I’ve written a total of seven books, six of them full-length novels. So is it easier to write a book when you’ve already published a few?
Practice Makes Perfect …
Book Number One
I wrote my first novel as the final piece for an MA in Creative Writing. But when I started the book, which later became the novel, Coffee and Vodka, I had only a vague idea of the plot.
The story came about through a short piece I wrote for a public reading exercise about half-way through the course. I had a lot of excellent feedback for the piece, and my tutor, Lucy English, felt the story was so powerful that I could develop it into a whole book. But I had to add the main plot, most of the characters and an ending that I felt happy with. The short story was also from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl, so in order to make the book an adult read, it needed a grown-up storyline. Besides, I knew the child’s story would be more dramatic if the adult was still struggling with the events of her childhood 30 years later. I fretted a long time which timeline – the child’s or the adult’s – I should start the novel with, and ended up mixing the points of view and the timelines throughout the book.
So writing Coffee and Vodka was a scrappy (and painful) affair and took over two years. Having said that, I’m very happy with the end result! But after I’d finally finished the novel, I decided that my next book would have a detailed plot and a set of characters before I wrote even one word of the manuscript.
Book Number Two
Because of the detailed planning, I wrote book number two, The Red King of Helsinki, very quickly, and can say that I even enjoyed the process a little bit. (Certainly, more than I did writing Coffee and Vodka). But when I approached an agent with the completed manuscript, which is a spy story, she thought it had too many deaths in it. But she was so enthusiastic about the book, even phoning me after our meeting to add plot points, that I agreed to re-write the book. Although it was time-consuming and frustrating, re-writing The Red King of Helsinki was an incredibly valuable lesson in the craft. I had to rethink each character, plot twist and the general flow of the story. It also gave me confidence in my writing ability.
Book Number Three
My third novel, The Englishman, was born out a series of blog posts, so again the process was very different from either of my previous novels. The story, which was based on my own life, grew almost organically on the blog. But of course, I knew the plot and the characters already; I just shifted things around. After I’d finished the story on my blog, I ended up changing the point of view from first to third person, took away a few unnecessary scenes and combined characters. (If you’re interested in finding out how to turn your life into fiction, read my tips on the subject here).
Books Four to Six: A System of Writing
It wasn’t until the next two books in The Englishman series, The Navy Wife and The Good Officer, that I began developing a proper system of writing, which has made it somewhat easier to produce a novel. Now I plot the book before I start writing it, prepare quite detailed characterizations, and set achievable word count targets for myself.
But even with this system, The Navy Wife was a more difficult book to write, possibly because it still had some of my own – dramatic – experiences in it. The Good Officer was a lot easier in comparison, although with the fourth book in a series, as a writer you feel more constrained by having to keep to the same characters and refer to previous plot twists. But that’s another story (and blog post).
While I was waiting for The Good Officer to be edited, I decided to write a novella, exploring my heroine’s life before she met her Englishman. In The Finnish Girl, Kaisa has just moved to Helsinki and is about to meet an older boy. This novella, a prequel to the whole series was supposed to be a ‘quick write’ but turned out to be a lot more difficult because I soon realized that the main story of the book was the relationship between the 21-year Matti and 14-year-old Kaisa, a tale from my own youth. Naturally, just as with The Englishman, I fictionalized the story, but it was a lot harder than it had been with book one in the series. This coming of age novella is now free if you sign up to my Readers Group – see below.
Books Are Like Children
What I have learned while writing the books, particularly with my latest manuscript, is that how ever much you plan and follow a system, producing each novel is a different experience. Comparing books to children is something the late Doris Lessing did when asked at the Bath Literary Festival a few years ago if she had a favorite book amongst her countless novels, short story collections or nonfiction titles.
My books are like my children; how could I have a favorite?
– Doris Lessing
As the author, you don’t think one book is better than another, nor does it get any easier to give birth to a new book. As you’ve seen from my experience above, each piece of work– like each child – is different. If you speak to a mother about the birth of her children, you’ll get completely separate stories. Writing a book is a little like that (although obviously less physically painful!).
To prove the point, my latest novel, which I haven’t even been able to name yet, has been quite a strange baby to give birth to.
Book Seven Is Quite Unique
Firstly, this will be the last book in The Englishman -series, so writing it has been like a long-winded goodbye to my characters.
Secondly, I had a real problem with the plot of the book. As with the other two sequel novels in the series, I’d decided on what would happen in this final novel before I began writing. However, when about half-way through, I knew something was wrong with the book but didn’t know how to fix it.
I had planned to complete the novel for National Novel Writing Month in November 2016, but didn’t really get to grips with the story until May this year. From December last year to this spring, I couldn’t even open up the manuscript file on my computer. I had Writer’s Block.
I’m so grateful I managed to get over my Block (you can find my blog about how I did it here), and I am now in the process of getting the manuscript ready for publication.
The new – and the last – book in The Englishman series will be out this October 2017. To join my Readers Group where you will be the first to find out about the new title, cover and an exclusive look inside the pages of the novel before publication, join below now!
Sign up to my Readers’ Group and receive news on the forthcoming novel in THE ENGLISHMAN series, and other offers and freebies
At the moment, when you sign up to my Readers Group, you get a FREE COPY of THE FINNISH GIRL, a Nordic coming of age novel dubbed, ‘The Nordic Lolita’.
Read more here .