I’ve just sent off my eighth manuscript to my agent. I still get nervous about this. Mainly because I never know if what I intended the story to be about will actually come through.
I only use two pieces of writing advice. One is from Virginia Woolf:
“Allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken. Suggested not stated.”
The other is from Nabokov:
“Get the main character up a tree and once they are up there throw rocks at them.”
I think that’s about the only advice I need to know.
The thing is achieving this is subjective. I believe in writing a story, a novel in which something most definitely happens, that will entertain, and this is the backbone. I’m not interested in reading a book which is wonderfully written but if you picked it up and shook it not much story would fall to the floor. I want someone to read a story that compels them to read on, and not in a high-octane thriller way, just the journey of the story. But I also hope that under the story are themes and meanings that readers will discern beyond the story. And that’s where I get nervous. Have I done that? Will anyone get it? What the hell were the sunken themes anyway?
My ambition is that a reader will assume what the book is about and then finish it with a completely different take. The book will have two faces, and hopefully the reader themselves will start the book with one face and finish it with another. That something changed as they read.
If I were to generalise I find that people who read what most of us might consider ‘trashy’ fiction do not like ‘change’ in their real life and they do not like it in their entertainment either. You have met these people. They live in the same town all their lives proudly, travel (if at all) to the same places, work the same job, fear influxes and generations like creeping diseases personally assaulting them. They can be nice or they can be the worst person you ever met. But commonly you’ll find their bookshelves and music/ DVD collections full of good, safe standards. There is nothing wrong with this and maybe I’m the fool for trying to give something else in the experience, foolish because my books do not sell or I should write bestsellers about detectives and maniacs or shout about my books from every platform I can.
The thing is I’m the worst self-promoter. I want to be a writer not a hawker. I do my best but as my nature is resolutely inclined to be selective and quiet, social interaction and media is an anathema to me. The natural state of social media to be upbeat seems often diametric with the writer as a serious entity any more and the PR unable to be anything but exuberant seems more like a child smashing the wrong puzzle piece into place: “Wow! Check out the amazing new thriller by…” And it turns out to be about a serial killer who eats children and wears corpses as hats. I don’t get it.