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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?

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Debbie Greene #

    Wow I didn’t know any of this, how exciting. Good luck with it and I’ll look forward to reading it one day. x

    Debbie Greene Mobile no: 07799 813616

    On Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 11:21 AM, Alison Percival wrote:

    > alison posted: “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'” >

    July 27, 2016
  2. Trish @ Mum's Gone To #

    This is brilliant news, Alison. I really hope you have success with it. So excited for you and not entirely surprised as your writing has always been top notch xx

    July 27, 2016
    • Aww thanks Trish. Hope you’re well x

      July 27, 2016
  3. Victoria #

    Wonderful news Alison, I’m so excited for you and to read the finished book. I never comment these days but couldn’t miss this chance to say well done to an old blogging friends.

    love Victoria (aka MD 😉

    July 27, 2016
    • Thank you – how lovely to hear from you!

      July 27, 2016
  4. Margot Kinberg #

    So excited for your success! Wonderful! And about starting over? I did that once when I completely lost a manuscript in a hard drive meltdown. I started over, and the result was a better book, anyway. Stay strong!

    July 27, 2016
    • Thank you! Hard drive meltdown – ouch! Someone I know had their laptop and all discs stolen and she said the same – it made a better book eventually. But nightmare!

      July 27, 2016
  5. Linds #

    Congratulations! This is such wonderful news. I’m so pleased for you and hope this is just what you need to bring it all to life and bring it to a wide audience of readers. I have so much admiration for writers of fiction.
    Maybe you want to complete it without muddying the waters of outside input, but if you do want a reader, I’d be thrilled. I’ve really been intrigued by what you’ve shared before.

    July 27, 2016
    • Thank you! I may very well take you up on that and then you will see what a very warped and twisted mind I really have – ha! x

      July 27, 2016
  6. Linda #


    July 27, 2016
  7. This all sounds like amazingly positive news to me, so fingers crossed and good luck with the rewriting!

    July 27, 2016
    • Thank you Marina! Lots of work to be done but I work best with a deadline. Hope your own is going well

      July 27, 2016
  8. Wow, this all sounds so familiar to me! I had a similar experience – I got an agent off the back of the first 20k words of a novel and the rest of the writing went well at first. There were so many elements of the story I loved but, ultimately, the plot had no direction. Multiple re-writes later, I had to ditch it all. I hope to one day come back to it with fresh eyes or – like you – use a particular voice/element.

    Well done on getting onto the shortlist – that’s fantastic! And good luck with the writing.

    January 3, 2017
  9. Congratulations and good luck for the result!

    I’ve never junked on that level, but I did decide after the first draft of my current draft novel (all 150 words of it at the time – it’s now a lot thinner!) that half of it was in the wrong tense. Surprising how much more needs to be done to turn past into present than deleting all those “ed”s! I thought it worked better in the end, though I’m still not entirely sure why.

    February 1, 2017
  10. Oops – just realised I missed out the “k” after the figures in the word count above. I’d written a bit more than 150 words..!

    February 1, 2017

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