• Lee Elliott

On writing my first novel: Is self-knowledge a prerequisite?

My book, Light and Shadow at Pemberley, should be available on Amazon in late November, I hope. Being a self-publisher is complicated - a lot of moving parts. Surely it gets easier with practice.

I began "Light and Shadow at Pemberley" out of annoyance with another writer. Yes, that is the exalted reason for my venture into writing. I was attempting to read a P&P sequel from a not unknown author, who will remain unidentified. Not a bad writer, but perhaps one who was bored with the project and executed it in a rather slapdash manner. I imagine that it happens to the best of us, especially when popularity tempts us into getting a book out every year.

As I recall, my thought was, "Good grief! I can do better than this." I wonder how many writing careers are based on just such a flimsy and judgemental foundation. I brooded for a while, and that night a first sentence and the vague idea for a plot presented itself to me. I thought about Anne de Brough, a shadowy, almost wraith-like character in P&P. What a pathetic creature. No looks, no accomplishments and certainly no conversation. I don't think Jane Austen likes her at all, but she is, after all, a minor footnote in the story, the cousin Darcy is said to be destined to marry. Elizabeth, still prejudiced against Darcy, thinks Anne the perfect mate for him and that he deserves to be miserable with his plain and uninteresting cousin.

I realized that I felt sorry for the forgotten Anne. After all, I was shy and insecure when young. Thank heaven I recovered from that wretched state. Why couldn't Anne be saved from lonely spinsterhood by some unexpected development? Some deus ex machina? So, I typed that first sentence - I didn't like it very much and changed it later - and things just started to happen. I always had the idea that novels had to be plotted in advance, probably with a lot of outlines and sticky notes tacked to the wall next to the computer. I found I couldn't write that way. I did better if I just sat down and started banging away with only the most tenuous direction. Later I read about two kinds of writer: plotters and pantsers. Look it up. You will find either "panster" or "pantser" and I don't know which is correct. I just know I'm not a "plotter." You have to understand which one you are or it can really stall your efforts - that is the self-knowledge part. If I'd tried outlines and character notes, I would have gotten sick of the whole thing and given up fairly soon.

As it was, I just sort of cruised along. It was like watching a play, and then I simply wrote down what was happening. I don't want to sound too metaphysical at this point, but if I got stuck I would say, "Dear Miss Austen, please give me a hint." And she graciously would do so. Kind of her, as it must be annoying to have hundreds of writers come up with inferior sequels to her masterpiece.

Now I find I have become addicted to the writing life. If I don't write for a few days, I feel pretty awful and life is dreary. I am working on another kind of story right now. It looks as though I'll just keep doing this sort of thing as long as I inhabit this world.

Please get in touch with me and tell me your thoughts on the writing life - or anything else that interests you..

Best to all,