Everyone has a novel in them... on't they?
Yes, of course Everyone 'has a novel in them'. Because the lives of each and every one of us are 'stories' - narrative blends of the ordinary and the extraordinary, with happy bits and sad bits, and good bits and bad bits - there to be recounted through the written word to a wider audience, should the 'owner' of that 'narrative' choose. And if someone else's life sounds more interesting, then you can just write about that one instead, can't you? Easy peasy.
Till you try it.
People who haven't tried it like to corner novelists with conversational gambits like: 'Hey, here's something for your next boo... ust listen to this, you won't believe it... They then launch into an anecdote - or life-story! - in the belief that they are handing over an invaluable 'free' gift. Or (worse), they nod at the disclosure that one writes fiction for a living and then remark that they are thinking of writing their own life story one day. As if it is merely shortage of time that is preventing them from bashing out a bestseller.
I am sorry if I sound obnoxious. In fact during such conversations I always aim to be as encouraging as I can. 'Great,' I say, 'just do it! Start, then finish. Spit it out. Get it down.' This is not just because I have been raised to behave politely, but because I genuinely hope that I might be standing in front of the next Hemingway or Eliot. Nothing would make me happier.
The truth is, telling a story well, and compellingly, sustaining momentum and interest over a couple of hundred pages or so, is (for most of us), a hard act to pull off. Sheer grind is the key - trial and error, sticking at it, not to mention ruthless self-editing. Making it harder is the fact that the best novels don't * just *tell a story; they also, through that story, cast original and interesting spotlights on the business of being human. To me this is what makes writing a good novel so difficult, and reading a good novel so breathtaking. I love stories that make me sit up and see the world a little differently, or which put the finger on something I have half felt or half thought or half feared. Some writers lob such nuggets out all the time. Others make you wait until the end. Like Dorothy Whipple in her wonderful novel 'Someone At A Distance' ,where she holds you in thrall with pure story-telling until the final page, and then gives you this:
- She had learnt to wait for the changes and the help that life brings. Life is like the sea, sometimes you are in the trough of the wave, sometimes on the crest. When you are in the trough, you wait for the crest, and always, trough or crest, a mysterious tide bears you forward to an unseen but certain shore. *
To me this is wisdom. And comfort. It is why I loved the novel. It is also, I believe (she is not around to contradict me) why Dorothy Whipple wrote the novel. She crafted a brilliant narrative, but the above sentences were what she truly set out to 'say'.
(If you want to know more, check out my review: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/173510.Amanda_Brookfield/blog)