How to Write a Novel
After gaining a Teaching Certificate in 1965, I embarked on a journey from Australia to England, passing along the Suez Canal shortly before its forced closure by Egypt. My eventual goal was France, following in the footsteps of my older brother, William. I’d saved up my return fare for a berth on the P&O liner S.S. Oriana, a sparkling white vessel known as “the Queen of the Sea”. It was waiting for me to board it at Circular Quay in Sydney on the evening of 31st December, 1965. Along with three other teaching friends, I’d be arriving in Southampton on 24th January, 1966. This marked the beginning of my obsession with writing as I began to document, in a travel journal, my experiences during four years abroad. What I was to discover was that voyaging overseas was a great metaphor for the creative writing life. There were pitfalls for the traveller, like the dangerous rocks, winds and sirens that threatened Odysseus during his earlier travels; as well as great joys, during and at the end of the journey. Much would be experienced and learnt that no one could have taught me.
It’s the same with writing. You might have to experience its joys and downfalls before you figure out properly how to do it yourself. This applies particularly to writing a longer work, such as a novel or a modern memoir. Having been taught by several successful novelists for my postgraduate diploma and Master degree, and having read many “how to” books, I have come to realise certain things. Mainly, that finding a pathway towards publication is a minefield, and takes a great deal of perseverance and a good dose of luck on the part of a beginning author. And that even published writers may not be the most qualified persons to give advice about the craft of novel writing. Like the advice of one well-known author who told me to just “get it down” in segments, and then arrange cards in order to find a plotline and a story. This approach—called by some “pantsering“—may help; it did not help me. One thing that this excellent writer forgot to mention was that he had had mentors—editors and others—to assist in the structuring of a final work when he was writing during earlier decades.
Even Ernest Hemingway, who seems to have been “a natural”, had women and other writers, fawning over him, only too happy to assist him, if not with craft ideas, at least with confidence boosting and secretarial work.