I decided that I wanted to write a novel around ten years ago while I was at university. I can remember quite vividly popping into the Cardiff branch of W.H. Smiths with a fresh face (or possibly a hangover) to buy some sort of fancy writing pad into which I could pour some of my ideas. If I’d known I would still not be quite finished almost a decade later, I’m not sure to this day how I would have proceeded. But thankfully, perhaps in part to the rather swish suede portfolio case I emerged with at the time, I now have a finished novel. It has been through six drafts so far and if I look back to the first one, the change and development is quite dramatic but I can honestly say it has been one of the most enjoyable and challenging things I have ever done.
The phrase goes that everyone has a novel in them and these words certainly echoed in my mind around the time I decided to give it a go. Strangely, the words of Karl Pilkington had a small part to play as well. For those not aware of him, he was the radio producer for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant who gained fame himself in a series of podcasts the three of them put out and that I listened to avidly when I could. He was described regularly as ‘a little bald-headed buffoon’ quite often by Gervais, though deep within his ramblings I managed to find a spark of inspiration. Rather embarrassingly this involved the idea that people’s minds could be transferred from body to body, thereby involving incredibly long life. Thankfully this aspect is completely absent from my story – it is not a science fiction novel – but it did help shape my own ideas and themes in the development of things to come.
As a side note, Karl missed a trick as his idea about transferring minds into new bodies has been used since in at least one TV series that I can think of. There are probably more.
So there I was with a seed of an idea. The trouble was, I had a degree to finish and the small obstacle of the wider world beyond this. I started work immediately and throughout, I had my sites now firmly fixed upon writing this novel at some point or another. Two years later, the time came for me to take a year out of work and this is where I put most of it down on paper (or actually on a hard drive). By this time, I had accumulated a lot of notes and ideas about the story; how it would end and the themes I was trying to convey. The fact it was on the back burner for such a long time may have been a blessing in disguise as all the little notes and musings I would jot down helped give the story a depth that it may not have done if I had gone straight into it.
Fast forward a year and I can remember the day I sat back having typed the last words of the first draft and feeling an immense sense of achievement. Writing a novel is a solitary task, and I was sat amongst strangers in a quiet pub at the time so couldn’t really jump up and down in celebration. As it happened I didn’t really want to. Rather than make a scene, I was content to sit back with a new found sense of calm and reflected on the time and thought that had gone into what I had just written. I also ordered myself a pint of beer.
Little did I know then that it would be another 4 years or so before I would be at a stage where I was happy to share it with a wider circle. And sharing something like that is actually far more nerve wracking than I had anticipated it to be. A novel is quite a personal thing and I confess I felt quite exposed when I first let other people read any of it. Was it actually any good? Would people think I was mad?etc…
Thankfully I received some vital and much appreciated feedback from certain individuals who know who they are and it is because of this that the project has survived to this point. The subsequent drafts were done in a more disjointed fashion, fitted around work when I could and there have been at least 2 occasions where I have declared to all that it is done and finished. It’s the sort of thing one could work on forever, constantly tweaking and altering so it is just right in my mind. The danger here is that, in altering it too much, one loses the essence of the novel itself. Something that was initially quite readable could potentially become unreadable in the blink of an eye and this is something I am wary of.
Now on its sixth draft, I have cautiously begun to send it to a select group for the first time, to see what happens and to discover whether it has legs in its current form. Yes there are aspects that I could and definitely will improve and now that this process is up and running, I thought it would be interesting to share my experience along the way. Having recently popped along to the London Book Fair, I discovered how many aspiring writers there are out there, and moreover the friendly atmosphere that this community seems to generate.
It dawned on me that perhaps opening myself up into this community might, in the first instance, help me find new insights into all the different avenues of writing and perhaps even make some new friends along the way!