How I write – Frances Garrood

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By Frances Garrood

Among novelists, there are basically two kinds of writers. There are the planners, and those who, as it were, fly by the seat of their pants and make it up as they go along.  I’m a seat of the pants writer.♥

But how I envy the planners! I read about people whose walls are covered with post-it notes; who keep lists of date and events, and who plan their work minutely, so when it comes to actually writing their novel half their work is already done.  I long to be like them, but sadly, I just can’t do it. So I start out with a blank sheet of paper and a vague idea and wait to see what happens.

Of course, this doesn’t always work. I can sit for hours waiting for inspiration, and those hours tick by, and I’ve wasted a morning. But when it works, it’s just wonderful. Suddenly, almost out of the blue, when I’m struggling with a phrase or sentence, the writing will just take off, and almost seems to write itself. This happens to many novelists, and it’s the most marvellous feeling.

For me, it often starts when characters are having a conversation (I find that dialogue can often move the narrative along much more quickly than description), and as they speak, it feels a bit like taking dictation. The story moves almost more quickly than I can write it, and that can be the beginning of a whole novel.

But that initial inspiration…

For Dead Ernest it all began from the idea of widowhood. I had been widowed; I knew a bit about it. What a good idea (I thought)  to write about three widows, with different situations and different marriages behind them. So off I set. But then one of them, Annie, a widow in her eighties who had been abused throughout her marriage, began to take over the story, and from being a novel about three widows it became Annie’s story (the other two never made it beyond the first sketchy idea).

For Cassandra’s Secret, I began with the idea of falling maple leaves. When my father died, there had been a maple tree shedding the last of its coloured leaves outside the hospital window. Such a simple idea, but out of it, Cassandra and her family were born. 

As for Women Behaving Badly, I decided on the theme of women and their friendships; a kind of ladies who lunch, perhaps. That was all.  But my three women turned out to be not at all what I had initially imagined; they were all adulterous women who had fallen foul of the Catholic church (I’m a Catholic, and no-one does guilt quite the way the Catholics do), and once I’d found them (for that’s what it felt like) their story took off.

Nonetheless, I still dream of that office full of post-it notes and diaries and time-lines. Inside me, I’m sure there’s a planner trying hard to get out. But she hasn’t managed it yet…

Frances Garrood has worked in nursing and as a Relate counsellor. She lives with her husband in Wiltshire. Her first novel, Dead Ernest, was published in 2007. Women Behaving Badly is out today.

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