any conveyancing solicitor handing the client those coveted house keys.

And evocation of mood is a great part of it.

In light novels, say a romance pure and simple, you only aim to solve the main characters’ dilemma and bring them together. It is that which gives the reader her (less often his) emotional high. It’s ended nicely, for those protagonists, anyway.

But if you are writing something deeper, that is hardly enough. You want to evoke a more expanded mindset that that. You want that reader to feel almost stunned and emotionally both drained and fulfilled, by first the drama of those concluding chapters, and then to come to a sense of peace.

I’m not, of course, implying that we can hope to come even close, were we to write and rewrite our ending lines several thousand times,  but below are the ending lines to ‘King Lear’.

Cordelia is dead, Edmund’s repentance when he found himself dying after his fight with Edgar wasn’t in time to save her; the once foolish, vain and authoritarian King Lear, who has run mad and been restored to sanity again by that rejected daughter, has himself died of a cracked heart; Goneril has poisoned Regan, and then stabbed herself to death, and ‘My poor Fool is hanged’.

The slaughter is awful. It is given to Edgar (the probable future ruler) to say:

‘The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

It wouldn’t even be a good idea if we could replicate that tragic grandeur. It is probably better for the mental stability of the population that we don’t read several such great works of literature each week. We would become overwrought.

For all that, we must, of course, always try to write the best version of whatever it is that we are writing or we won’t be aiming high enough: we’ll be churning out pot boilers.

There are some writers who have managed to do that and produce something of lasting value – I would argue that Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories achieved that, however light a value he placed on them – but they have not been many.

But if we want to write something of value, then at the conclusion of a story, that feeling of transcendence, that mindset of rising above petty differences, of compassionate awareness of the tragedies in life – of the terrible waste in human misunderstanding, must come through.

When I first finished reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ – a good long time ago, and read the concluding passage:

‘I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fl uttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’

Those evocative words gave me that feeling.

That was as myself in a transcendent mood.

Later, when I came to think about it, having reverted once more my everyday self – I decided that I personally found the ending of the story unsatisfactory because Healthcliff never repents of his evildoing – he explicitly tells Nelly Dean that he has done nothing wrong.

I have learnt since, that Emily Bronte had given much thought to the final destination of the ‘unrepentant man of iron’. Now I would hazard that the ending is not meant to give any definitive indication of what that final account will be, other than at the last, we are all perhaps incorporated into that all encompassing peace.

And, of course, with regard to all the above,  if you are writing a series, then that job is in some ways even harder, as in each stage, you must have an interim ending which gives a partial sense of completion and then finish with the fireworks and the roll of drums and then – that final piece of imaginative empathy.

Well, that is what we must aim for. We can only try.

I’m on to the last 30,000 words in my latest now, building up to the fireworks, which I can only hope don’t prove to be damp squibs, and then I’ve got to pull off those final moments .

Wish me luck.

Writing Resolutions for the New Year: Why Writers Might Take a Look at That Unfinished Manuscript in the Drawer

3f2d6d5a693742ecd2ef850e8192b69eI wonder what people’s writing resolutions for 2017 are?

My personal writing resolution is to finish the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and then, if there is time, to get a novella out which commemorates the St Peter’s Field Massacre of 1818.

I had already written the first third of that sequel in the first six months after publishing ‘Ravensdale’ back in 2014. But then I allowed myself to be distracted by other projects – including the one that ended up as ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’.

I had all sorts of difficulties with that one.  At one point, I had weeks of writer’s block – really dismal – I did a post about that on this blog.

I wrote 50,000 words of a serious version, and 22,000 words of a frivolous version, and I worried over a conflict between the strain of the comic mode of presentation and the tragic back story –but in the end I thought that I had found a way round that – and I hope that readers agree. The result is dark comedy, and perhaps that is the approach that suits me best. Well, there is one chapter which is not comic at all – and that’s the tragic backstory involving a forced abduction.

