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.