Beginning, middle and end – Linda Green

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Following the publication of While My Eyes Were Closed, Linda Green shares her insight into the stages in writing the novel. ♥

Beginning

This novel had its beginning 11 years ago. There’s a pivotal scene in it (which I won’t divulge to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t read it!) which came to me when my son was a baby. It’s a powerful and harrowing scene and I realised that I’d need to find the right book to use it in.

So it was stored away in my head in the compartment marked ‘to return to’. And there it stayed until the central characters formed in my head and the other parts of the jigsaw fitted into place.

The idea of writing a novel based around a child going missing is also one which began many years ago. When my son was two-years-old we took him to Center Parcs, It was only a matter of months after Madeleine McCann had gone missing. I put my son to bed but when I went in to check on him later the bed was empty. The window next to it was open and panic surged through me. Eventually, we found him fast asleep underneath the bed, having somehow fallen down the tiny gap between it and the wall. I didn’t sleep much that night, the ‘what ifs’ running through my head.

A few years later I took my son to a park we hadn’t been to before and he asked to play hide-and-seek. I closed my eyes and started counting. When I opened them again he was, of course, nowhere to be seen. After ten minutes of fruitless searching, I thought how ridiculous it is that we watch our children like hawks and then take them to a park, close our eyes and tell them to run away and hide. I found my son shortly afterwards but the idea of writing a novel about a parent who wasn’t so lucky was born.

I particularly wanted to examine how parents, especially mothers, are judged by society, the mainstream media and now social media as well.

In terms of the writing, there are generally two breeds of authors, those who plot everything out before they start writing and those who start off with no firm idea of where they are going to end up. I’m very much in the first camp. I’m a pretty obsessive plotter and planner. Before I write a word of the novel, I spend a couple of months putting together character studies of the main protagonists (I compile their answers to the Q&A feature in The Guardian’s Weekend magazine!) and working on highly detailed chapter plans for the whole novel.

I start out by writing a blurb of the novel, expand this to write a synopsis and then expand further into chapter and eventually scene plans. This means I can work though all potential problems and pitfalls at an early stage, instead of coming a cropper half way through the novel.

So by the time I sit down to write chapter one, I have already spent a lot of time working on the novel and feel like I know the characters well enough to begin their journey.

Middle

I knew I had some particular challenges with this novel which I was going to have to address as I worked through it. The main one of those was the fact that the reader was going to know very early on who had taken Ella. Obviously, there is then an issue with jeopardy (or the potential lack of it!) so I had to work hard to ensure that although the reader knew who had taken Ella, they were never completely sure why or what was going to happen to her. Maintaining that feeling of unease was crucial to the success of the story but I found Muriel such a fascinating character to write that there was no shortage of material.9781784292812

I was also aware that when you have more than one point of view, it’s easy for one of them to be far more compelling than the others, so again I was focused on how to prevent this. I wanted to ensure that when the reader finished one character’s point of view chapter, they were keen to get back to another character’s story, rather than skip ahead. I hoped that weaving the story together through the different points of view would help to maintain the reader’s interest in all the points of view.

All novels have their ups and downs. I generally find the beginning easy to write as I’m desperate to bring my characters to life and as you get nearer the end the adrenalin takes over to get you through, so it does tend to be the middle which is the trickiest bit and where the doubts creep in. This is my seventh novel and I haven’t written one yet where I didn’t have doubts about whether it was good enough at one stage or another. But I have to say that this novel was one of the easier ones to write. I enjoyed that it was set over seven days (rather than a year as several of my previous novels have been) and that certainly helped with the pace. But it was mainly the characters, who become extremely real to me, who kept me writing through the trickier bits. I was simply desperate to tell their stories.

End

All the time and effort I spend plotting and planning before I start writing the novel really pays off as I near the end. Having a clear idea of exactly where I am going frees me to concentrate on getting each scene right, rather than having to worry about holes in the plot (which should have been ironed out in the planning process).

This was an intense and emotional novel to write and as the story reached its climax it was pretty harrowing. I love being so invested in my characters that I feel their emotions acutely and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, how can I expect my words to move readers if I haven’t found them moving to write? But it does mean that when I get to the end of writing a novel I’m emotionally drained.

Again, all the plotting and planning pays off at this point because I’m told my first drafts are much nearer the final draft than with many authors. But it is still far from finished. I spend time reading it through, first of all checking for any major problems with plot or characters, then looking for scenes which need tightening, cutting or strengthening.

You have to be prepared to rewrite at this stage. My agent and editor both read the manuscript and comment and my editor gives me detailed notes on the work she thinks needs doing on it. I don’t let it go until I am entirely happy with it. And the hardest part is saying goodbye to the characters who I’ve spent a year with. I tend to feel utterly bereft for a while before, hopefully, some new characters come into my head who also have a story to be told.


Linda Green is an award-winning journalist and has written for the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday and the Big Issue. Linda lives in West Yorkshire. While My Eyes Were Closed is out now.

www.linda-green.com

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