The answer to the first is quite straightforward. Yes. It never occurred to me to do otherwise. Why, I wonder? I suppose that as a journalist I’m very used to seeing my name in print. It’s even possible that some of the people who read my articles in the Church Times and elsewhere might recognise my name on the cover of the book and pick it up as a result. It’s hard enough selling copies as a completely unknown author, and I might as well make use of the tiny currency my name affords.
The second question is a bit more complex. At one level, I can say I was lucky enough to be able to cut my working hours down to four days a week last year, thanks to an unexpectedly quiet period in my day job. The free day gave me the time to write, and perhaps more importantly, the lull in the workload gave me the headspace to think.
I always knew that the reduction in hours was a temporary arrangement - and as a result it felt like a gift far too precious to squander. So at a practical level, yes, I sat down first thing in the morning and wrote an allocated number of words, come hell or high water. That usually meant somewhere between 2000 and 3000 words a day, which I’m told by a fellow novelist is a quite lot. I don’t know if that’s the case, but my background as a feature writer means you can’t afford to mess about until the mood strikes you. If an editor is breathing down your neck waiting for 1500 words by lunchtime, 1500 words is what you have to write. (Let me give you a recent example. A few weeks ago I found myself in the unenviable position of having to produce – overnight – an 1800 word feature based on an interview with Dame Judi Dench. Which would have been fine, if there hadn’t been a mix up over the arrangements and I found my interview slot cut to 90 seconds… or 200 words for every second I spent in her august company.)
Back to the novel. I’m a woman who likes to plan, and I did so with my novel. Before I started I drew up lots of notes and quite a detailed plan, and set myself a series of mini deadlines, representing the nine chapters of the book.
Each time I started a new chapter, I knew exactly where my characters were starting and where I needed to get them – but not exactly the means by which that would happen. First and foremost I made sure I produced (or exceeded) the correct number of words to keep myself on schedule. I also edited a certain amount as I went along.
A lot of my writing and indeed most of my editing took place when I was out running. (I’ve since discovered other writers do this: there’s something about the physical exertion that seems to free up the mind, leading to a number of “of course!” moments as I trundled past startled early morning dog walkers.)
I’m new to this, of course. But my experience was that I became so caught up in my story that nothing would stop me from completing it. I asked myself what would happen if I died with my manuscript incomplete. I found myself resenting the interruptions of the day job, of meal times, of ordinary domestic life. If someone interrupted me (selfishly telling me lunch was on the table, for example) it often took a moment or two to remember where I was. So absorbed was I in the process that I became quite anxious if I had to leave my characters in an awkward place when I had to go to work. And I missed them horribly when I went on holiday.
Yes, it was hard, fitting it around the rest of life, even with the blessed gift of that free day a week. Sometimes it was a struggle, a grind, and really hard work. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer all-absorbing pleasure writing brought me. It felt as I imagine skiing fast down a slope must feel: terror, certainly, but overlaid with addictive exhilaration.