UNCLE RICHARD, THE WITHERED ARM AND WRITERS’ GROUP
In 2008, Uncle Richard, playwright and author flicked through the wads of paper, an early version of my manuscript called “Mary’s Story”. He didn’t like Science Fiction. He called it “Soap Opera in space”.
‘Well, at least you have only typed on one side of the page—you can use the other side, at least.’
“My baby” judged and found wanting and for very good reason. Uncle Richard outlined all that was wrong with the novel—weasel words, you know the ones ending in “-ly”, and a thesaurus of words other than “said”, a parade of passives and you name it, I did it—wrong—in “my baby”.
‘And,’ he went on, ‘you need to number the pages.’
‘But,’ Uncle Richard stressed, ‘and this is a very, very, good idea. I don’t mean very good, I mean very, very, very good.’ He leafed through to near the end of the manuscript and pointed at the paragraph on the Wends. ‘I like the idea about the Wends.’
Historical fiction was Uncle Richard’s thing.
Anyway, the next novel, Diamonds in the Cave, has Wends. So does a future draft, The Lost World of the Wends.
Then the best advice ever and for which I’m forever grateful to my late Uncle Richard. ‘Join a writers’ group,’ he said.
I did and I love it. Writing is a craft and I needed to hone my skill with the gentle and sometimes not-so-gentle feedback from my writing companions and mentor.
Mary’s Story was shoved in a box and hidden in the closet, never to see the light of a computer screen and I moved on. The group enjoyed my Central Australian Safari story. Yay!
Then in 2010, inspired by the biblical account where Jesus healed the man with the withered arm, I remembered Mary’s Story languishing in the closet. With my honed writing skills, I reworked the novel, plotting, developing characters, and cutting all those not-so-wonderful weasel words. I read successive chapters to the group and they got stuck into that all important helpful feedback. More changes—Mary morphed into Minna, Gunter morphed into a Grey alien and then Fox and then back to Gunter. The Hitch-hiker was born. The back story to Liesel’s itch to touch developed. And the word “was” culled.
Happy with the result in 2011, I emailed “my refined baby” to my mentor. Over our summer break, she pulled “my baby” apart. Not just withered arms, but legs, torso and head too—a vestige of Oliver Cromwell sent back to me in sections labelled: Formatting, Grammar and Spelling, Characters and Plot—Chapter by Chapter. The time, effort and detail she put into how to fix the novel was a book in itself.
Was there anything right with “my baby”?
I spent the next eighteen months putting the broken and more withered effigy of a novel back together. Again, rather than giving up, I embarked on this project to polish my craft. Story-time with my mum became a regular treat; first for me and then as I improved, for mum too.
When I’d completed putting the pieces back together, I contemplated the prospect of showing the mentor the finished product. But after discussion with another member of the writers’ group, I decided to get a second opinion and engaged another editor. I also re-read “my reworked, unrecognisable baby” to the writers’ group. What a difference! What a change! But still more editing…
Last year, I recorded my story on audio and then listened to it. Best editing and proof-reading tool ever!
So…after combing through the novels dozens of times…and now all grown up, but perhaps like any of us, not perfect, The Mission of the Unwilling and The Hitch-hiker sit on the Amazon shelves…
And my challenge now…Advertising and promotion…and this blog.