The long writing road to a finished novel (Eat!)

alison on road
A long time ago in Death Valley.

When I finish this post I will start work on some final edits and tweaks to my novel Eat! I’ve just begun to submit (very systematically this time) to agents and this is my blurb.

Consumption becomes medicine for Anise Fish from the Big House who – feeling responsible for her mother’s death – runs through a manic, 2008 boom-time town eating unusual, inedible things. The town’s inhabitants grapple with strange new cravings and Benedict – a would-be cannibal – creates dubious recipes. As the Doctor with the help of philosophical police detectives tries to unravel the case histories of the afflicted he must face his own culpability in the origins of this strange and disconsolate contagion.

Eat! explores the relationship between Anise Fish, a boy trapped inside by illness, the children she au pairs, her grief-stricken father and the Doctor who tries to save her. Eat! is a musing on grief, guilt, nature and nurture, crime and responsibility, how people make up for losses in twisted ways and how relationships and nature can heal.

Now I know some people can write a novel in days and I know that every project is different. Our writing production exists within a particular set of circumstances each time. How crystallised is the project in our minds or are we just feeling our way? Do we have confidence, mental and physical reserves? How is our life? Full of chaos and complication or running relatively smooth? Have we had to cope with transition or loss? Have we had mental and physical space or have we had to carve out niches?

Here is a social media post about Eat! from 2014

About 2 years ago (in May) I was gripped with the feeling for a book but made myself knuckle down and finish the projects in between. With two other novels finished it’s finally time. I have 40,000 words of notes, an excerpt (flash fiction) coming out in the Stinging Fly, now I would like to lock myself in a garret somewhere and do the rest. If it’s no trouble world, thanks a mill.

stinging fly cover
Flash fiction Eat! is published in The Stinging Fly Spring 2014

I was invited to read the piece at the launch at the Irish Writers Centre. I’d read it before at a Big Smoke Writing flash fiction event and it got a great response from the audience. When I went to read at the Irish Writers Centre, the lighting was much more ‘atmospheric’ and I realised with horror that – as part of the sacrifice we writers make – I had killed my eyes. I struggled to see my own printout but muddled my way through the reading, hesitantly this time.

2019-02-15 (1)

The next few years were in a word challenging; loss, grief, financial and other severe family difficulties with no support from relevant institutions. I created swathes of Eat! from participation in the NaNoWriMo writing challenge (write 50,000 words in a month). I got the words on the page. The story ranged round a cast of characters who emerged out of this unstructured mining of the imagination and concerns from the subconscious. It’s not autobiographical but I saw later certain truths about my own life arrive out of my writing. I had a mass of words in the end (over 144,000) and then I needed to make sense of it all. For this book, this process – coming out of the slivers of mental space available and out of the wide scale the book seemed to take – involved an extended period of time (about a year) in just putting the material in the order it needed to go. It was a laborious, painstaking (painful!) process that I had to do without knowing if it would pay off. Has it paid off? We await the verdict.

(Adding to the original post, say whatever you like about Facebook, it does act as diary sometimes, allowing you to mark out feelings and events at a point in time – here is a further entry re: the book in February 2017)

So much more work to do, four years from the initial idea, three years from the Stinging Fly flash vignette, 145,000 words (so must be pared down) but I finally have a rough first draft of my next book. I CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT A RELIEF IT IS. Going to print it out now and let it sit. Yippee!

I’ve had the pleasure these past years of being involved in a real world writing group. These are lovely people and accomplished writers – widely published and shortlisted for many awards including the Hennessy New Irish Writing. They have given me feedback, criticism, suggestions and encouragement on many projects including Eat! It was they, who, sometime last year, encouraged me to submit Eat!  to the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair. So we come full circle again. The books first words spoken at the centre, then this January I got the news that Eat! had come highly commended in the Novel Fair. I’m part of a second group of 12 who will get our submissions critiqued. (The winners will pitch to agents and publishers around now at an agent fair.)

You know, as writers, how hard it is to keep the faith and especially with a long project, to dedicate the time (years!) to writing a book that might never see the light (Eimear McBride’s terrific A Girl is a Half-formed thing took ten years to be published once it was done.) To get positive feedback in terms of being longlisted means a lot.

aw-hwah-cover-front-midI’ve written three other novels (and a couple of other attempts). One of these is the heart warming Housewife with a Half-Life that publishers were interested in but wondered about the ‘genre’ (domestic comedy sci-fi?) (I believe now in 2019 that cross-genre is no longer such an issue and I have a sequel to the book planned in any case.) Another two novels have been submitted but perhaps not with the necessary gusto. As I finish my own edits of Eat! (knowing that in case of possible publication more work may be called to be done) I’m giving the book the best chance by doing my research carefully and contacting agents.

A new phase is about to arise in life. After a long stint of caring for children (my eldest has now become a man) I’ve been offered a library job. This blog has been all about finding the resilience and headspace to be creative in the midst of what life is offering at any one time. Now my challenge is, while enjoying the new perspective and connections a full-time job will offer me is to find ways to maintain the focus and forward momentum on new writing projects and to keep doing this writing thing that I know I love and is so important to me.

I’ve written short stories and worked on other projects during the long incubation, writing and creation of this book. I’m yet to hear from agents whether they want to see more. It has been very difficult keeping the faith in my writing even with this feedback and other positive comments (from the editors on the Writing Workshop now Jericho Writers Self-Editing course). Mine is just one story of persistence. I hope you have been able to find ways of keeping going along your own long road and that you might find comfort in knowing there are many along the same path.


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