You have had one of your brilliant ideas for a novel. It is shaking you by the tail and won’t let go. You’re excited, energised.
‘But is it commercial?’ you ask yourself. ‘Is it what agents and editors are looking for at the moment? Can you imagine the marketing? There are plenty of soul-searching questions you can ask before you commit yourself to tens of thousands of words.
Don’t go there. Markets move fast. Faster than you can write. Faster than your finished novel can be produced. Publishing is one of the most unpredictable of the creative industries. If you’re beginning to wish you could paint well instead, consider my own story and what it has to say about writing the book you want to write – or read, because you’ll be doing just that, over and over again as you edit and polish.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked about my novel, Perception, is why I chose to write a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. While it is tempting to say, ‘because I am mad’, or something far wittier, I usually plump for the truth. I simply had to write the story.
The great writers I read as a child or teen fired my desire to write. They are responsible for endless scribbled pages cobbled together with string. Jane Austen stood tall among those titans. Pride & Prejudice was my favourite among her novels. What impressionable young lady wouldn’t be fascinated by Mr Darcy?
I had recently returned to the UK from living in Switzerland and came across a short story competition run by Chawton House library – home of Jane Austen’s brother. The brief was simple. Write about any character from Jane Austen’s novels. The deadline was too near to write a story, but I was intrigued and wondered who would be a good character to write about. I decided it would have to be a negative character with the ability to grow or change. Mary Bennet sprang to mind.
The more I thought about her, the more excited I became. Mary was just a young girl when her sisters married. A plain, misfit middle child with a yen to gain attention that manifested in all the wrong ways. She was clearly bright, with her fondness for books and application at the pianoforte. I had idly wondered in the past about the fate of Mary and her sister, Kitty. They were chalk and cheese, thrown together at Longbourn with limited prospects and only Mr and Mrs Bennet for company after their sisters married. How must they have felt? Kitty would have been bereft at the loss of her dominant younger sister, Lydia.
Mary’s story came to me in one of those flashes of perfect inspiration. I began to write with no thought other than to get her story down. The word count began to grow beyond anything I had attempted before and I had barely scratched the surface. Kitty came into the story slowly. She became increasingly important and I realised that she must have her own story arc. Kitty’s still quite skittish character determined her own story. These two young girls were becoming young women, maturing and enduring heartbreak as every generation does. Their stories intertwined quite naturally. Seeing them begin to understand one another better and to deal with their parents was a joy.
The key point is that I didn’t trouble myself with questions of suitability or saleability. The writing flowed and my task was to allow that to happen. My only rule was to make sure that the story kept moving forward. As a former copywriter, the habit of hard pruning is ingrained in my writing. The only sensible course seemed to be never to go back more than a page or two to get myself back into the story and to trust to any form of serious editing later. The technique worked so well and the writing so free, that the three novelists in my small writing group began to joke that I was channelling Jane. They also insisted that the work I thought might have the legs to become a novella was unquestionably a novel. By allowing myself the freedom to write without constraint, the almost abandoned ambition of writing a novel had actually happened.
While polishing Perception’s first draft I allowed in some of the usual ‘is it good enough’ worries, but there’s not much point leaving your chicks in the nest in case they cannot fly. All the usual things that happen to a debut novel took place. The set-back, the wonderful piece of good luck, landing an agent, fretting through the submission process, the euphoria of signing with a publisher and the discovery of what a fantastic bunch of passionate professionals people the publishing industry. I loved every minute of the process to publication. There was one more lurking fear cluttering up the wee small hours. How would the public take to someone writing a sequel to one of history’s favourite novels? I needn’t have worried. Thus far Perception has had a swag of five star reviews.
You have had one of your brilliant ideas for a novel. It’s shaking you by the tail and won’t let go. You’re excited, energised. Go on, write it!
It is an opinion widely held, that a young lady lacking prospects must dream of defying expectations.
Mary Bennet does not dream of marriage, unlike her younger sister, Kitty, whose ambitions are to follow in the footsteps of their older sisters, Jane and Lizzy.
Mary’s hopes are simple – a roof over her head, music at the pianoforte, a book in her hand and the freedom not to marry the first bachelor her mother can snare for her.
Mrs Bennet has other ideas and is determined to hear wedding bells for her girls. When a wealthy young man returns to his home near Meryton, Mrs Bennet is in her element.
Kitty is presented with tempting choices which could govern her future, whilst trying to resist old habits.
Mary discovers that things are not always as they seem and that happiness has a price. But by the time she realises that her perceptions might be false, could she have missed her chance at a future she had never imagined?
Terri Fleming was born on the island of Tasmania, Australia. An avid reader, she determined to become a writer at a young age. Copywriting in all media for a series of international advertising agencies started her off on travels around the globe and proved the perfect grounding for learning to edit and work collaboratively. After arriving in England rather broke from her travels, Terri moved on to a variety of other people related jobs, which provide great fodder for the frailties of human nature. Writing and travel make great partners and continue to inspire her activities.
Follow her on Twitter @TerriFlemingpen
Find our more about her on her website https://www.terrifleming.com/