Jul 15, 2010

Life in the First Draft by Rebecca James

Introduction: Hello! My name is Rebecca James and I am the author of Beautiful Malice, a psychological thriller which is due to be published by Bantam Dell in July. To my absolute amazement my book created a bit of a media sensation last year when it went to auction just prior to the Frankfurt book fair. It has since sold in over 37 territories. (I pinch myself daily).

I live in Australia with my partner, our four sons, two overly friendly dogs and an irritable cat.


However differently we tackle the writing of the first draft, I think we can all agree that it is hard work. Not many of us sit down and write an entire book filled with the kind of glorious inspiration that keeps us effortlessly filling page after page with brilliant, sparkling prose.

In fact, in my book, Beautiful Malice, I think I could single out four or five individual pages out of three hundred that came to me in a rush of happy inspiration. The rest of it was a slow process, a kind of repetitive and tedious labour. Writing a book is often compared to climbing a mountain: it requires a great deal of determination to reach the goal - the top, a finished book - and it can often seem like an endless and pointless chore through the middle of it.

As George Orwell put it, "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.'

So, yes, it's hard. And nice as it would be to have a definite formula or process to lay out - a reassuringly proper way to do it - it seems that each and every writer tackles their first draft differently. The good news about this is that writing is a pretty flexible thing - as many creative pursuits probably are - so, whatever you're doing, however you want to get those first words down on the page, at least nobody can say hey, you're doing that all wrong!.

When I started Beautiful Malice I had no clear picture of the story. I knew I wanted to write about a toxic friendship but that was all. I had no idea what was going to happen in the middle, let alone at the end. I didn't outline, or plan, or write a detailed analysis of each character - I sat down and wrote - from page one through to page three hundred - with no idea of what was going to happen next.

Every time I opened the manuscript I would read over whatever I'd written the day before and tidy it up, edit a little, let my head drift back into the story. In a way, writing a book in order like that can be a bit tedious - there's no leaving one scene to jump to another, more exciting one - but the fact that I didn't know what was going to happen next kept me intrigued enough to persevere. And, happily, the end result was a very neat first draft that didn't need a great deal of editing.

I've almost finished the second book in my contract (tentatively titled Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead) and I've written this one in an entirely different way. Before I even started it I had a much clearer idea of the shape of the story (although it has changed as I've written it, evolved) and only a short way into the book I had already figured out the ending. And strangely, I haven't written this novel in a linear, beginning to ending, way. Instead, I have jumped around all over the place, written scenes as they came to me, out of order - the most dramatic scenes first, the end before the middle.

Nobody else has read this second book yet, so I can't even say for sure whether I've succeeded or not - I think I have, I think it's alright (I certainly hope it's okay) - but what I do know is that this more random writing process has left me with a lot of tidying up to do, a lot of loose ends to tie up, a lot more editing to do than I had with Beautiful Malice.

I'm not sure why the process of writing Cooper Bartholomew has been so different to the way I wrote Beautiful Malice. I have wondered if my writing process has changed in response to the fact that I have a book deal - in the face of expectations... But perhaps it hasn't changed permanently, maybe I just wrote Cooper the way I needed to write it, perhaps I will write the next book in a different way altogether (standing on my head in the back of a moving car, for instance) ....Who knows?

I don't. And sometimes I'm scared that thinking about it too much will take all the joy out of it, kill any spontaneity.

And on that note, I'm going to stop.



Rebecca James was born in Sydney and spent her twenties teaching English in Indonesia and Japan. She currently lives in Armidale, Australia, with her partner and their four sons.

You can visit Rebecca online at http://www.rebeccajamesbooks.com/

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hosting Rebecca today. I just finished reading this book and it's a great read.