What to do when you know it’s not working
So about a month ago I got some very welcome news that I’ve been shortlisted for the Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller competition with my psychological thriller Rip Her To Shreds.
I’d been working away on another novel called ‘A Pale Imitation’ – the story of an affair (well, more than one over the different timelines) and its repercussions told in increments of seven years. It jumped around all over the place from depression-era New York to 1980s suburbia. I had three narrators, one of whom was a real life person, one of whom was a child, and had got myself into a complete mess with it. I worried at night about what the descendants of this person might make of it (although none of it was derogatory). I couldn’t make the timeline work. I spent hours looking at the most obscure archive footage of Central Park in 1920 to see what animals they had in the zoo. But I couldn’t get the story right.
I was getting some encouragement. The opening chapter was shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter at York Festival of Writing, an agent said they wanted to see it when it was finished, and then my pitch was favourited by an agent at Curtis Brown on their monthly Pitch CB and I submitted the first three chapters accordingly and the synopsis. They said they liked it but it didn’t go in the direction they were expecting and so rejected it. I could not see what else I could do with it – it had got into an intractable knot. I knew deep down it had some good elements but overall it had no clear direction – no real impetus to keep a reader reading.
But I couldn’t get this one voice out of my head.
Back at the end of May, I saw the deadline was almost up for the Richard and Judy competition but it was against the rules to submit anything you had previously sent to an agent. So I started writing – using this one clear (slightly disturbing!) voice. A whole different story, a whole new setting, whole new characters (although the theatre background still features). It was extremely hard, queasy-making, to junk those previous 60,000 ish words – all that research, all those hours. But this one came quickly – I could see the story stretching out before me. I got in a day before the deadline and a month later was told I had been shortlisted.
Not all that previous work has gone to waste – I see bits of it creeping in. Maybe I will suddenly get a blinding flash of inspiration as to how A Pale Imitation should tie together later. I know a lot about Chagall now anyway.
Now I have a fixed deadline of early December to completely finish the 80,000 manuscript of Rip Her To Shreds and then we’ll see.
Have you ever completely started again on a project? A novel or something else? Junked a lot of words? What do you do when you know something’s not working?