Sunday, 11 August 2019

Why bother? -- Misha Herwin





I’ve just come to the end of what I hope will be the final edit of my latest novel, Belvedere Crescent. The process has been long and gruelling. Out of all the books I’ve written so far, this one has been the hardest. It began as a third person narrative, which kind of worked but wasn’t quite right. So I re-wrote it in the first person. And that was where the problems really began. My editor kept saying that 
the novel, which was set partly in the present and partly in Edwardian England, had a Regency flavour. I countered her arguments with all the time appropriate details I’d carefully researched and slipped in. The house is lit by gas, there’s a plumbed in washstand in the bedroom, Amelia and Louis talk about going to the Zoological Gardens on the tram, besides the references to the suffragette movement and HG Wells’ Time Machine. No one could possible imagine this was set in Jane Austen country.
Yet there was something wrong. I sensed it but couldn’t fix it. Finally, at the point when I thought I couldn’t do anymore, I saw it. The fault lay in the language. Not only how the characters spoke in 1902 but also the language the narrator, a young twenty-first century woman used. Thea, indeed, did at times sound as if she should be wearing an empire line dress and wondering which of the neighbouring young men in possession of a good income, she should be considering as a suitable husband.
Back to a line, by line, thorough edit. It was hard and dispiriting. At times I felt like giving up. Maybe I’d come to the end of my writing career. Maybe I should concentrate on the grandchildren and the garden rather than spending my time agonising over a worthless ms.
What made it worse was reading a novel by a writer whose work sells in the millions all over the world. The story was boring and predictable, the language flaccid and she constantly repeated herself giving us the same information over and over again. Didn’t she trust her readers to remember what she’d said two paragraphs before, or didn’t she bother to re-read what she’d written? Or maybe, she’s such a best seller that whatever she writes it will sell and no one bothers to edit her anymore?
If that’s right, then why have I been agonising over my ms? Belevedere Crescent isn’t likely to sell in the millions, or to make me very rich, so why bother? I could fling it out there and cross my fingers that my readers would think it’s okay.
But of course I can’t. I may never make it to the top of the best seller list, my books might never be made into films starring Keira Knightly, or Benedick Cumberbatch. I might even lose money, sleep and time over bringing my work out into the world. But I care. I care about the quality of my writing. It matters to me that my sentences flow, that my narrative grabs and keeps the reader’s attention that they are involved with and care about my characters. And so I keep on working and re-working my novel.
I suppose in the end it all comes down to self-esteem and crafting my work to the best of my ability.
Fingers crossed I’ve cracked it this time, otherwise it’s back to the beginning again ….

3 comments:

Griselda Heppel said...

I so empathise with this! The question, 'Why bother' grows bigger and bigger the more you write and you have to fight it. It's another manifestation of the critic on your shoulder telling you all the time that what you're writing is rubbish. The only comfort is that this is what being a writer is all about and if we didn't feel it, there'd be something wrong! Hats off to you for spotting that the hiccup in your book was in the dialogue, not the scene setting. Getting the feel of a period through the way characters talk to each other is crucial but v difficult. This is why I don't buy the fashionable 'let's dispense with Shakespearean language when writing books set in Elizabethan times as all that Hey Nonny stuff sounds awful.' No, just write in the kind of language people used then - omitting Hey Nonny and other embarrassments - because modern idiom jars far more!
Don't give up, you've cracked it this time.

Umberto Tosi said...

I feel every twist you describe so aptly. My hat is off to you for the perseverance that separates writers from dillitantes! Congratulations on you new work that I look forward to reading!

janedwards said...

Those 'why do I bother' moments hit us all. But we have to keep telling ourselves we do this because we love it.