I believe I have mentioned my bruising editorial review of The White Lady? It took me nearly three weeks to pluck up courage to read the review properly (my initial reading was a watching-from-behind-the-sofa sort of affair in which I got only glimpses of the scary bits before hiding again) after which I identified Nine Gifts that the report has given me as a writer. (Nine is a nice number, don’t you think? Ten seems a bit cold and decimal.) I initially shared this list with a couple of writing buddies and today decided to post it to this blog as a personal aide-memoire, a confidence booster, and a template for action.
Today I also added a new ‘category’ to Mountain Hares. (A category is a label that one can use for sorting and searching these posts: Inspiration, Research and so on). My new category is Becoming a Writer. I added this category because I believe this episode – dealing with tough feedback, drawing out lessons, engaging with other writers, drawing on the support of others – marks a crucial step in this process.
Here are the Nine Gifts:
1. A reality check. An opportunity to stop me making a t**t of myself in public and a second chance to write something less over-heated and self-indulgent.
2. Validation of my instinct. I knew that something was not quite right with certain aspects of the book – and I was right. Incidentally, many of her points (including identifying favourite characters Johnny, Jess and Robert!) were also made collectively by my beta readers. That alone is a salutary lesson.
3. Permission to be more flexible. A timely nudge to let the mental discipline slip and send my story into free-fall. An excuse to stop worrying about self-imposed deadlines and instead take time to write the best I possibly can.
4. Confidence. Here are some quotes: “This is a colourful, well-researched piece … you have a captivating writing style: intelligent, fluid, imaginative, and enticing. Your descriptions of nature and landscape are lyrical. Tiny moments are captured with precision, perception and poetry (the pigeons, the prisoners’ mismatched shoes, the death of the countess). This absorbing tale has the potential to attract interested editors and loyal readers … (you have) shedloads of talent and ideas.”
5. Clarity. My readers told me I had “two books” in one here! The editor said my narrative contained two “ambitious themes” and suggested I choose one. My own interests incline me away from the suffrage movement towards the war as my theme. This is an important decision.
6. Game-changing advice on style. My sparse, understated style of writing did my characters no favours. A telling quote: “There are times when you fall into the opposite trap of most amateur writers in that you show us plenty, but don’t tell us enough. Don’t assume your readers’ knowledge” – or their understanding. My reading in the weeks since receiving this report has also opened my eyes to this shortcoming.
7. Advice on pace. “You have space in a full-length novel to spin a luxuriant tapestry, so slow down, explore, analyse, delve into your themes and relationships so that we can inhabit your narrative; understand what motivates characters and catapults lovers into bed.” Oh, and too many flashbacks are “unsettling”.
8. Advice on romance and sex scenes. Another quote: “You have a lovely and sensuous touch but more charm and connection need to be established … your sex scenes are wonderful and work brilliantly in their place. However, sex is not a substitute for conversations, arguments, doubts, endearments, looks, touches…”
9. Inspiration. The editor spoke of creating “a broader, deeper sweep of background (to) provide a thorough, intelligent context” and suggested I treat the War as “another character”. I need to think about both these things. She also said something very interesting about Charlotte: “If Charlotte is a complex mixture of the respectable and the wanton, the brave yet also the naughty, this fascinating paradox requires subtle development. Her enigmatic stillness interspersed with bursts of lust must make sense, rather than taking the reader aback.”