Circ – An author’s reflections – Sue Barsby

We at Pigeon Park Press are very excited about the upcoming novel, Circ, written by ten different authors as part of the Ten To One project. You can get your own tickets for the launch (and claim a free e-book on the night!) by going to http://www.birmingham-box.co.uk/event/circ-can-ten-people-write-one-novel/
Between now and the launch on 28th November, we will be blogging interviews with all the authors plus some additional guest blogs and bonus material from the novel.

Today, Sue Barsby reflects on the experience of being an author in the Ten To One project…

In the movies, the untested but keen contestant, odds stacked against them, go through a new, occasionally humiliating, and daunting experience to triumph to a sweeping orchestral background – fireworks, success and a love interest to boot.

 

It doesn’t work like that in real life.

 

I encountered collaborative writing, and the publishers of the Ten to One novel, at Nottingham Festival of Words. Already feeling slightly amateur in the face of others, I decided to just try out all new things and get as much as I can out of the experience. I enjoyed the workshop so much I didn’t think twice about applying to the novel. It wasn’t that big a deal, they’d see through me, note my inexperience and find others. I dug out a piece of flash fiction I’d done as a writing group exercise, added that to the first couple of thousand words of the novel I was writing at the time and sent them in with the application form.

 

They wanted me.

 

My first lesson came in the pre-writing process. My character was someone I’d been toying about with in a previous piece of work. I was too fond of her to consign her to a drawer and so I relocated her to Skegness and made her a touch more manipulative than she had been before. She could take it. But I’d not thought much beyond that. So the pre-writing, the prep, the ideas process made me slightly nervous. There were lots of ideas. I was working with a group of strongly opinionated, creative, intelligent people. I needed to stop feeling like a fraud.

 

Then the next lesson. A character arc. Where will my character go? I had no idea. She was a premise. She was untested, despite my familiarity with her. I knew she had it in her to kill someone, but she’d need an emotional connection to them. Beyond that, I had no idea – I figured it would work out as we went along. Of course, thinking logically, a novel this complex would need planning and plotting – what was I thinking? But I’d not done anything like this before.

 

Thankfully we could then start on the writing. I was sent my instructions for the first chapter and began work. There were several revisions. I uploaded it, got some comments from fellow writers – thank you! – and made more revisions. Deadline day passed. Voting opened.

 

My only goal for the entire novel was not to be voted out first. I tweeted, posted a few things up on Facebook, emailed family and work colleagues and sat with my fingers crossed.

 

Success. And some really nice feedback. Not only had I made it through to the next round, but I’d impressed people and done well in the vote. You have no idea what a confidence boost that was.

 

And so to round two. I genuinely don’t think I was feeling more confident, or cocky, or complacent. I wrote my chapter, did my revisions, posted it up for comments, and crossed my fingers like before.

 

Alas.

 

The email notifying me of my removal from the writing process was a genuine surprise. It was over. Valerie had not done enough. I got one more chapter to make her shine and then I could join the judges.

 

It was hard, the first month of judging other people’s work and not comparing it to your own. For all that we had been working  together, some of my competitive spirit had come through and I wanted to do better. But after the first somewhat bitter month, I enjoyed the judging more and more, even cheering at the final result.

 

Just when we thought it was over, the editing process began – the feedback from the beta readers came in, and more revisions were needed. I am so much happier rewriting than writing. I tweaked accordingly.

 

And by now I’d had enough writing practice to have some kind of routine down and I could devote that time to other things I wanted to write. But I wasn’t just done there. The Ten to One process had uncovered some more lessons for me.

 

First, I’m not a plot driven writer. I’m a character writer. My people go through cerebral changes, small but important things happen to them. A thriller, with gangsters, secrets and a lot of guns, was not my thing. Not really. I’ve no idea what Valerie could have done had she gone on. Perhaps the judges could tell. Perhaps that was why I got voted off.  

 

Second, I have a lot to learn about self-publicising. As much as I might make excuses about Facebook being blocked on work computers, hampering my colleagues’ ability to vote, I just felt weird posting up reminders to vote for me – I didn’t want to bother people too much. That kind of thinking gets you nowhere.

 

But I rather like these kind of lessons. In the intervening months, I’ve been writing more and more. I’ve gone back to that novel I was writing, dumped 12,000 words (including those I sent as a sample of writing to Ten to One) and sat and plotted my characters and their journeys. It’s been a revelation.

 

And I’ve subsequently had a couple of short pieces published. Of the ones I submitted with no success, at least one gave quite nice feedback. My confidence levels are, not high exactly, but hovering around mid-way. Some terror and caution is always a good thing I think.

 

I’m not sure I’d ever do this kind of thing again. But all in all, it was a pretty positive (and chastening and educational) experience. And if nothing else, it gave me more people – fellow writers – to talk to (or debate politics with) on Twitter!
The Ten To One launch event is on 28th November 2014 (7pm – 8:30pm) at the Library of Birmingham. Tickets are available from their website: http://www.birmingham-box.co.uk/event/circ-can-ten-people-write-one-novel/?tab=6#unit-production-dates . Keep up to date with Ten To One by liking the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TenToOneNovel
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