The life of a novel

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The stories we write travel with us, becoming part of who we are.  We live in many worlds and as many people, creating lives that are ours and yet not ours.  These stories accompany us on our journeys, changing as we change, and altering us in turn.

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I’ve finished my novel for the second time.  I don’t remember when I first started writing it exactly, but it must have been almost twenty years ago.  It was born out of the sea, forged out of the history and atmosphere of a small island just off the coast.  This is the place I feel most myself, where my mind is free to drift and dream. And it was born out of my love for myth and magic, based as it is on the legends of the selkies.  If I didn’t love this place, hadn’t spent so much time here over the years, learned about it and absorbed it, the novel wouldn’t exist.

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This book is redolent with all of my memories of the island: picnics on the rocks with my parents, climbing the steps of the lighthouse, long walks along the coast as a teenager, ending up here, full of angst and tears.  And within it too, are memories that are not mine, but those of the characters I’ve populated it with.  The place is evocative enough on its own not to need romanticising, so I had only to write what I saw. Yet the island I describe in the novel is not the island you would see.  I view it through the eyes of my experience, as you would your own.

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But the life of my novel doesn’t begin and end here on this island.  It followed me, half-formed, to the city, where I began my career.  The ambiguity I felt about that and being so far from my beloved sea, is traced in the arc of one of the characters, who finds herself exiled from the island.

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The novel lived with me, changing and evolving over the years I was writing it.  It accompanied me as I fell in love and set up home with my partner.  It followed as we moved back to the town of my birth, close, once more, to the place it began.  It showed me that I could finish a novel, that I had what it took to be a writer.

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This was the first piece of writing I submitted for professional feedback.  I did it when my mother was dying.  It gave me something to hope for at a time when I was at my most vulnerable and a purpose that wasn’t all about preparing for my mother’s death.  The feedback made me cry, because after years of wondering whether or not I could write, here was some kind of proof that I could.  By this time, all my energy was consumed by my mother, so the novel lay dormant as life took over.  But life influenced fiction once more, as my experiences added richness to the mother daughter relationship that is at the heart of the story.

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On returning to writing, I won prizes in two competitions within months of each another.  I began to blog, which gave me discipline, stoked my inspiration and connected me to other creative people.  It seemed it was time to take my writing seriously.  But still, though I made the decision to finally revise the novel, I found it surprisingly difficult to do so.  In the end, I decided to enter it in a competition, so that the deadline would force me to get it done.  And so I’ve finished my novel for the second time.  Although I would love to win the competition, it doesn’t matter if I don’t, because it’s served its purpose.

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When I began this novel, I was starting out in life.  Now, I’m older, with an abundance of experiences and memories in between.  This novel is inextricably linked to who I am and where I’ve been.  It will always be the novel that lived my life with me.  So I send it out into the world and hope that somewhere it will find a life of its own.

31 thoughts on “The life of a novel

  1. When I put a piece of writing aside for a month, a year, or a decade, I tell my family that I’m leaving it to marinade. I’ve a novel (my first one) that I wrote thirty-five years ago, and have returned to it at intervals, adding, subtracting, editing and revising. I’ve not been near it for ten years now, but having written four other novels, I’ve decided now that I wasn’t ready to handle that first novel all those years back. What I needed was more life and writing experience — the idea was too big and complex and I wasn’t mature enough for it. Since then, I’ve discovered my writing voice and am thinking of returning to it.

    Like you, I love to live by the sea and feel de-energised if I venture in land for too long.

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  2. I love the life that writing a novel provides. So much of what is the characters is ourselves, and unwittingly, perhaps, we are working through issues and matters of our own. Separate but parts of us, the characters give us different perspectives, and we can’t help but live somewhat vicariously through them. It is wonderful therapy of sorts–perhaps the best kind. I realized that most of my stories are about young women coming of age, forced to stand alone and finding their own strength. Perhaps I was trying to tell myself something all along.
    I wish you all the best with this novel. I hope I get to read it one day! 🙂

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    • Thank you Ayla. Yes, I always identify with one of the characters in my stories because although we want to create diverse characters they still, to an extent, have to be based on our own experience of life. It’s great that we get to live so many lives from so many different perspectives.

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  3. Your pictures and words combine to make a power writing reminder, Andrea.
    And not only do the stories we write travel with us, but the stories we don’t finish follow us, stalking and complaining, wondering why we left them behind. Your fifth picture punctures me with that thought.

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  4. Given how beautifully written your posts are, I suspect your novel will find an appreciative audience in the wider world. (Honestly, I didn’t mean to put two alliterations in that sentence.) Best wishes for the contest and in finding the novel a publishing home. I’m looking forward to reading it when it’s available.

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  5. How wonderful that you’ve been able to finish your novel, and bring to it your special connection to a real place. For me, reading a novel is an unsatisfactory experience unless the author has rooted it in the uniqueness of a particular place (even if that place is largely imaginary, that’s fine–as long as it “feels” real). Congratulations on your huge accomplishment.

    And although I’ve read some clever novels by young people, I find that I much prefer reading novels by authors who have been around as adults for at least a couple decades (in other words, people who have reached 45+). It’s only my opinion, of course, but I believe a novel’s complexity is better served by a more mature author, one who can bring that intangible thing called “life-experience.”

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  6. Hi Andrea. I love the photos atmosphere and your heartfelt words! Like most previous comments say. Your writing is lovely.
    You got a new follower! Thanks for visiting me, Pina

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  7. It’s funny how much of our life trickles into our stories. Every detail of each book has a connection to my own life. So glad your story has been there for you and now is making its way into the world. 🙂

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    • Thanks Sandra, I’ve already had a look and I’ll definitely be following the progress of your novel – a powerful and intriguing start so far! I’ve written about half of my second novel, but wanted to go back and revisit the first one to get it in as good shape as possible to begin submitting it. Fingers crossed for the novel competition but if I don’t have any success with that, I’ll start submitting to agents. Then maybe I’ll get back to the second one. I admire you for taking the step to publish online, but judging by what I’ve read it’s going to be a great read.

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