Latest Posts

Beginning and Developing a Scene: See What I Have Done

First attempts at your novel are almost never right. The second and third attempt doesn’t fair much better but it gets closer. Everyone has false starts but the point is to write those false starts one word after the other and build on that,  see what you can make of it. You can’t be proud of something if you never write it in the first place. You also can’t be proud of it if you don’t revise or reimagine. At least, this is how I feel. But beginning’s are daunting. Every time  I start something new I have the same feelings and thoughts: I panic I won’t finish it, I fear the ugly work that will come, I worry I won’t get better as a writer, and there’s always little voice that tells me ‘You’re not good at this. Give up now. You’ve nothing to offer.’ I both dread and embrace the beginning of a new project.

But then I start. I’m very stubborn. I hate being told I can’t do something (especially when it’s me telling myself!) So I wrestle with the slumps, am overjoyed when it goes well. Then I get ready for the drafts (these have their own set of feelings but no need to go into that). I tell myself: I love these characters so much that I’m prepared to do almost anything to get their story down. I’ll rewrite and rewrite until I mentally can’t do it anymore. And sometimes that little voice will crawl into me again. But I persist. 

I have lost count of the drafts I wrote for See What I Have Done. Over the eleven years it took me to write the book I know there would have been at least twelve drafts (more. I know there was more). Some drafts changed dramatically, while others very little, perhaps only a narrator’s storyline was drafted, perhaps the draft concentrated in building the mood of the manuscript. In hindsight I know I wrote this book in the worst possible way. But living, learning.

I was terrified and overwhelmed when I began writing Bridget as a narrator into the novel (she was once a peripheral character. Now she’s probably my favourite part of the book). Want to see me at my most vulnerable on the page? Here are some Bridget excerpts from various stages of drafting, right to the finished page. Much of what I wrote never made it into the manuscript that was submitted to publishers, let alone the final version of the book. But writing passage after passage of false starts helped me shape the character and allowed me to strategise how I would use Bridget in the book. 
The very first day:




As you can see, it’s not particularly interesting, not even particularly good writing but each day I sat down with Bridget, her voice shifted into her own and I started getting a better sense of how she might have felt about the Bordens and what she might know about the family, the secret things.

Eventually I began writing actual scenes. Here is the first attempt to write the ‘winter lock in’ that eventually made it into the final version:



I worked this draft a few times. When the manuscript went out to publishers, this is what the scene looked like:



Once I sold the manuscript I went through a whole year of edits and a bit more rewriting. This is what that fragment of the scene looks like in the uncorrected proof version:



Could I have kept going, kept revising and reimagining? I’m sure I could’ve. I’m sure some readers out there will think I shouldv’e scrapped the whole thing. Maybe maybe not. But this is what the book is. I’m taking what I learnt about See What I Have Done and using that knowledge for my second novel, discovering what type of writer I’ve become, where I might go next. 

Things I’ve Seen This Week: US Edition 

Maybe I need to take this blog up a notch and actually post on a regular basis. I won’t always have something to say but there’s always something I’ve seen that I can share with you.

I’ve just returned from the US and  this particular trip will forever be special to me. I was there because of See What I Have Done. I never imagined that this novel that I thought of giving up on so many times would literally take me to the other side of the world. There’s something to be said for a healthy dose of stubbornness and persistence…and characters that never let you go. 

Here are some photos I took while there:


Music for Looping, Music for Recovery

I don’t like to overthink my writing habits too much but music is very important to me both during a writing session and after.  For See What I Have Done I listened to the same songs (adding very few to the playlist) for eleven years.

It’s time again to live in an aural loop until a book is complete. Here is a small sample of music for Blue Mountain that I will be listening to until it becomes a skin, the tip of a pen:

Below is a very small selection of songs I like listening to after a day of writing. They change all the time (unlike the loop). This week I listened to:

A Little Something to Hold Us Over: Photos

I often forget I should regularly post to this blog. I’m working on a new post about Lizzie Borden and writing history ( I figured rather than my usual  ramblings, I should, you know, plan a post ) but felt like adding some photos here today. I’m in my composting and early writing phase of my new novel and that has led me to be drawn to particular images as I walk around and explore. All of these are foundations for theme and aesthetic but may not necessarily turn up in the novel in quite the way you imagine.

WARNING: Some of these photos are of dead animals I came across while walking and may not be your thing. 

Read More

How Not To Kill Your Darlings

In the lead-up to my child’s birth, I’d set myself the task to finish yet another draft of my manuscript and send it out to a publisher. I had already written five, six or more drafts over seven years about the Lizzie Borden case. Now that I was pregnant the current drafting felt different, urgent: I had convinced myself that if I didn’t finish it then and there I never would. Writer friends who were parents warned me that once the baby came, I’d have no time for anything else. The brain would no longer have the capacity to move beyond itself. I may not even know who I was.

Read More

Never Lets Me Go

I don’t think I’ve ever truly known when to walk away from the work, think of it as done. This may explain why it takes me too long to finish a novel or a short story: this created planet, spinning on its axis, keeps falling into rhythms of day and night that I then eventually accept that’s the way things are, that I have to continue living in the world long after I have to so that the story I’ve told feels authentic, alive.

Even today I thought of new ways I could make Lizzie grow into that house on Second Street, make it small like a pocket: there she is hiding dirty clothes in the walls; there rubbing her back against a door knob; there singing at the top of her lungs; there holding clandestine dinner parties while Andrew and Abby are at the Swansea property; there at night going up to the attic to watch Bridget sleep.

Read More