Sunday, 29 January 2017

The View from the Hills: N M Browne

I am sort of moving from Richmond to Cheltenham and so I have been exploring. Today my husband and I wandered from our rented flat in Pittville and walked up Pittville hill or it might have been Cleve Hill - we aren’t entirely sure. On our way we found a great pub, The Royal Oak, with amazing food and great beer. We got a little lost, got stuck in the mud, narrowly escaped the attentions of a vicious herd of bullocks and saw this amazing view of the whole of Cheltenham from the top. So, I hear you ask, why should we care? What has this to do with writing?
Well, sometime last year, fellow author Fiona Dunbar was raising money for authors for refugees and I offered my critiquing services. I enjoy critiquing other people's work and as Creative Writing lecturer I do quite a lot of it. So, on Monday I read a very promising YA novel from the person who successfully bid for my critique. 
Reading a novel for someone else is like standing at the top of Pittville (or maybe Cleve Hill) and seeing the whole enterprise stretched out before you. You can see the road system, the town’s layout, the important buildings and the surrounding countryside. It is just so much easier to get an overview when you are a newcomer to a novel and on high ground. 
 With my own work I am on the ground, stuck in the mud, taking frequent wrong turns. Occasionally by happy accident, I stumble upon the odd, unexpectedly successful scene which is the equivalent of the Royal Oak, but mostly the writing journey is one of frequent wrong turns. Even at the end, when the first draft is done, it is hard to gain that clear long vision: somehow its hard to find the distance afforded by a high hill and all glimpses of the  valley are full of the mist of overfamiliarity.

 Some people put the novel away for a while to gain that  distance. I draw diagrams to try to get an overview , anything I can think of to help me see it afresh, but sometimes I long for some convenient mental hill from which to view my own imaginative vista.

6 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

Love the analogy. I agree about having a hill to stand on to see our books.

Susan Price said...

Never a truer word said. I'm lost in the maze at the moment and longing for a clearer view.

Fran B said...

I give copies of my first draft to several willing readers and tell them I don't want it back for three or four months. Then I stop thinking about it - best way is to get stuck into another writing project - and, when I get the annotated, commented-on drafts back, I look at it all with a fresh eye, more able to accept criticism and more willing to spend time making changes. 'Distance is he best editor', as they say.
BTW: that is probably one of the longest sentences I have ever written!

Umberto Tosi said...

Thank you for reminding me how freshening perspectives adds dimensions to one's view of anything - particularly of a work-in-progress. Reaching the summit, I see what's below more sharply. Sometimes I also notice a crag above me and realize I've only reached a plateau.

Dipika Mukherjee said...

Lovely analogy and this post resonates :)

Enid Richemont said...

Cheltenham was where I was pregnant with our first child, Jeremy, so your description certainly rang a bell with me. It was where he was almost abandoned as well, when we parked his pram outside a department store and walked home without it, then suddenly realised what we'd done - we were so accustomed to just being a couple. And I wasn't writing then, so didn't benefit from its perspectives.
For anyone concerned, Jeremy's still alive, successful and happily partnered.