Clare Morrall on Clever Timing, Consistency and Unnecessary Advice

AstonishingSplashesI first started to write a novel at the age of thirty-five, which wasn’t clever timing, as I was spending long hours teaching violin and piano, and bringing up my two young daughters on my own. At first, I would put the girls to bed early and write through the evenings. It was good for them, I told myself, a regular routine, a calming-down period before going to sleep. But children soon get wise to these things. Early bedtimes became harder to justify.

Eventually, a friend offered me the use of a room in her house, and I would sneak off for a couple of hours on a Wednesday and the occasional Saturday afternoon when the children went to their father’s. There was no time for procrastination. I had to sit down, turn on the laptop and start writing immediately. This was my only chance and I wasn’t going to waste it. Occasionally I would go to sleep, it’s true – there was a lot going on and I was usually exhausted – but mostly I got on with it.

I would always write something, anything, even when I didn’t feel like it. I made myself continue typing, whatever the results, because I knew that my thoughts would eventually start to flow and sometimes, sometimes, inspiration would take over. I still write like this, forcing myself to produce something in the available time, then going back and rewriting, shaping, moulding like a sculptor.

AftetTheBombingI’ve been asked to give tips on how to produce a consistent voice. When I wrote After the Bombing, I was very conscious of the need for authenticity, so I spent a great deal of time online, reading first-hand accounts of the bombing in Exeter, absorbing the feel of the language, the phrasing, the expressions, until I had to stop myself and start writing. The future world of When the Floods Came WhentheFloodsCamepresented another difficulty, how to portray language that was familiar, but also evolving. I decided to invent expressions – catchphrases, new cliches – especially for the younger characters, allowing the words to grow out of existing jargon. But my main advice for convincing dialogue would be to listen. Absorb the voices around you, let a hint of the waffle remain for believability, then cut everything down to the bare bones. Fictional dialogue reflects real conversation, but doesn’t reproduce it exactly. It’s not a good idea to crush your readers with meticulous accuracy. You don’t want them to die of boredom.

My daughters have moved on, both married, so I can write at home again, no longer having to lose the travelling time. Writing a novel is hard work, a formidably long process. But it’s what I do. I write for the satisfaction of creating, for love, not because it will make me rich. In the end, if people want to write, they’ll write anyway and nothing will stop them. Advice is probably unnecessary.

Turning Creative Ideas into Page-Turning Storytelling – Clare Morrall

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Clare Morrall

 

‘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 AstonishingSplashescomplete. 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?NaturalFlightsoftheHumanMind

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 AftertheBombingway 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 WhentheFloodsCameWhen 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.