Today I am very pleased to welcome Vanessa Matthews, author of The Doctor’s Daughter, to the blog sharing a guest post. I reviewed The Doctor’s Daughter on the blog yesterday and found it a very well researched intriguing read.
‘I couldn’t understand the beginning, until I had reached the end.’ Author, Janet Fitch.
A quote from one of my favourite books, it also perfectly sums up my experience of writing my debut novel, The Doctor’s Daughter.
I have been writing in some shape or form for the past 18 years or so (discounting my teenage diary musings) and like many people, I had always dreamed of writing a novel. You know how it goes, the dream of sitting at a vintage typewriter, face warmed by the sun soaked window of a little writing hut and relaxing into another blissful day of wordsmithing.
By 2012 my dream was clouded in dust and my busy life as a working mum of four children and wife to a hard working husband had well and truly taken over. I missed writing and so, when the opportunity presented itself that year and my freelance workload quietened down briefly I decided to get serious about my craft and develop a writing habit.
Having enlisted the support and patience of my family, I set myself a 30 day writing challenge. The plan was to write something new every day for 30 days and enter the resulting pieces into 30 different writing competitions. And because I can fall foul to procrastination, I decided I had better blog about it too in order to ensure I was held accountable by an audience of some kind. During the challenge I tried my hand at everything from script writing, short stories, flash fiction, micro fiction and poetry across a variety of genres. Most were completely new to me but I treated each as an opportunity to grow and develop my writing style. I won very little but learnt so much from the experience and soon realised that I had a love of and talent for writing poetry.
One year later and my self-set challenge resulted in the publication of my debut poetry collection Melodies of my Other Life, which was picked up by an indie press in America. That’s it, I’ve cracked it! Or so I thought. I later realised that it was just the beginning. For me, writing a novel was a very different task to writing a poetry collection. The idea was overwhelming. The more I tried to write it, the more insecure I felt about my ability to write fiction let alone complete an entire novel. I needed help. So I signed up for an Arvon Foundation retreat in the hope it would give me the reassurance and confidence I needed to commit to a novel.
I arrived at Arvon feeling like a talentless wreck and clutching a few thousand words of a novel I had fallen completely out of love with. I spent a whole week feeling guilty about spending a few hundred pounds just so I could sit around and feel sorry for myself. Just like my eventual protagonist Marta, I was lost, unsure of who I was or where I was going. I had not really considered my style, realised what my voice was or chosen a genre to work in. By the last day of the course I was panicking. I was fresh out of creativity and was farther away from being an author than ever. So, I decided to do what I had done many times in professional life when I was all out of ideas. I held a brainstorming session! I asked my Arvon friends to gather round and help me establish what I wanted to write about. I told them my interests and motivations, talked of books I loved and why and then gave it over to the floor. An hour later and I had a notebook full of ideas to take home and start work on.
The writing didn’t flow immediately, first I went off and did some research. That was when things took a turn for the dark. I have a penchant for dark, gritty writing, sentences that punch a hole through your heart or churn your gut with emotion just a little. My first page came out almost complete and I have kept the same opening since the first day I started working on it. My initial plan for the story started to falter once I got to about 30,000 words. Some of the themes I had set off to write made me feel uncomfortable during the writing and so I shifted the focus a little and changed track. Then at about 50,000 words I got stuck again. It was time to brainstorm again. This time my husband and I talked it through, I found my twist, ironed out some plotting issues and off I went until I reached the end! The Arvon Foundation helped me find my start point and once I got going I was fortunate enough to be awarded a ‘free read’ by The Literary Consultancy, a manuscript assessment given to selected writers whose work demonstrates quality and potential.
Since I started that 30 day writing challenge I have been so fortunate to have had a tremendous amount of support from friends, family, beta readers, literary agents, other authors and the book blogger community. I have made full use of top tips, links and seemingly serendipitous opportunities to develop as a writer and boost my confidence. I started my journey with low confidence, little time, limited funds and a lack of formal writing education. But I had a story to tell. I had no idea that the story I wrote would develop into such a dark tale but I tried not to inhibit myself or restrict myself to a plan, I just followed my curiosity until the story was told. I have agonised over rejection, cried with joy at positive feedback, leant on friends, asked for advice, bitten my fingernails to stubs and then repeated the process many times over as I have drafted and redrafted, researched and read, polished and submitted. At last, I get to hold my own paperback and read reviews of my work on Amazon and in spite of all of the hard work and difficulty, I will do it all again. I am already working on my second novel and have notes for a third.
I have learnt a tremendous amount about the publishing world and my place within it, and I am finally started to accept that I belong here. There is no easy route, the best advice I can give is to show up and write as often as you can and make use of all of the resources that are available to aspiring authors. In my experience there is a lot of support out there, including lovely people like Joanne. All you need to do is make a start…
With thanks to Portobello Book Blog for hosting me and The Doctor’s Daughter on her blog.
About Vanessa: My debut poetry collection ‘Melodies of my Other Life’ was published by indie press Winter Goose Publishing in 2013. Since then I have been featured in several poetry publications, have won two poetry contests and have developed my fiction writing skills through training with the Arvon Foundation and mentorship from The Literary Consultancy. The Doctor’s Daughter is my first novel. I work as a freelance copy writer and marketing consultant and live in the South West of England with my husband and four children.
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