For me, one interesting aspect of writing novels is how my relationship with the story alters. From conception to planning, through creation, (including fact-checking), and on to completion—followed by multiple read-throughs as I edit—the manuscript shifts shape. My responses to it alter too, though they are for the most part benign.
It starts with the germ of an idea vaporous suppositions about what would happen if…?
My latest Cornish Detective novel was sparked by contemplating the importance placed on possessions over relationships, how success was judged by what someone owned, rather than what they did for others. Seeing the crazy prices that art fetches at auction made me wonder what an art lover would do to get his hands on a painting, and how far he’d go to protect his collection. Immensely valuable items get stolen, so organised crime gangs enter the picture, with paintings being used as collateral to ensure dodgy deals go through. Cornwall is famed for its art scene, and there have been some dubious sales involving forgery brought to court in recent years, so I had the ideal backdrop for my story.
Creating a story goes through several stages, which feel like this to me:
Stage 1: Beachcombing.
Head down, concentrating on ideas that have washed up, I decide which ones to use.
Stage 2: Jungle Gym
There are many ways I can write my tale, but I need to bear in mind how the route I take will affect my readers. I make them work to understand what’s happening with the investigation, but there are a few whoopee slides to take them by surprise.
Stage 3: Woodworking
Having constructed my story, I need to tidy it by editing, in the same way as a carpenter planes and sandpapers furniture, before applying varnish in a final polish.
Stage 4: Ennui (Happy-Sad)
As tightly edited as I can make my manuscript, I always experience a feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction from having completed a project. I’m kind of proud to have written a novel, but go through the literary equivalent of that conundrum “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” which goes “If a book is written but no one has read it, does it really exist?”
Stage 5: Leave home!
Finally, I feel like I’ve created a troupe of five innocent little dancers, in writing five Cornish Detective novels, who’ve yet to show off their moves in the big, bad and critical world of publishing. They dance well together, but will anyone like their act? How do I sell my babies? What will happen to them?
How do you see your book?
What sort of thing is it?
Does it haunt you?