So I thought I’d have a stab at writing a novel. Why not, there’s a book in everyone, right?
I’d written for the likes of ‘Alas Smith & Jones’ and ‘Mr. Bean’ and had penned and polished a few film scripts. The film company, ‘Working Title’ commissioned a script from me years ago but it never got to the screen. ‘The Blue Tailed Falcon’ was its title and the producer suggested it would make a better book. Though there was a fair amount of comedy in the script, the film was essentially to be a mystery thriller.
Years later, I wrote seven chapters of a book version, renaming it, ‘Rough Music’ and sent them to Steve Jeanes, a writer friend in Brighton , anticipating great praise, of course. I was therefore thoroughly miffed with his emailed response: “Must meet for a pint. You can’t write!”
So, with a few well-rehearsed insults and mentally dragging my trophy cabinet behind me (not a burdensome task, sadly) I entered ‘The Open House’ pub in Brighton.
“Are you mad?” I almost yelled, There was such pity in his eyes when he replied, “You can’t write, mate. I’ll get ‘em in.”
I sat, fuming, until he tipped up at the table with the drinks, and launched into a grand list of my achievements, starting with the fact that ‘Mr. Bean’ continues to sell to over 150 countries with new audiences for the show being born every day. I understood story structure, I told him, blah, blah, blah… I understood character development!
“I’ve done the Robert McKee course twice and the John Truby lectures, for God’s sake!” (Movie writing gurus). I had the skills, and all the right tools and I had good ideas, I whined.
Steve took a thoughtful sip of his Guinness and proved to me in ten minutes that, indeed, I could not write.
In my first attempt at ‘Rough Music’, I’d made the most obvious blunders of a first-timer. The list of errors was long and I’m embarrassed to even admit to some of them here.
‘Point of View.’ I was telling the story through the heads of two characters in the same scene or sequence at the same time, which really doesn’t feel right to the reader. ‘Show Don’t Tell’. Don’t say it happened, let the reader see it happen. I was guilty on both those counts and more.
I’ve read books since I was young and do so obsessively now, and I still hadn’t noticed the smoke and mirrors that authors employ in their craft. I foolishly thought it was just us TV and film writers that, oh so cleverly, ‘suspended disbelief’ in our work, for instance. Doh!
After that rap on the knuckles, I spent a year doing what I should’ve done in the first place and learned how to write books, which is very different from scriptwriting. After all, as Steve put it, “Even if you were a plumber, you wouldn’t install central heating in your house without learning how to do it first.” After almost thirty years as a writer, I still had to go back to school. And I’m still learning.
It is said that there is a book in all of us, and that is true, but only if we take the time to learn how to do it. Most of us already have the tools, there’s just a few more worth putting in the box. And the great thing is, it’s a really enjoyable process. To that end, there are plenty of books and creative writing courses out there, and loads of free stuff online. So, those of you who have a book in you – no excuses – just get going. And good luck!