Extract > How To Write Your First Novel

Tips for aspiring writers from debut novelist Jonathan Carter

jonathan-carte-writing-150x300It was a dark and stormy night… Sorry, I mean it was a bright and sunny day. The birds were singing sweetly and the flowers glowed like gemstones. Even the library seemed more cheerful than usual. Except for the corner where a frowning man was sitting with a bottle of Lucozade at his feet. Every day he’d squat there in the same red leather chair next to the oversized books, wearing earmuff headphones and scribbling in his notebook. But who was this lonely man? It was me, of course, trying to write my first novel.

The concept of The Death Of Mr Punch had been haunting me for years. It still does. But it was only when I started trying to pin it down and define it that it finally took shape. I began by mapping out what seemed to be a plot. It was like walking into an eerie old house and exploring the rooms. Searching all the cupboards, listening at the doors and spying on the neighbours. Pretty soon, the story and its netherworld took charge. I knew where it would end, but it was the characters that told me how it would get there.

I quickly realised that writing a novel is about freedom being saddled by routine. I’d previously worked as a journalist, albeit in the arts, but writing fiction is a very different experience. It’s like being left to roam a city without a guide, or trying to document a dream. The hardest part was the first draft, and stomaching people’s contradictory comments after I’d given it to them to read. However, once I’d refurbished the eerie old house, that’s when the fun started. Cue crazy wallpaper, mad colours and eccentric furnishing.

I’d written short stories before, but I’d never attempted a full-length novel. I soon learnt that chronicling the imagination means sitting down and writing on a daily basis, at least 600 words every day. Even the most inspiring stories are the products of hard work. It’s like painting. When you look at a picture you don’t smell turps and trip over the paint-smeared cloths in the artist’s studio, you just see the magical image.

My biggest lesson of all, though, was not to be afraid of being lonely when writing a novel. Yes, you’re the nutcase in the corner scribbling down your thoughts. But, rest assured, when your book is published you’ll be the nutcase in the corner whose scribbled thoughts have finally gone public. The secret is to keep on going, even if you think that what you’re writing isn’t up to scratch. When you look at it again you’re bound to change your mind. And when you re-read the first draft you’ll instinctively know what works and what doesn’t.

But wait, this is just the downside. I haven’t mentioned the pay-off at the end, the sheer pleasure of knowing that you’ve had the staying power to create and document a parallel world. Not to mention the sight of your book being displayed on the “popular” stand in your local library, nowhere near the oversized books.

The unveiling of that world will be an adventure in itself, that’s guaranteed. Not a dark and stormy night, but a bright and sunny day…


Jonathan Carter


Read an extract of Jonathan Carter’s novel The Death of Mr Punch






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