Awakening old friends

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There they are, waiting for me, a young woman and her mother.  The daughter stands at the edge of the causeway, waiting to cross.  The mother is at the edge of the island, greeting the dawn.  They don’t see each other, because they’re suspended at different points in time, in different parts of the story.  They’ve already met once more after years apart and played out their story to its conclusion.  But now they must meet again, live out the story in a slightly different way.  And perhaps it will end in the same way, perhaps not…

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They are two of the characters in my head, old friends I have written about and left to themselves.  I thought their story was finished, but I was wrong.  I’ve lived with them, Bethan and Alice, since I was little more than a teenager, starting out on my own journey.  They came to life in the book I’ve worked on for half my life and which is still the most precious to me.  Re-entering this world is like re-visiting a place you have loved and thrived in.  It wraps itself around me like a comforter, welcoming me back.  I know the characters as though they’re part of me.  Familiar phrases hail me, like the greetings of old friends.  I know everything that happens in this world.

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It was on this book that I had my first independent feedback.  When I read the positive words said about it, I couldn’t help feeling emotional.  After so many years of writing, to have someone say it had been worth it was amazing.   There were changes that needed to be made but I was happy to get started.  Then, life overtook writing and the book sat dormant for four years when my words left me.   This year was to be the year I finally finished it.  But, I’ve procrastinated and been reluctant to go back there.  I’ve loved the process, the discipline and the buzz of creating something new each week for this blog, but all the while, I’ve known that the book was waiting, neglected.

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And why?  I adore the world of the novel.  The setting is a fictionalised version of one of my favourite places in the real world and I could quite happily spend my time there.  But how to change it?  The amendments I wanted to make seemed daunting.  I’d told the story already – how could I then change it after so long?  I think I procrastinated because I couldn’t come to terms with the effort it would take to do it.  I knew it wasn’t quite right as it was, but getting it right seemed too difficult.

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So I did what I often do when I don’t know where to go with a story.  I ruminated about it on buses, I wrote other things, I painted and I suppose I knew that eventually, I’d be ready to return.  And so I’ve begun.  Mapping out chapters all over again, creating new slices of history for the characters, re-reading, cutting, re-writing.  All hard work and little creativity.  But now, I have the scaffolding.  I know roughly where I’m going, so I can begin to write new words.  I don’t know where they’ll take me, but I’m sure the journey will be interesting.

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How difficult do you find it to re-visit older work and make radical changes?  Do you jump straight in or do you procrastinate?

13 thoughts on “Awakening old friends

  1. Well done for deciding to delve back in – it sounds worth it. I’ve just sent my children’s fantasy off for a critique – I’m fingers bitingly nervous. I’ll let you know how it goes, but don’t expect it back for 6 weeks or so. Like yours, the setting of mine is a fictionalised version of a place very familiar and so I have loved being immersed within it. Now, I’m going to leave it and work on freelancing until I find out if it has any legs! Good luck with yours x

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  2. In many ways, you’ve described my feelings about the novel I’ve shelved. The changes needed to make it resonate with readers beyond me are, as you say, daunting. And just now, I can’t face them. So I try to work on other projects and become a better writer. Maybe then I’ll be able to do justice to that first story. But I’m also trying to prepare for the possibility that the book will never find an audience beyond me.

    Best wishes for you and the characters as you revisit their story!

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    • Thanks for your comment and your best wishes JM – I think I still have a way to go before I’m ready to give up on this one and in some ways I think the blog has been something completely different I’ve had to do to get myself back into the way of regular writing again, so I’ll just take a deep breath and keep going!

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  3. Hello Andrea! I discovered your website serendipitously and have enjoyed getting a chance to read what you have to say. I think it’s wonderful that you are delving back into the world of your characters, feeling like there’s more for them to experience. I’m certainly not the first to say I’ve got a few novels in my head that for which I’ve been working out the details over the span of years. I have no trouble beginning a story or ending it. The climax is a clincher, too. It’s what to do with all that in the middle that intimidates me. I suppose I feel a bit uncomfortable playing God to characters I care so much about. I am intrigued about your work, though, and would love to read some of it sometime.

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    • Thank you for reading and for your kind comments Ayla – the middle is the bit I struggle with most too – and that’s really the bit I’m stuck into at the moment, since I can’t imagine it will end any differently than it does now. Do you have a blog or a website?

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  4. I stopped work on my first novel last november and started another novel. I’m glad I did that because by stepping away from it and starting something new, I’ve learnt much more than struggling on with it.
    Time is a great thing because recently, while I’ve been working on the 3rd draft of the second novel, the cuts and changes I need to make to the first novel came to me one day, I realised the stripping back that would be needed and what needs to be added. So I’m looking forward to doing the analysis of the chapter and scene intentions for the first novel (again, third time) but with new skills and insights I didn’t have previously, if I hadn’t ploughed on with another novel.
    The first novel is a practice novel, second one benefits greatly from our experiences with it, though both novels will benefit from each other.

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    • Thanks for your comments Lia. I got half way through a second novel before I had my period of not being able to write, so that one’s on the back burner too, but I can’t move on from the first one yet without giving it the best possible chance – but you’re right, I’ve had so many experiences in life since I first finished it that it can only benefit from that.

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  5. It seems impossible to do, until suddenly you see a way. There were many times someone said to change something and I couldn’t see a way to do it without destroying my book. You were smart to pause and ponder. Sometimes it’s the time when we aren’t actively making changes that the changes are happening inside us to allow us to see how to rework the book. 🙂

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  6. I read your blog today with a ‘oh yes, this is where I am’ momemt. I’ve beem in this place for several months and have worked with it on paper, in pictures, moaning about it to my best friend, and telling my dog about it so many times he now heads for the bedroom to crawl under the bed. The turn I need to make has finally hit me, but now I have to tear out about 135 pages and rework it before I can continue with the portion that didn’t work. At least I now know what didn’t work, faced my fear and it’s time to do some serious out-lining before I jump in with both feet.

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