Saturday 8 January 2011

The Novelist's Eye

In my last post I spoke about research and the importance of it to me as a writer. But what I failed to highlight was knowing when to stop. It is too easy to keep researching and avoid writing using the excuse 'I must just find out...' As with all writing it is fine art working out when to stop. Nicola Morgan has written a brilliant post on this in her blog Help! I need a Publisher which I would recommend a visit to.

Coming back from London yesterday I used the train journey to dip once again into Edmund de Waal's THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES which I have been reading and enjoying since before Christmas. As I was reading it yesterday De Waal used the term 'with a novelist's eye' and that started me thinking - as writers do we look at the world through a novelist's eye? I wondered what it was. I don't think it can just be someone who is more observant as that can't be confined to writers. So it has to be more than that.

To try and answer this I started to think about my own writing processes and where I get ideas from. I have several notebooks full of short sentences, single words or even paragraph long observations. These are things that have suddenly appeared and sparked an idea which needs to be noted. These can be anything from the colours of a particularly rich sunset to the feelings felt at a certain moment. This is the reason why I carry a notebook with me the whole time and tell my students to do the same. Inspiration can appear at the most inconvenient moments. What I mean by this is not just when you are in the bath or driving but at other totally inappropriate moments. For example I know that on several occasions which have been traumatic or particularly emotional there is this voice in my head that is saying 'remember this it could be useful.' Sometimes I am quite embarrassed by the unfortunate timing of this voice. Luckily for me no one else hears it.

I think that it is not just a novelist's eye, I would suggest that it is all five senses that the novelist uses to enrich and enhance their writing. Every part of our lives past and present may be the source of texture in our writing. It brings it alive. However, I do like the term 'the novelist eye' and it is one I will use to describe that voice in my head as it says 'look at that,' 'remember that feeling,' 'what does that smell like,' 'did you hear that,' etc

So may your 'novelist's eye' bring you lots of inspirations and notebooks full of ideas that lead to wonderfully rich narratives.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Rewrites and research

Well I have been busily working away at my rewrites thanks, as detailed previously, to the kick-start ideas that were sent to me. It has been going relatively well as I cut numerous chapters and wrote new ones to replace them. It was during this process that I became aware (again) quite how important research is. I always maintain, and tell my students, that research is important for adding depth to your story. It allows you to ensure that your voice is authentic...or as authentic as it can be bearing in mind it is being written from a teenager's perspective by a woman who should know better and is definitely not a teenager.

Doing these rewrites has meant I have had to remember what I saw when I went to Normandy at the end of June. Now I am the first to admit my memory is not always the greatest. Luckily I did the sensible thing. I took masses of photos and filled a notebook with details of what I saw, smelt, felt, heard and ate. The majority of which will not end up in the novel but are there as an aide memoire. For example, in one of the new chapters two of the characters are walking towards the cathedral in Caen. It is a large gothic building with looming spires. But I wanted to focus on the detail. I remembered there was something about the gargoyles that had intrigued me and was maybe something that could tie into the novel. I went back through my photos and there it was a picture of said gargoyles which are not gargoyles at all but are almost dog like (see photo above). If I hadn't taken the time to take all those photos these sort of details would have been lost and the novel would have been the worse for it. Not because they are vital but because research can add such depth and vitality to a manuscript.

I also do a lot of research via the Internet. It is a wonderful resource - as long as you check the credibility of the site. Over the bank holiday weekend I twice found myself in a situation where I needed information. The University library wouldn't be open and despite the numerous books I have none of them could supply the information I required. So I turned to the old friend 'Google'. You ask it a question and it comes back with a variety of pages that can solve your problem. I was able to pick up the single word 'sawback' which I could use when describing a knife. It gave the impression of violence and potential damage that I wanted to create. Then I was able to find the lyrics of Muslim lullaby part of which I could include. I wouldn't have known where to start with that if it wasn't for Google. And I have to say, their translation application is vital for someone who managed to get U in her French O'level despite being in the top set...

What am I saying? I suppose I am suggesting that you keep all your notes, pictures and ideas as you never know when they might be useful again. Just remember all research is like disposable writing (disposable writing I see as characterisation, creating a sense of place etc that you write so you know your characters and where they are inside out) it is there to add that touch of actuality to your piece. That sense that the reader can 'suspend disbelief' (S Coleridge) and can be sucked into the world that you, the author, has created.

So as opposed to location, location location...I would like to suggest research, research, research...