Reflections on a novel in progress: The story so far.
I have been working on User, a novel about friendship, betrayal and the internet within a close knit group of young people set in Cambridge, for a long time. I first had the idea for the story back in 2007. A story about a girl called Rubi who is forced to turn internet detective when she discovers a girl murdered in her home town. I wrote a scene where she discovers the body in a flurry of inspiration and did nothing more about it until 2009 when I submitted the idea to Gold Dust mentoring scheme and won an Arts Council Grant to support the development of the idea into a novel. My main character Rubi had fleshed out a little in my mind [not on paper] in the meantime started alchemizing with an interest in emerging issues surrounding the then burgeoning phenomenon of FB and some stories bubbling up about fake identities . increasingly concern about the indelibility of the data we store online emerged. [+] I really felt I was on to something. And so did my mentor who was pleased with my progress and my confidence grew as my skills developed in writing it. At the end of the mentoring period I submitted the manuscript to a couple of agents and was accepted by A. M. Heath – on to their children + YA’s agent list. The feedback was that this novel was not – they suggested kindly – a coming of age novel as I had pitched in my cover letter but it would work very well as a YA novel. My first reaction was disappointment. This wouldn’t be the ‘Great Novel’ that I had envisioned I was writing while writing it. It would ‘just be a YA thing commanding a small fee and small audience. My first lesson in modesty – and book business reality. I’ve learned a bit since then. I’ve learned that YA is a growing, thriving market with lot’s of excellent writing and many titles achieving high levels of critical and financial success. I’ve learned that to write for YA is a gret lesson in Good Writing. YA demands strong narrative lines, authentic characters and direct communication. There is no room for obscfucating language. YA and older ones who also read it will not tolerate it. These things do not mean YA is any less engaged with ideas, emotive. In fact it is often more so. Many YA novels engage directy with ideas of all sorts from death, meaning of life, immigration, examples. Then life got in the way.
I gave birth to my first son in March 2011 – following 3 miscarriages – and my second in April 2014, following another baby loss. I said ‘got in the way’ but of course this has been the most exciting and challenging time of my life. I am now a mother. My world has changed. I count my blessings for my two gorgeous boys – and even though they limit my writing time [I also have a lecturing post ] they inspire me to be a better person – a better writer.
It is now 2015. I have not touched the ms since November 2013 when I sent it off to my copy editor. She returned it in good time. I thanked her, read her insightful comments and then didn’t open it again until last month. But I am opening it again and again now. Progress is being made. I have renewed enthusiasm for this story. I love Rubi. I want her to breathe. I want her and Cyd, and Rhid and Aleesha and Pete all to have a life of their own, in the minds and I hope hearts of readers. I have some new ideas. I read more, know better how to write this story that seems at times so often to evade me.