What happens when you write
People ask, 'how do you think up what to write?'
Andrew Miller explains the process as 'like a dream'.
When I was writing the first draft of Mesmerised the story came to me quite whole, but also in scenes. I thought of myself as the transcriber rather than the writer and went along with the whole subliminal process of getting the story down. About half way through the novel I took a trip to Paris. I had already written scenes involving the hospital where Gachet (the protaganist) worked, and the building where he lived. Prior to my trip I was fully prepared to have to rewrite many scenes to incorporate the true nature and spirit of those places rather than leave my imagined efforts to taint the integrity of the piece. As it turned out, I had to change very little. Everything was as my imagination told me it would be, even down to a tree in the grounds of La Salpetriere, which I'd christened Gachet's tree.
I'm not sure how you can explain this phenomenon. I know that Stef Penney who wrote the Costa winning novel The Tenderness of Wolves, an historical book that was set in a Canadian snow desert, captured the landscape perfectly without ever having been there.
But what does it mean?
The novel I am writing at the moment is a very different experience. it began life as a short story that was shortlisted for a Cinnamon Press Award in 2012. My writing group, The Nomads, inspired me to explore what happens to the characters once the short story ends.
Up until now, (I am probably around two thirds of my way through the first draft) my only research of that time and place is anecdotal tales passed down to me through my grandparents.The novel takes place in Russia in the late 19th Century. Fairly recently, I've been hit by a terrible lack of confidence in the authenticity of this work. So, I stopped writng whilst I explored the political and social history surrounding this domestic story, and also the landscape, and am astounded to find that my imagination has not led me astray. It is a minor miracle and also an incredible relief. Now I can get on with writing the last third of the book, even though I have absolutely no idea how it's done.