Anyway, all that took ages to resolve.

the-villainous-viscount-2500x1563-amazon-smashwords-kobo-apple

But back to the present.  Now,  I  resolve not to let anything in the writing line distract me for too long from that sequel – not even the novella I have been musing over these past few months on the St Peter’s Fields, the horrible ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 1818 – though I do want to publish a novella in time to commemorate the bicentenary of that event.

I must admit that getting the B.R.A.G award for ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ did encourage me to get back to working on more of the eponymous scoundrel and Sophie’s adventures (not to mention those of Ravensdale and the one-time-highwaywoman Isabella) – and I’ve been working on it since November.

I hope that a lot of writers are making similar New Year’s resolutions about that Project in Abeyance. There’s so much promising writing, so many projects started out full of hope that end up that way, so it would be good if we all unearthed the good ones.

mrx%2Bnecronomicon

The awful thing is, if it is left too long, that Project In Abeyance threatens to become The Manuscript in the Drawer, and for manuscripts, that’s like being in cast into a dungeon and forgotten.

After all, as I have commented on this blog before, one of my favourite novellas, Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Dubrovsky’ ended up as incomplete because he put it to one side, and never got back to it.

This, one of the first ‘robber novels’ was an attempt to combine genre writing with literary merit.  He hoped to extend the borders of genre fiction  (sound familiar on this blog?)

As such, ‘Dubrovsky’ was a source of inspiration for me to write ‘Ravensdale’, particularly in the comic scenes where the outlaw hero shakes with passion when he disguises himself as a librarian in the house of his true love Isabella, and comes upon his true love.

In the manner of a true late Regency hero, that is exactly what Dubrovsky does when he enters the house of  his own true love, Aurelia, disguised as a humble tutor.

dubrovsky-again

Pushkin, after working steadily on ‘Dubrovsky’ for about 33,000 words in 1832, put it aside – perhaps through problems with the structure and possibly, waning interest after that first rush of enthusiasm – never to return to it.

Unfortunately, the remaining years left to him were few. He was mortally wounded in a duel over his wife only five years later. ‘Dubrovsky’ was only published posthumously in 1842.

That is the problem with laying things aside, though it is unlikely that many writers will be killed in duels in the coming five years. But it is so easy for a writer to adopt the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to what was possibly something really promising, and to be distracted by other projects to the point that s/he or he never returns to it.

dubrovskyI hope that I have made the case for those sad, neglected, lonely Manuscripts in the Drawer being worth a second glance.  Some have been left incarcerated for so long that they may have been stored on the memory of BBC micras (in the UK, that is, or on Smart). They are suffering like the Counts of Monte Christo and their plight should arouse compassion.

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There are, admittedly, if my own early writings are anything to go by, some of these which were abandoned with good reason, which certainly will never deserve to see the light of day again.  There was one of mine, written when I was perhaps thirteen and  clearly inspired by Norah Lofts’ ‘Madselin’ (Marcher Baron, anyone?) that literally made me cringe.

But, if anyone reading this were to take a moment to glance through his or her own manuscripts in a drawer, it might lead to something really worthwhile being hauled out from the dismal company of  (I hope the contents of this drawer of mine was more rebarbative than average) a dead spider, a sweet wrapper, a battered how to booklet on Making Money From Your Writing and a grubby pound coin (was that all the money I managed to accumulate from the said booklet?)

madselin

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone.

That Dreaded Manuscript in Your Drawer: join Jane Austen and Pushkin in having a Manuscript in That Drawer of Doom

Alex2LargeItaliano(2)First of all, I’d like to wish everyone Season’s Greetings.

Then I’d like to thank Robert Wingfield of INCA for designing for me such a wonderful new cover for ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’.  Here it is, above. You can get it on:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FDWD7BY?ref_=pe_2427780_160035660

http:/’www.amazon.com/Alex-Sagers-Demon-Pushkins-Nemesis-ebook/

or

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alex-Sagers-Demon-Pushkins-Nemesis-ebook

I wanted to write a skit for a Christmas post, perhaps something on the lines of ‘Christmas at Castle Dracula’ or even ‘Heathcliff meets Arthur Huntingdon for Christmas cheer at Wuthering Heights’ or  some such,  but what with one thing and another I have run out of time.  Typical bad time management from me.

