Report by Lisa Nightingale
‘A novel is an enormous project taking up a vast amount of your thoughts and time.’ says Clare Morrall, Shortlisted Booker Prize writer of When the Floods Came.
Astonishing Splashes of Colour, her first book took five years to complete. Not because the commitment wasn’t there, more because it was. When her children were still young, Clare became a single mother, therefore writing had to fit with her life and her work. She was offered a room in a friend’s house one afternoon a week in which to write. Sometimes this time was lost to her. ‘One thing about using a room in a friend’s house – you know you have to get on!’
Clare’s starting point for each of her novels is something small, unusual and usually not obvious. The starting point for Natural Flights of the Human Mind was a thought that came to her when looking at an advert for a holiday home – What would it be like to live in a lighthouse? This grows into the novel – Why would you choose to live in a lighthouse? Why isolate yourself?
At the start of her writing process, Clare doesn’t know how her story will end. Throughout the project, she continuously is asking questions of it, the answers to which provide the action and ending. Her novel is a growing discovery and the end will not show itself until half way through.
‘We all write from within ourselves’, she says, ‘If you have a story to tell; build a fictional world around it. But beware, it can become obvious when a writer has based their story on themselves’.
A reader needs to be able to identify with their characters. Having sympathy for a character isn’t the same as liking them. A writer needs to ask ‘Why’. No one knows the background to anyone else’s actions. Why does the baddy do what they do?
Dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing your characters to life. The way the character speaks identifies them. Writers need to be wary of the danger of all their characters sounding the same. When writing After the Bombing, Clare read many war time reports in order to gain an awareness of how people of that era spoke. For When the Floods Came which is set in the future, she studied the history of speech which brought to light the way old sayings resurface over the years.
Plot moves the story along and the narrative arc certainly helps here. However, to over plan can make a writer’s life boring.
Action is also necessary and the trick is to interweave it as the story progresses.
Structure, like plot is more of a feeling. Try physically holding a book; your hands can feel where you are; you will be able to think ‘I’ve come to the bit when something’s going to happen.’
Once she has started on a novel, Clare sticks with it. No, she never rewrites the start. She may edit and move sections, but never completely rewrites it.