What I found particularly interesting in her interview in Woman and Home is how she began writing fiction. Already a financial journalist, she states she had ‘no idea how to go about it’, so she read a Jilly Cooper novel and broke it down bit by bit. A meticulous author, even now she uses file cards writing down what she calls ‘the beats of the plot twist’ and she writes a chapter by chapter plan to get an overview and then does it all again in more detail. Whereas I only resort to this sort of thing when I get well and truly stuck, baffled and I am literally losing the plot.
For Casting Shadows I resorted to a large pad of graph paper with a tracing paper overlay and a colour coded arc showing when and where each character stepped in and out of any given chapter. In my defence this is a novel set over two time lines, 1963 and the present and when you move back and forth like that it can require detective mastery to work out where each character is and what they are up to in any given chapter or time line, especially when it contains a plot laden with mysterious behaviour by both adults and children and the central theme is miss-remembering.
In truth I couldn't work in the meticulous pre-planned manner that Kinsella does, it would kill the pleasure I derive from the serendipitous nature of writing and creation. It’s bad enough having to produce a one or two page synopsis for an agent, while I appreciate why they need to read one, it doesn't make summarising a complex plot any easier. I certainly wouldn't write one before I began the novel, it would feel like tying my novel down to some prescribed formula that leaves no room for the unexpected. For me, part of the joy of writing is not knowing what is going to happen. I have the beginning and the end, but quite how we get there is part of the curious alchemy that happens when I tap away at the keyboard and enter into another world.
I had never given a great deal of thought to the arc of writers careers, other than it is bloody hard (harder than ever to break through to mainstream publication.) This week I plucked from my shelves the Bridport Prize anthology of 2004 and began reading the winning stories from that year. Glancing down at the contents page I found that the author D J Taylor is included in the anthology. His biography from 2004 surprised me: ‘He is mostly a technical writer and teacher, in the UK and abroad, but has published a book of poems…and won prizes here and there…has published a few stories…he has written one (so far unpublished) novel and is currently working on another.’ I hadn’t expected that.
It is ten years since his short story made the Bridport Prize and in that time D J Taylor’s literary star has risen so high that he was shortlisted for the Booker. I find this encouraging, look how far he has come in ten years I thought,we never know what it is on our writing journey that might be the tipping point towards publication, awards,appearing at festivals and career success. Modest beginnings are no predictor of where we might arrive in ten years time. Be encouraged, I am.