Taking stock

I’m in a bit of a ‘non-writing writer’ phase at the moment, and I’m not sure I like it very much. There is only so much time and energy left over from parenting a toddler, and at the moment most of mine is being spent on campaigning in the run up to election day. I’ve been grateful for my way with words as I’ve developed the campaign on social media and in local meetings, but it is giving me a little bit of an identity crisis.

The two manuscripts I have written are still out there in the ether, and I’m feeling guilty for not giving them enough attention. They are to some extent in the hands of my agent, but I’m getting the niggling feeling that I really should be doing something more…

I am a writer. A novelist. But my novels have not yet been published. And at the moment I’m not actually writing anything.

Not exactly confidence-inspiring is it?

Hmmm…

On the upside, this impasse I have found myself in has prompted me to find the time to read more. When my days are filled with writing or editing I find it hard to shift my brain into the different world of someone else’s novel. So whilst the last few weeks have been ridiculously hectic, leaving no time at all to write, I’ve been grateful for the snatched moments where I have been able to lose myself in prose.

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I loved the twists and turns of I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. The first half of the story is powerful enough, a woman rebuilding her life after a tragic accident. But then revelations are shared which cut through everything you thought to be true. And then it turns out that even that new understanding of the character is deeply flawed. There was much in the central theme of a woman being undone by a manipulative man that resonates with me and the novel I’m (hopefully) close to submitting to publishers, and it definitely gave me food for thought where that’s concerned.

Then there was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. A devastating exploration of mental health and how our society deals with it, told through the layers of grief which follow the death of the protagonist’s brother. The protagonist himself is utterly compelling, despite (or maybe because of) his tenuous grip on reality, and whilst his journey as a psychiatric patient is central to the novel you cannot help but reflect on the arbitrary definitions of ‘normal’ that so much of our world rests on.

This theme was strong too in The Girl with all the Gifts, a zombie story with a difference by M.R.Carey. An increasingly small cast of characters takes us deep into a post-apocalyptic world which, like most good science fiction, questions many of the facts we take for granted.

And now I am onto The Children Act, the latest novel by Ian McEwan, the arrival in paperback of which I have been eagerly awaiting. I’m close to finishing it actually – and as much as I was tempted to do precisely that (instead of writing this) during Arthur’s nap I am just as happy to draw out the pleasure of reading it for a little while longer. I love McEwan’s prose, casual and yet important in its tone, easy to read and yet dense with emotional truth and careful observation.

It is his body of work that I aspire to most, though I know that is setting my bar absurdly high.

There are baby steps to be taken first. The steps that will let me discover if the two novels I have written so far can find a home in the publishing world, and through that home the readers I long for. I have been thinking about those novels a lot this week – both the latest one and my first, Lili Badger. I still think they have an awful lot going for them, but this period of inaction is making me doubt their potential in the marketplace. I’m beginning to wish that, as a writer, I was drawn more clearly to a particular genre. Although really that’s absurd – I never have been as a reader so to attempt to create something for the sake of marketability alone would surely be doomed to failure.

So I will keep on going on with the words and ideas that are mine, and together I’m sure we’ll get there sooner or later. In the meantime I really should carve out a little bit of space to write something new this week I think, if only to satisfy that part of my identity that knows, deep down, I am a writer.

 

Writing Bubble

9 thoughts on “Taking stock

  1. Emily Organ

    It sounds like a good time to follow up with your agent and find out who they’ve approached so far and if they have any feedback from those people for you. If you’re wondering if your books have a place in the publishing world (which I’m sure they do!) then hopefully your agent can reassure you of that (or suggest changes if needed). After taking the time to write two books (and with your third on the way) you definitely need to feel reassured the journey is going somewhere. And a great list of books you’ve been reading too!

    Reply
  2. Nicola Young

    Wow you really have been going for it on the reading front. It’s good to take that break though, but I can understand that it must be frustrating to have two novels in limbo. I’m going to be changing Friday Fiction to include book reviews, so it looks like plenty of you will have lots to write about in that respect!

    Reply
  3. Mummy Tries

    I am in absolute awe of how much you’ve managed to read, as well as being a mum and campaigning for the election. I’ve only read about ten books in the last few years! I start so many but lose interest in them halfway through and sleeping becomes much more appealing…

    I don’t think you should shy away from setting the bar as high as you can, you’ve got to have dreams and greats to aspire to. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for good news from your agent xx

    Reply
  4. Marija Smits

    It’s always great to catch up on reading for how can we – as writers – write, if we don’t read? Good luck with the book that is with your agent at the moment. And no doubt you’ll be writing again soon enough 🙂 Good to meet you here!

    Reply
  5. maddy@writingbubble

    I loved ‘The Shock of the Fall’ and ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ too! I really want to read ‘I let you go’ but got as far as the first (or maybe second) page and realised what was about to happen and just couldn’t bear it. I have a five year old son and that little boy just became him in my mind. But I will go back to it as it sounds like an excellent book! As for writing, the whole genre thing can be tricky. I’ve read advice that says writers should try and write with a genre/market/audience in mind to maximise changes of publication but not everything fits a mould so easily and you can’t sacrifice a great story just because there’s not an obvious category it fits within. I bet your books are fab and there WILL be a market out there for them. Keep on truckin’. Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xx

    Reply
  6. Dana

    Oh it’s very hard being on non writing writer, I know that all too well. And some may say it’s perhaps a bit easier knowing you have two completed manuscripts, self-doubt always creeps in especially in the lulls between projects. But it sounds like you have your hands full (good luck with the campaign!) and reading is always a good idea.

    As for wondering and yearning for a more defined (and perhaps lucrative) genre, I’ve had those same thoughts (!) but you can only write what you love and what you’re drawn to, so you keep on, as you are.

    Reply
  7. Chrissie@muddledms

    Keep going, Sophie. I find that sometimes reading can be intimidating. How can my stuff ever reach these giddy heights and be that good?
    You are further along in your writing adventure than most people ever get. x

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Bird by bird | Sophie is…

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