This is the story of how I wrote my first novel…
Last summer I spotted a Facebook post announcing The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2016. The prize was a £10,000 publishing deal.
“Nice,” I said to myself, “but I don’t think I’m ready.”
Three months later, I saw the same post and I thought about my unfinished novel.
“I’d love to enter,” I mused. “Maybe next year…”
A few more weeks passed, and I couldn’t get the competition out of my head. I was 47. I had wanted to be an author since primary school. I had an epiphany: if I didn’t actually plonk my arse down and physically write my novel, it would never happen. (Obvious, I know, but I had somehow managed to kid myself that a masterpiece would magically appear without me having to actually do any writing.)
“Alright!” I said, “I’ll do it!”
I committed to finishing my novel and entering the competition. I had nine weeks. (I have a penchant for ridiculous deadlines.)
So I started writing.
First I spread my notes all over the lounge floor…
Then I sketched out a rough plot…
Then I started writing.
You should know that up to now, working on my novel for an hour or two at a time was a bona fide miracle (I am an expert procrastinator and can undermine my own confidence in a matter of milliseconds).
But with the deadline of December 18th looming, I realised an hour or two here and there wasn’t going to cut it. So I started writing. A lot. Day after day after day.
This took some of the fun out of it – like having to have sex when you’re trying for a baby instead of dangling from a chandelier because you feel like it. (By the way, I’m guessing this; I have personally done neither.)
I also hit another problem. I had previously written 20,000 words of my middle grade novel. “Great!” I thought, “just 15,000 words to go and I’ll have finished the book.”
I soon realised that the 20,000 words I had written previously were in fact…. crap. Roughly 5000 words were usable.
There was also the tiny issue of a plot. I had my main characters and I knew roughly how I wanted things to start and end, but I had no idea what happened in between (i.e. most of the book was a blank).
My confidence started to falter.
Dark thoughts entered my brain. Why, oh why, did I tell everyone that I was going to enter the competition? (Oh yes, I know why; so I wouldn’t be able to renege on my promise to myself; so I would be forced to see this through to the bitter end, even if it killed me… which it very nearly did.)
So the weeks passed.
My scribbled plot morphed into Post-It notes stuck to a piece of card…
I spent hours staring at the computer screen. My bum was numb. My eyes were googly. My
brain was frazzled.
I’m pretty sure I had fun. There were moments of excitement (“Yippee, I’m writing a novel!”), and moments of exhilaration when plotlines magically came together (“Wow, how did my brain know I needed that to happen back there in order for this to happen here? Spooky!”).
But a lot of it is a blur. And a lot of it was Very Hard Work.
Finally, it was the final week and the deadline was in sight!
I had worked out the exact number of chapters I needed to write each day in order to meet the deadline of midnight on Sunday 18th. I was on track. I was going to do this! And then… disaster!
I am never ill.
Let me repeat. I AM NEVER ILL. I can be surrounded by a crowd of coughing, sneezing people and I will feel a trifle tired and then bounce back.
However, four days before the deadline, I woke in the middle of the night feeling sick.
Then I threw up. Several times.
The next day was a complete write-off. I sat at the computer and tried to type but I broke out in a cold sweat and felt so rubbish, I was forced to retire to the sofa.
It was a similar story the next day.
End result: I had two days to write what I had planned to write in four. Marvellous!
Fast forward to the final day.
I started writing at 6 am and typed my final word at 11.40 pm.
I had one break – an hour long walk by the water to clear my mind (hah!).
By the evening, I could hardly string a sentence together. This was, of course, brilliant as I was writing the crucial last chapter. The thrilling climax! (Note: it wasn’t very thrilling. I am so embarrassed by the standard of my writing at this point that I still haven’t read that last chapter. I don’t think my self-esteem can take it.)
To cut a long story short, I uploaded my manuscript and entered the competition 20 minutes before the midnight deadline.
I had planned a nice meal and a glass of celebratory champagne, but I was so knackered and it was so late that all I managed in the end was a sigh of relief… and then I went to bed.
Chicken House will announce a longlist in March, a shortlist in April-May, and the winner of the competition in May-June.
I’m pretty sure I won’t be on any of those lists.
I’m not being negative; my novel was a first draft written in nine frazzled weeks. It needs serious work. But that’s OK. The main thing is, I blooming did it!
I finally achieved a lifelong dream and wrote my first novel! I can’t tell you how good that feels :-)