- About the Author
- On Active Service
I’ve just finished writing my fifth novel. This one is called “Poppy’s Seed” and is about a couple who have just retired. People who know me will realise that like many of my novels, it’s semi-autobiographical. In fact the heroine in this one is more like me than in any of my other books. Many writers use present and past experiences in their work. I’m not the sort of writer who can put herself into the position of imagining places, situations or feelings. With a few minor exceptions I need to have experienced them myself in order to write about them. Therefore my novels, with the obvious exception of the one based on my parents-in-law’s letters, are all based on things I have gone through myself in my life. What next? I wonder. A book about old age maybe?
It’s a strange feeling when you finish writing a novel. You say Goodbye to characters and places you have inhabited in your mind for a long time. I can’t speak for other writers, but I have the idea for a book, and think about it, mull it over, work out how it will go, long before I start to write it. Then I people it with a few major characters and work out a very basic plot. Next comes the difficult bit-getting started and moving the story on. I find the first few chapters really hard. Once I’ve got going I’m fine. Then comes a stage when I identify with Jane Austen who said about ‘Sense and Sensibilty’:
“I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child.”
I only ever have a vague idea of plot and chapters. These change radically as the novel progresses. At some stage I begin to plan ahead and write out chapter numbers and what will happen, but these often change. Characters change too, not in how they react, that must stay the same, but in what they do. Before I ever wrote a novel I never believed writers who said this, but it is absolutely true. Ideas spring from nowhere, in the middle of the night sometimes, and you realise this simply has to happen, even if it means taking the plot down a different route. And sometimes the idea I had originally for a neighbour or friend of my main protagonists will change in order to show their character more fully. For example in my present novel originally I had the step-daughter as married with a young child but I soon realised it would be better if she was single.
Tying up the ends is the final difficult stage. Unlike Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who famously published incomplete works, I’m a true “Completer-Finisher” and can’t bear not to complete a project once I’ve begun. So on the one hand I’m longing to write the words “THE END”, yet I know it’s important for the last few chapters not to feel rushed.
And what now for this oeuvre? Shall I self-publish it on Amazon KIndle? And/or send it to mainstream agents and publishers? I’m sure most writers would like public recognition of their work, to know others have read it and valued it. Yet very few publishers and agents take on new writers and those who do expect their authors to publicise and market their books themselves. Books seem to be published nowadays on their commercial viability rather than any artistic merit.
Bethany Askew is the author of five novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days and Poppy’s Seed.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Future projects include a new short story, this one for the young adult market, and another full-length novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.