The online fiction serial I began writing at the start of the year has become a book.
From the start, I’d hoped the pieces would, at some point, have another life. And then, at a Byte the Book networking evening, I was introduced to Jon Watt, the UK Country Manager for Type and Tell – originally a Swedish self-publishing platform established by the Bonnier Publishing Group.
In the lead-up to the UK launch, Jon was looking for testers for the site and we subsequently met up and discussed how I might be involved. Jon was looking for books of different lengths to explore possibilities with price points and extents, both of which are factors for any publisher, indie or traditional. Jon recommend a length of about 20,000 words, achieving an extent of just under 100 pages.
I realised that 20,000 words is an ideal length for me. Each of the four parts in my first book Ready to Love approaches that word count. It was once I’d abandoned the idea of traditional chapters – a major decision at the time – that the novel came to life. So I was very pleased to be working at that length again.
Jon and I saw that the episodes I was writing for London Faces could form the basis of a book. The serial follows the day to day lives of four Londoners who are linked by work and love and living in the capital. I wrote them in ‘real time’, as it were – including events as they unfolded. Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday, World Book Day, the London Marathon – they were markers of time by which my characters could measure the progression of their lives. Unforeseen events intervened, too, like the protests at the start of the year, storm Doris and the Westminster attack. No Londoner was unaffected, neither could my characters escape.
Ten posts appeared online. I edited a lot prior to them being posted, and they were edited by Nina at the Londnr, but it was a fresh pleasure to be able to rework them for the new book. I could expand several pieces as new ideas occurred to me, and decided to write five brand new scenes, taking each of my four characters a step further.
And then the fun began.
Each episode was shaped to fit itself, then reshaped to fit the book. Connections I hadn’t seen between pieces meant that their order was swapped. New incidents crept in and overtook other as defining moments. One character came to a major realisation a lot faster than before. At the last minute, I pulled one piece and wrote another to take its place. I let one character have the last word then decided that privilege ought to be transferred to another.
I wanted to make it clear in the title that these were episodes (which is a form of writing I really enjoyed and used in Ready to Love). However, Jon Watt described the project as a novella and as the book came together I saw I was heading towards a natural conclusion. It made me think that perhaps I wouldn’t continue to write about these characters as I’d intended to, because I knew they were safely on their way to moving to the next stage of their lives.
And real events in London have got a lot grimmer since I finished writing. They need to be recorded but not by me, not this way, at this time. Although I might feel differently at a different time. Just as I would have made different decisions about the shape of the book if the target length had been 50,000 words or 80,000 words.
I’m reminded, yet again, that every creative project is the culmination of a series of decisions. When I help authors edit and shape their work, my first question is always, ‘What do you want to do?’ Sometimes it’s a question of, ‘What do you need to do?’ – bearing in mind that requirements can come from all sorts of places. As Ann Patchett says in her essay, What Now?
You have to write the story you find in the circumstances you’ve created.
My circumstances were my four characters, in their city, London, from February to April 2017 (set by me), within 20,000 words (set by Jon).
And I’ve loved the restrictions of the project and the experience of paring away, of being economical within each piece and within the book itself. But now I’m itching to plunge into my next full-length novel – bearing in mind all I’ve learned in the past year from reading, talking and writing (a lot of which is explored on this blog) – in an entirely new set of circumstances of my creation.