Kate Hamer was a student on our second-ever Writing Your Novel course in London back in 2011. Now Kate is represented by Curtis Brown’s very own Alice Lutyens. She is the bestselling author of three novels, the Costa-shortlisted The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral. Her highly anticipated third novel Crushed was published in May 2019.
Here Kate shares her wisdom with writers, encouraging them to keep the faith and write their first novel and beyond …
Writing practice is personal and so any perspective on it is essentially a fruitbowl where you might respond to one colour and flavour and not the other. Do you plot or do you fly by the seat of your pants? (personally, a bit of both. I start off with the beginning and the end and ALWAYS write the last sentence very early in the process) Do you keep a timeline or does that level of interrogation into your plot put you off? (Mmmm, I always wish I’d made a timeline afterwards but somehow in the fury of the first draft it gets bypassed). All good practical stuff. But with novel number three coming out and number four beginning to bubble furiously I thought it might be worth delving into something that I’ve thought about a lot in my writing life, summed up thus: keeping the faith.
You are constructing a world in your own head that nobody else knows about. You convince yourself in turns that it’s the work of a genius/biggest load of bullshit ever to hit the page. If that’s the case these are some things that have helped me along the way that might just be the apple or banana in that fruitbowl you are looking for at this moment:
Write like no one will ever read it. Lizzy Kremer in her wonderful blog ‘Publishing for Humans’ suggests writing for burning or burial (of course you can change your mind afterwards and keep it intact!). Taking the invisible reader away from looking over your shoulder frees you up. Plus the stuff you write that feels a bit ‘out there’ a bit unsafe or ‘where did that come from?’ In my experience that’s the stuff to hang on to and more likely to flow when that internal policeman is given their marching orders.
In a similar vein really – Dorothea Brande in her book Becoming a Writer advises writing first thing in the morning, before a cup of tea even (I haven’t quite achieved that one). Write anything, it doesn’t have to be the WIP. It can be a diary, a fragment, it doesn’t have to even make sense. The subconscious is the writer’s friend!
Advice is a wonderful thing. It can really help, but share your work when you’re ready and listen to opinion and take on board only what chimes with you. Particularly at the beginning (well maybe not just at the beginning!) we’re sensitive to what others have to say, sometimes acutely. I once heard a tutor say, ‘writers know what advice rings true because they already knew it about their manuscript. They hadn’t quite put their finger on it yet though.’ And this sums it up very well for me.
Having talked to so many writers one big hurdle I’ve heard over and over, the one that sometimes held us back for years is: ‘there’s so much great work out there. Really, how can I add to it? It’s just me, obviously, and my name definitely isn’t Dostoevsky!’ (in Russia, they haven’t heard the ‘it’s not Dostoevsky’ tag and think it’s hilarious we say that). Reassure yourself that everyone’s story is individual and authentic and worth telling. Better still, ignore the question all together. Be Buddhist and dissolve the problem. Pouf, look it’s gone. Now you can write like fury unimpeded.
Novel writing is a strange and wonderful journey. I kind of had the idea that with each one confidence would progressively grow until by my third or fourth I would sure-footedly climb the mountain of the story, expertly navigating each twist and turn of the narrative. Well, the mountain analogy holds true but only in terms of the realisation that each time I’m back in the foothills contemplating the climb ahead with a massive crick in my neck. And, (I do love to start a sentence with ‘and’, is that so wrong?) after pondering some time on this I’ve come to the realisation that it’s EXACTLY how it should be. Each novel is a new and fresh journey. The only thing we can do is write. Write like a demon. Write like fury. Write all day or in that half hour between getting up and leaving for work. Write on your commute. But most of all, however much you will eventually edit/throw out/start again/burn – keep the faith.
Because you have no choice. Ultimately however shaky that faith is sometimes, that and writing is what gets novels written.