The Birth of a Book

I’m a few thousand words into my new novel, bearing the working title of Kingfisher. For a novelist, the process of beginning a brand new story is many-faceted. Firstly, you have to leave the world of your last one behind. This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Particular characters and their problems become very real for authors, and forgetting about them can seem like emotional abandonment. But as with most relationship breakups, time tends to heal wounds. That’s why it’s important to have a hiatus between finishing your last book, and beginning the next one.

I gave myself a month-long break. During that time, the imaginary landscape of my last novel retreated into the distance, allowing a new one to emerge. I mulled a lot – in the garden, in the car, in the bath. I read poetry. I breathed life into shadowy characters, and tried different personalities on them for size, like a child with paper dolls and dresses. I played the ‘What if?’ game. Closing my eyes, I grew to know the Red Gum flanked river, so central to my narrative.

And gradually the story took form. Obstacles stand between novelists and their new narratives. Home made obstacles. What if I can’t find my voice? What if my protagonist is boring? What if the conflict just isn’t as interesting as I think it is? So, part of preparing is giving yourself pep-talks. Trust your imagination. Trust your characters. Doubts will stem the flow of ideas. Believe in yourself as a writer. Your story deserves it.

Here’s an excerpt from The Four Quartets by TS Eliot, the poem that helped inspire Kingfisher.

‘I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.’

9 thoughts on “The Birth of a Book

  1. Ah … Kingfisher already has a wonderful feel to it, Jennifer. And I really enjoyed your description of the transition from the end of one novel into the conception of the next – thank you.
    My first two novels (still in ms form) have rivers running through them – I seem to have a fascination with rivers physically and as metaphor.
    Have you read ‘The Comfort of Water: a river pilgrimage’, a beautiful memoir by Maya Ward (www.transitionlounge.com.au) describing her walking the length of the Yarra, from coast to source? I found it to be very much in touch with the spirit of the river and the land.
    May you remain immersed in the flow.

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