The thing about writing your first novel is that as well as doing it you’re finding out how to do it. So, you would have thought that I’d have discovered at least the fundamentals of the how by now.
But it seems that I haven’t, or hadn’t. My second novel, which I had the idea for while I was still writing my first, in 2003 (or was it 2004?), turned out – in early 2007 – to be a short story. And the reason is simple (I realise, three years on). What I have been struggling to turn into a novel is a glimpse of a life (as William Trevor so deftly describes the essence of the short story) not a sinuous, continuous, easily-flowing or utterly dammed-up great big chunk of a life. (Or better, all these things, in their turn.)
A short story revolves around one main event, not a series of events caused by the characters or which cause them to react (or not). Of course the characters in a short story are affected by, or have caused, the event (which won’t necessarily be a concrete exterior event, it could be an interior, psychological event), but this event is the fulcrum of the story. What has happened before it or what may happen after it do not belong in the short story: the event itself and how the characters deal with it serve as food for speculation about the before and the after in the readers’ minds.
So, at last I know what to do with this novel I’ve been wrestling with. It is both a huge disappointment (no novel) and a great relief (I haven’t had to bin the idea completely).
So, now I know what to do I’d better stop writing this MAT and get on with it. (Sometimes, getting down to a piece of work when I know where I’m going is more daunting then getting down to a piece of work when I don’t know where I’m going. Why? Because it might not work, of course.)