One of the more mature projects I’ve been working on is my novel Breathe. I’ve been working on it on and off more maybe five or six years, and only really applied myself to it in the last three. In 2006, instead of working on my PhD thesis, I took a gamble and wrote the first few chapters so I could enter a competition held by the ACT Writers Centre. The prize was to work with a mentor on my novel, for twenty hours or so. To my amazement, I won it! My mentor is John Clanchy and we’ve since formed a great mateship that has long outlast the 20 hours I had won. He reads my work and offers comments. We often catch up for a beer and just chat about everything.
I bring this all up now because I’m going on a writing retreat soon. I typically blog a bit whilst on retreat, but only on fiction writing. I tend to have a mental shift and become a lot more arty. Apparently my vocabulary and sentence structure improves markedly. So you know what you’re getting into if you’re a regular reader.
I have a summary of the novel that I like (stolen from the webpage):
Charlotte Leverett is fresh out of university. Life, although aimless, is good. She loves her boyfriend Tyson and rocks out with her brazen but brilliant best friend Maggie. The world is her oyster, as soon as she finishes the requisite parade of graduation parties. She is unsure where she wants to go, but she doesn’t mind taking her time, revelling in her new freedom. She takes up a job at the local library to pay the rent and delay the full transition to “the Real World”. Her mother harrasses her about her future, but Charlotte feels she can handle her through stubborn disregard.
But when the ten-year anniversary of her father’s suicide coincides with a catastrophic upheaval of her social circle, Charlotte finds herself slipping towards a dark fate. But the world isn’t done with her yet: she meets an enigmatic young man recently made infamous by his news cameo on the bushfires ravaging the countryside. This young man helps Charlotte by opening her eyes to a greater wisdom. But when she begins to make sense of her life, the old issues return to test her newfound philosophy.
It’s a character-driven piece. It’s fairly realistic and there’s no terrorists, alien invasions or anything like that. I’m trying to use tricks from mystery novels to help create a reading momentum, but without requiring spooky occurrences or vast conspiracies. John has mentioned that it seems to tackle a phase of life that has been fairly unexamined thus far. It’s like a Bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) but doesn’t match with some technical requirements of the genre, and it comes with a bit of a focus skew. I’ve had the entire story mapped out in my head for quite a while, but I’m only two-thirds of the way through putting pen to paper (so to speak). For those who like statistics it’s 64,000 words and 116 A4 pages so far. A standard novel is anywhere in the ballpark of 80,000-100,000 words and of course page count depends on a billion little things.
I’m currently up to a bit that has had me caught for about a year. The previous scene is pretty powerful and I need to take the energy down a lot, yet deal with the consequences of the previous chapter. Also in the back of mind is the upcoming (figurative) sledgehammer scene that I have to maneuver all the characters towards. I’ve been brainstorming lately and I think that I’ll be able to take a step over that writer’s block when I go on my retreat. Then ooh boy, it’ll get interesting.
I have a few readers who have been giving me feedback and interpretations. The obvious one is John, who gives me insight into the writing craft. One is my girlfriend, and another is a friend (who is a girl). They help me keep the voice authentic (I’m taking a gamble with a first-person female protagonist). Both girls will probably send violence my way if I don’t give them a huge wodge of Breathe to read soon.
I’m excited about having the time and space to dip back into the writing world again. Work tends to get me in a technical mood, which might explain my other blog posts on maths and AI. Letting that side of my brain have a rest is a welcome relief. I might end up a bit spacey for a few days afterwards, but it’s so worth it. So take this as a heads-up and maybe something to look forward to