My fictional cathedral city of Barchester (and yes, that’s the same fictional city created by Anthony Trollope in the 1850s) needed a founder. In my novel The Lost Book of the Grail, the reader encounters bits and pieces of the history of Barchester from the beginnings in Saxon times through invasions by Vikings and Normans, the upheavals of the Reformation and the Civil War, and even the Nazi bombings of World War II. But through all that history I wanted the spirit of the founder to permeate, and I wanted the founder to be a woman.
This is the fifth in a series of blogs, published every other week, about my writing process. Now I have (as you may have read over the past few weeks) a completed first draft that I have read through and revised several times. I’ve cut out sections that don’t add to my narrative and perhaps added a few that clarify my story. It’s time for the most exhausting day of my process. Whenever I’ve completed a fresh draft that includes significant revisions, I like to sit down and read the entire manuscript in one day. The last time I did this I started at 9:00 in the morning and finished about 10:30 that night, pausing only for a couple of phone calls and to feed the dog (and to a certain extent, myself).
I returned to my boarding school recently to spend a day as visiting writer, talking with boys about the writing process, the writing business, and my novel The Bookman’s Tale, which some of the classes had read. The imminent trip made me go digging through a file of old high school English papers and I found that I still have a paper to which I frequently refer when talking to groups about The Bookman’s Tale.
This is the fourth in a series of every-other-week blogs about my writing process. Once I have a completed first draft it’s time to go back through and see if the book makes sense. Because of the scope of the task of writing a novel, inevitably I will forget about things as I progress through a draft. I will find that I have started plot threads that I never completed, introduced inconsistencies, and often written long passages that, helpful though they may have been to me at the time, are not really contributing to the book.
This is the third in a series of blogs inspired by book clubs’ asking me questions about my writing process. As I said in the first entry, I am not one of those writers who prepares a complete outline before starting a rough draft, but neither am I a writer who just sits down and starts writing to see what will happen. I fall somewhere in between. I have a general idea of where I am going and whom I am going with when I sit down to start that first full draft, but a lot of the details, and sometimes even some major plot points, are discovered along the way.
Traveling in Norway a few years ago, my wife and I visited the home of the great composer Edvard Grieg (1867–1907). It was lovely to see his actual piano and get a sense of his life in the main house and museum, but what I especially enjoyed was the walk down to the lakeside to see his composing hut. Apparently Grieg, who drew much of his inspiration from Scandinavian folklore and landscape, had several of these huts scattered around.
Since I just sent the manuscript of my latest novel to my agent, I thought I would begin today a series of blogs about my writing process. To keep some variety in my blogs, I’ll post to this series every other week for the next several weeks. When I meet with book clubs (whether over the phone or in person) questions about my process always come up. While I can’t tell you what is the best way for you to write a novel—because everyone works differently—I can tell you a little bit about my process.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the American Booksellers Winter Institute at one of my favorite hotels in the world, The Grove Park Inn, in Asheville, NC. This was a gathering of hundreds of independent booksellers, joined by publisher representatives, authors, and others from the book trade. Officially I was there to attend the author’s reception—signing copies of my books for booksellers—but I also spent two days attending educational sessions, pitch lunches, and keynote speeches. It was a great educational experience, and I’ll probably write several blogs about it.
I’m going to take a break from blogging about Jane Austen this week and write about something more personal. Fifty years ago today, my mother, Ruth Candler Lovett, died of breast cancer. She was twenty-nine years old. I was two. That’s her with her two brothers when she was a little girl. For a long time I knew very little about her. On rare occasions my father would tell a story. My sister had an airbrushed formal portrait in her bedroom. But for the most part, I went on and lived my life as if she had never been there. For many years, when people would express sympathy after finding out about my mother’s death, I would brush off their concern. “I was so young,” I would say, “I don’t remember her. I never really knew her.”
It seems that Jane Austen was always in my house. My father, now retired, was an English Professor at Wake Forest University for the first forty years of my life, and his specialty was the eighteenth century. True, Jane Austen’s novels were not published until the early nineteenth century, but her work was very much a part of his syllabus and he often talked about her.