It’s hard to describe the emotional impact of publication on a writer. To me, knowing that readers were investing their precious time in ‘The White Cuckoo’ made me feel anxious and elated all at the same time. I hoped they would feel my novel was good value for the money they had invested, although my motivation for writing has never been to make money from it.
Last Thursday night, I was lucky enough to meet a group of my readers – the lovely ladies of a Kettering Book Group – Adelle, Linda, Janine, Cheryl and Ann-Marie. They had asked me along to their meeting, having chosen ‘The White Cuckoo’ to read over Christmas.
I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I think the most startling revelation was that the group talked about my characters in great detail as if they were real. I had always thought only writers did this, but I was clearly wrong. Readers are incredibly discerning and writers shouldn’t ever under-estimate their capacity to tease out the tiniest details about characters. I was so glad I had been obsessive about less-significant character attributes and made sure I cross-referenced everything throughout the novel.
When I read a book, I tend to read it for pleasure first and then go through it again, sometimes adding some notes in the margins about technical details. There are endless ways of constructing a novel – for that is what we do, as writers. We construct. Our novels are like buildings – they can be tin huts, magnificent cathedrals or miracles of modern architecture. They can be badly constructed by cowboy builders or built with the dedication and care of a master craftsman. They can be thrown together in a matter of weeks or rise gracefully from the ground, taking years before the final topping-out.
I never really knew if readers analysed books in this way, too. I know from talking to other writers that we all tend to deconstruct the books we read to some degree. I think I learned last night that readers do it subconsciously, and if I have learned one thing from the evening it’s the importance of writing well – not just creatively, but technically, too.
The group were fascinated to learn about back-story, avoiding head-hopping and creating minor characters without ever putting the reader inside the character’s head. They wanted to know where I got my ideas from, and I used the example of a short story I have just written, which was inspired by a wind turbine that never seemed to be working at Burton Wold Wind Farm. (‘Melody, Unchained’ was submitted to My Weekly just before Christmas, but I suppose it will be months before I hear whether or not it has been accepted for publication.)
I didn’t know how much I knew about writing until I started talking about it. Then I found I just couldn’t stop. All those writing books I read five years ago, the two writers’ holidays at Caerleon, the excellent advice in Morgen Bailey’s writing tips and on Sally Quilford’s blog – it had all been carefully stored away in the folds of my brain. Several times I felt I was talking too much, but the ladies were eager for all these tiny details and asked loads of questions.
Earlier in the day I had asked other authors in Morgen Bailey’s Novel Writing Group on Facebook if they could give me any advice about their own experiences and people took the time to give me some pointers, preparation-wise.
I was glad I’d taken that advice and had a quick skim through my novel before the meeting, Familiarising myself with the plot, sub-plots and structure was helpful when I was asked about how I came up with ideas and plotted everything before starting to write the novel.
The group were interested to hear how I use mind-mapping to plan a novel or story. Also they wanted me to give a general synopsis of my other books, especially the trilogy.
Last Thursday was, I think, one of my highlights of 2013. I loved talking to my readers and I feel I have made new friends, both in real life and in the authors who took the time and trouble to give me advice through Morgen’s novel-writing facebook page.
It has been a difficult journey to publication of ‘The White Cuckoo’. There is almost enough material for a novel in itself, which I shall never write about publicly, but anyone who knows me is fully aware of. Last night, it stood squarely on its own feet before skipping and hopping out of the door, its feathers pure and clean as it flew off into the cold, still air.