So instead, I will write about The Dreaded Manuscript in the Drawer.

I was thinking that for me, 2015 was the ‘Manuscript in the Drawer’ year. I put two of ’em in there. One 50,000 words, one 22,000 words. How’s that for wasted effort? And all done first thing in the morning before a cup of tea.

I’ve also got the opening chapters of a dystopia in there.

I’m halfway through writing the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and I have re-written the beginnings of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and of ‘Ravensdale’ and ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’, it’s true, so it hasn’t all been Writers’ Block and Consigning to Drawer of Doom for me. Still, I did write about a third each of two versions of the same Gothic story, and both led to prolonged writer’s block and finally were sucked into that Drawer of Doom, which is too often like a black hole for manuscripts.

Once through that good old event horizon and they are usually fated not to escape; too much heavy matter in there.

There was a purely comic and a darker version, and I think one of my resolutions for 2016 must be to draw one of them out, and bring it to completion.

This must be so common a fate for so many initially promising manuscripts. I’m sure many other authors have that manuscript in the drawer that they intend to get round to drawing out from the dustbin of history (perhaps these days, more take the form of abandoned files on the pc which are never printed out and don’t even get to the Shoved Into A Drawer’ stage. No doubt many are eventually deleted, accidentally on purpose).

It would be interesting if we all were to pull them out of drawers or locate those forsaken files in 2016, and see if we can overcome the problems that led us to abandon them.

I can’t help pleading on behalf of these unfortunate manuscripts, you know; after all, the problems that caused their creator to consign them to limbo may not have been insurmountable. Perhaps it was a case of that famous ‘wrong timing’ (Gets carried away) . Perhaps a little give and take,an acceptance that there were  faults on both sides (and other cliches) might be the best approach to adopt to resolve the conflict, and the best way to a creative solution? (Pulls herself together) What’s the matter with me? I’m talking about words, not people, even if those characters did seem vivid!

I’m always morbidly fascinated by the whole dismal matter of the Drawer of Doom. All  famous classic authors seem to have them; Pushkin relegated that unfinished robber novella ‘Dubrovsky’ to his, so that it was only published after his death, complete with the unabridged and convoluted legal document that comes in the middle.

I think it is a shame he abandoned it, as unlike some harsh critics, I loved it when I read it.  He was attempting to produce a work of literary merit which also had popular appeal, and that’s as laudable an aim as can be for an author; after all, it’s trying to emulate Shakespeare in a way. He wrote plays with an eye to popular success, though he just happened to be a genius.

Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte don’t have any unfinished manuscripts, for the simple reason that they urged their sister Charlotte to destroy their unpublished manuscripts after their deaths.

Jane Austen had three unfinished short novels, ‘Lady Susan’ ‘Sanditon’ and ‘The Watsons’. I am sure I am fairly typical of Jane Austen admirers in that I think that none of them deserved to go into that drawer, or anyway, to stay in it. I was particularly interested in ‘The Watsons’ when I read it, and wondered how the plot and sub plots would have worked out.

I am intrigued about some more deceased prolific authors, who were, shall we say, less perfectionist in their attitude to their work. For instance, Charles Garvice, who wrote 150 romantic novels during his writing career, or Barbara Cartland, who easily beat him with a total of 700 (but she did live until she was nearly ninety compared to his seventy).

Did they have their Manuscripts in the Drawer?

Perhaps, though, the Christmas and New Year round over, 2016 will be the year when through a strange process of synchronicity,writers all about the world will draw out those neglected manuscripts from drawers and open those long neglected files on the pic.  I will certainly try and do something with mine; that’s my writing New Year’s resolution. That, and finishing the sequel to ‘Scoundrel’.

Oh yes, and another one about time management.