20 August, 2015

Draft One - Check!

Nearly two years after I started, I have finally finished the first draft of a new novel, under the working title of Matthew's List. I cannot tell you how happy and relieved I am about this! The time pressure was getting pretty intense...

Some of you may recall that earlier in the year I blogged about my decision to scrap all 40 000 words of my first draft and start again. It was absolutely the right decision for all the reasons I gave at the time, but it was tough. I'd started the novel when I was pregnant with my first baby and reached 20 000 words when he was born. It took me six months to get back to it, at which point I thought it would be better to start again. To start AGAIN some months after that felt like a necessary but backwards step. Now, finally, 95 000 words later, I have a finished draft - days, or a couple of weeks at most, before Baby Number Two is due!

It's been hard to make myself write, especially these last few weeks as I've grown bigger and more tired. The impulse to lie down when my son was having a nap was overwhelming. But plenty of writers have overcome much more difficult obstacles and, with my husband and in-laws giving me the occasional extra hour to write by looking after Digory, I wanted to push on. Until a few days ago I didn't think there was any chance I was going to finish. Suddenly, on Monday this week, I realised I was almost there!

As with all my first drafts, it's terrible. There are unnecessary scenes, plot holes and a plethora of inconsistencies. I need to simultaneously add tonnes of details and slow scenes down, AND cut out a lot of waffle and speed things up. But that's OK. That's what my initial drafts are like. I am more of a natural editor than a natural writer and getting a complete manuscript in the first place is always my biggest challenge.

I have no idea how long it will take me to get back to writing - to even read through what I've written (there hasn't been time to re-read anything as I've worked on it!) It could be months. It could be years - although I hope not! Now though, I have something to go back to. I've missed short story and flash fiction writing very much, but it was worth the sacrifice just to have written that final sentence.

07 August, 2015

The Best 21st-Century Novels

It's only in recent years that I've started reading books published in the last decade. With centuries of amazing writing behind us, it always seemed I had too many other things to read first. I realised, however, that to write modern fiction, you do need to read it too! And I've read some brilliant books published within the last few years. For example, I've just finished reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which was short-listed for the Booker last year and was a fabulous read.

So, I was interested to stumble upon this article on the BBC website listing the best novels of the 21st-century... so far. Only 14 years in to the century I hope we haven't peaked! Several dozen book critics were polled as to what they thought the best books published since 1st January 2000 were. 156 books were mentioned and a Top 12 drawn up.

You can get a better feel for each book from the article, but here they are in list form:

12. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
11. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
10. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
9. Atonement - Ian McEwan
8. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk  - Ben Fountain
7. A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
5. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
3. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
2. The Known World - Edward P. Jones
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

I have to confess I've only read two of these - White Teeth and Gilead. I have seen the film version of Atonement and I have read a different book by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I've also not even heard of some of these titles. Have you read any of them? Should I? I'd be particularly interested to hear if you've read the number one book - not only nominated the most times, but mentioned as the critics' number one choice the most times as well.

What do you think the best books of the 21st-century have been so far? Off the top of my head, some recent books I've enjoyed a lot have included One Day  (David Nicholls), Room (Emma Donoghue), Perfect (Rachel Joyce) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver).What have I been missing out on?