I’ve written a total of nine books, seven of them full-length novels. So is it easier to write a book when you’ve already published a few?
Practice Makes Perfect …
Book Number One
I wrote my first novel as the final piece for an MA in Creative Writing. But when I started the book, which later became the novel, Coffee and Vodka, I had only a vague idea of the plot.
The story started off as a short piece I wrote for a public reading exercise half-way through the MA course. After the reading, I had a lot of excellent feedback for the piece. My tutor, Lucy English, felt the story was so powerful that I could develop it into a whole book. But I had to add the main plot, most of the characters and an ending that I felt happy with. The short story was also from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl. So in order to make the book an adult read, it needed a grown-up storyline. Besides, I knew the child’s story would be more dramatic if the adult was still struggling with the events of her childhood 30 years later. I fretted a long time about the timeline. Should I start the novel from the child’s or the adult’s point of view? I ended up mixing the points of view and the timelines throughout the book.
So writing Coffee and Vodka was a scrappy (and painful) affair and took over two years. Having said that, I’m very happy with the end result! But after I’d finally finished the novel, I decided that my next book would have a detailed plot and a set of characters before I wrote one word of the manuscript.
Book Number Two
Because of the detailed planning, I wrote book number two, The Red King of Helsinki, very quickly. I can say that I even enjoyed the process a little bit. (Certainly, more than I did writing Coffee and Vodka). But when I approached an agent with the completed manuscript, which is a spy story, she thought it had too many deaths in it. But she was so enthusiastic about the book, even phoning me after our meeting to add plot points, that I agreed to re-write the book. Although it was time-consuming and frustrating, re-writing The Red King of Helsinki was an incredibly valuable lesson in the craft. I had to rethink each character, plot twist and the general flow of the story. It also gave me confidence in my writing ability.
Book Number Three
My third novel, The English Heart, was born out a series of blog posts, so again the process was very different from either of my previous novels. The story, which was based on my own life, grew almost organically on the blog. But of course, I knew the plot and the characters already. I just shifted things around. After I’d finished the story on my blog, I ended up changing the point of view from first to the third person, took away a few unnecessary scenes and combined characters. (If you’re interested in finding out how to turn your life into fiction, read my tips on the subject here).
Books Four to Nine: A System of Writing
It wasn’t until the next two books in The Nordic Heart series, The Faithful Heart and The Good Heart, that I began developing a proper system of writing. This has made it somewhat easier to produce a novel. Now I plot the book before I start writing it. I prepare quite detailed characterizations and set achievable word count targets for myself.
But even with this system, The Faithful Heart was a more difficult book to write. Possibly this was because the plot still had some of my own – dramatic – experiences in it. The Good Heart was a lot easier in comparison. Although as the fourth book in a series, you are more constrained by having to keep to the same characters and refer to previous plot twists. But that’s another story (and blog post).
While I was waiting for The Good Heart to be edited, I decided to write a novella, exploring my heroine’s life before she met her Englishman. In The Young Heart Kaisa has just moved to Helsinki and is about to meet an older boy. This novella, a prequel to the whole series was supposed to be a ‘quick write’ but turned out to be a lot more difficult because I soon realized that the main story of the book was the relationship between the 21-year Matti and 14-year-old Kaisa, a tale from my own youth. Naturally, just as with The English Heart, I fictionalized the story, but it was a lot harder than it had been with book one in the series.
Books Are Like Children
What I have learned from writing the books, particularly with my latest manuscript, is that however much you plan and follow a system, producing each novel is a different experience. Comparing books to children is something the late Doris Lessing did when asked at the Bath Literary Festival a few years ago if she had a favourite book amongst her countless novels, short story collections or nonfiction titles.
My books are like my children; how could I have a favorite?
– Doris Lessing
As the author, you don’t think one book is better than another, nor does it get any easier to give birth to a new book. As you’ve seen from my experience above, each piece of work– like each child – is different. If you speak to a mother about the birth of her children, you’ll get completely separate stories. Writing a book is a little like that (although obviously less physically painful!).
To prove the point, novel number seven, The True Heart, was quite a strange baby to give birth to.
Book Seven Is Quite Unique
Firstly, this was supposed to be the last book in The Nordic Heart -series, so writing it was like a long-winded goodbye to my characters.
Secondly, I had a real problem with the plot of the book. As with the other two sequel novels in the series, I’d decided on what would happen in this final novel before I began writing. However, when about half-way through, I knew something was wrong with the book but didn’t know how to fix it.
I had planned to complete the novel for National Novel Writing Month in November 2016, but didn’t really get to grips with the story until May the following year. From December 2016 to the spring of 2017, I couldn’t even open up the manuscript file on my computer.
I had Writer’s Block.
I’m so grateful I managed to get over my Block (you can find my blog about how I did it here), and the novel came out in November 2017.
A New Series
I am now writing a new series, called Love on the Island. This series is set in the Åland Islands, which lie in the Baltic between Finland and Sweden. The first book in the series, The Island Affair, is out now. The expereince of writing this novel was one that I recognized from The True Heart. It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but I knew how to handle a possible Block. While trying to work out what to do with the characters and the plot of this new novel, I turned to writing another book in The Nordic Heart Series.
Book number eight, The Christmas Heart, a seasonal novella and so far the last book in The Nordic Heart Series (I never say never) came out October 2018. This book was much easier to write and almost a pleasurable process.
The Island Affair came out in March 2019 and I am already writing a sequel. I have the characters, the plot and even the twists worked out. All I now have to do is to write the novel. (All!) Wish me luck book number two in the new series turns into one of the more pleasurable novels to write!
Sign up to my Readers’ Group
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When you sign up to my Readers Group, you get a FREE COPY of THE DAY WE MET. This is an exclusive, never to be commercially published, short story. It’s also a prequel to The Island Affair and you can download the it here.