The Novel, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I was really grateful to Emma Lee Potter for the write-up on her blog of the panel of best selling novelists at last weekend’s Chipping Campden Literary Festival.But Fiona Walker’s advice made me wince: “Finish it. There are so many half-finished novels languishing in drawers.”.

Guilty, Guilty, So Guilty.

I have been asking myself what happened to relegate those poor stories to the drawer.  Or in my case, the box file at the top of the wardrobe.  Did I run out of steam?  Drive myself down a blind alley and fail to find a way out?  Realise they were crap and run away?  Or did some bad fairy at my Christening give me what my friend Mary Jo calls the Tiffle Virus, so that I can never actually bring myself to stop tweaking, finish and say goodbye?

Well, the answer is, all of the above.  But quite often the latter.  Although sometimes I think she was not so much a bad fairy as an older sisterly sort of witch lurking somewhere in my subconscious who, after lobbing in  eye of newt and other succulents, says, “Still a bit watery;  needs something else; leave it and see if it comes to you.”

My only excuse is that, often, the witch is not wrong. When I push my way into the Wardrobe, I can see that she was absolutely right about my Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, a woman-in-jeopardy story with a hole in the plot you could drive a London bus through.

Or Someone Else’s Business which was about three books in one.  Worse, the heroine fancied the wrong man and wouldn’t stop, no matter what I did.  “‘You’ll have to kill him,” said my friend Annie,  best seller, dearest friend, severest critic and all round bootfaced sadist when it comes to her own characters.  But by then I was in love with him too and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.


…  for at least some of these Wardrobe-bound stories, their time will come. If you’re a writer, never forget that.

A case in point – sometimes in the 90s I wrote a book for Harlequin Mills & Boon with a waif heroine. They turned it down, saying that waifs were out of favour. Presumably they were too kind to say that the story was only half cooked. Heroine fine. The hero had the charisma of a cornflake packet.

That’s what I discovered when, scrolling forward ten years, HMB were looking for a ms urgently to fill a slot.  Only by then I had a new hero, a real hero, waiting in my imagination. Helped by some judicious prodding from fab editor Kate Paice, I wrote 25,000 new words in a week. And it worked. The Cinderella Factor is now one of my favourites.

So the moral I deduce is: Finish the Damn Book, fine. But don’t tear your hair out if it needs to rest a bit first. The same is true of the finest burgundy.

Just go Finish Another Damn Book in the meantime.

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