Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lost for Words

When people find out that I am writing a novel (I suppose I can now say ‘have written’, since I finished the latest draft at the weekend) the first question they normally ask me is the most obvious one – what is it about?

When I say it’s the most obvious question, it’s not a criticism of the person asking, but rather as one of me, because for reasons unknown, it’s a question I just can’t seem to answer.

It’s not that I don’t know the answer.  Of course I know what the book is about – I wrote it!  So why, then, does this question unfailingly produce little more than flaming cheeks and confused mumbles?

I’d like to think that it’s simply a case that I’m better at telling the story on the page than I am in person.  Is that in itself a bad sign?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s just that I find it difficult to condense what to me seems like a complex and layered story into a few conversational snippets. 

The book – which has been tentatively titled Afterlife – tells the story of twenty-something writer Amelia Morgan.  Her life has had the same ups and downs as most people – raised in a single parent family, estranged from her troubled but beloved brother, forced to share a home with her shrewish, newly-divorced sister – but she is content leading a largely uneventful, carefree life in her home town of Hayden.  That life is shattered by the brutal murder of someone close to her, but it’s only the start of the nightmare.  The confession of someone even closer set off a devastating chain of events, and Amelia finds that nothing – and no one – is what it seems.  As her home life descends into bitter recriminations and violence, and her oldest friends abandon her, Amelia must fight for her life, and retribution for the life that was lost. 

That wasn’t so hard, was it?  Why is it that it’s easier to write than to say?

Perhaps part of it is fear of feedback.  I’m facing that particular fear this week as a draft of the novel is currently with my first semi-impartial reader.  I had that moment of panic before handing it over, thinking that it might be best that if the story stays with me, but then what’s the point?  Happily that fear seems to have been momentary. 

I also came across an interesting exercise on Write to Done, where writers were invited to post details of their work and have other posters comment on it.  I loved this exercise and the way it was set up to encourage constructive feedback.  It’s also given me a lot to think about in terms of the direction I want to take with my writing.

So if it’s not the fear of feedback then what?  Why do I find it so hard to talk about what I’m writing?  The truth is it could be all of the reasons above, or none of them.  Maybe it’s just that writing is something I love, and it feels like mine.  It can be scary to share it sometimes. 

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