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Why I Love and Sometimes Hate Writing Fiction

Grace Jolliffe as a child illustrating an article about writing fictionWriting fiction has always been what I wanted to do – apart from a brief notion about becoming a helicopter flying archeologist/criminal investigator –  which ended when I was ten.

Finishing a book is supposed to be a joy, but I must admit the book I am finishing at the moment has made me feel like I’m stuck on a roundabout with no exit in sight.

The story has been with me for a long time.

In fact, I began the book very soon after Piggy Monk Square was published.

Writing fiction is rarely a linear journey.

Sometimes the best titles for books come after completion and the book I am writing now began life with a completely different title.

But as the story unfolded, the title ‘The Sunshine Girl’ came up, bit me on the nose and wouldn’t let go.

My agent submitted the original sample chapters under the old title to a publisher.

That publisher came back and said they’d like not only to publish it but also republish Piggy Monk Square as a mass market paperback.

Cue much Joy and dancing on rainbows!

end of a galway rainbow - illustrating an article about writing fictionAt last I could prove to my mum and dad that I hadn’t wasted my time writing when I could have had a proper job.

At at last I could pay my electricity bill off all in one go.

At last I could hold my head up among those who thought I had ideas above my station.

And at last I had a chance of being free of the fear of poverty, which funny enough has haunted me ever since I grew up in, well, poverty.

Writing is all I ever really wanted to do and still is.

But would someone who fears debt and poverty seriously choose it as a career? Unless they were mad?

Yes, I’m afraid I did…

Piggy Monk Square had been originally published by a very small publishing company who, although they had published some award-winning books, (Piggy was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize,) had little in terms of marketing power.

They certainly couldn’t afford to pay the chain bookshops for those spaces on the front tables where the real book sales are made.

The company that was going to republish Piggy Monk Square, along with the new novel was in a different league and would launch both Piggy Monk Square and The Sunshine Girl into a whole different world.

A world of not worrying about the bills…

How the books succeeded in that world only time would tell, but it was a huge opportunity.

Just when I had finished excitedly telling anyone and everyone who would listen I received a call from my agent telling me that the deal was off.

The editor involved had now left the company for another, which didn’t want her list.

Suddenly the rainbows were replaced with grey clouds packed with unpaid bills and debt collectors…

Never mind, my agent said there were more publishers out there…

He found another publisher who was very interested but her interest fizzled out. I can’t remember why – maybe I blotted it out…

In the meantime I kept myself busy working on film and television projects. I still loved writing fiction but my time was limited.

I made myself enough money to just about keep afloat by juggling free-lance TV and radio work with admin jobs and later some part-time lecturing.

Years disappeared.

The experience had been painful and I left The Sunshine Girl aside and tried to forget all about her for years – ten to be exactish.

Two years ago I forced myself to reread The Sunshine Girl. I found everything that had initially enthused me in the story was still there waiting for an ending.

I began work again.

Since then I have done a substantial rewrite followed by more rewrites and even more rewrites. More than I can even count at this stage.

Alongside the rewrites I have also changed character’s names, locations and many events.

After the rewrites came the editing. I am still at it. In fact I can’t seem to stop.

There’s something about The Sunshine Girl that makes me not want to let her go.

I don’t need a psychotherapist to tell me why this is. It is pretty obviously all bound up with those earlier disappointments.

If I am truly honest, and other writers will understand this, they were crashing disappointments that nearly destroyed me.

No wonder the side of me that is protective of my emotional front doesn’t want to set me up for any more disappointment.

Yet I do have faith in this story, especially in this character.

She originally emerged as a supporting character in Piggy Monk Square.

If you read the book you will remember her as Josie, a friend of the main character’s mother.

Many people told me they loved Josie. I loved her too.

She was a strong young woman, full of life, full of fun. She was a woman who nobody could keep down for long – if they dared.

She was The Sunshine Girl in Piggy Monk Square, and in her own story she still very much is.

I have promised myself and her that I am going to stop my rewrites and editing soon.

The world may love her, hate her, or worse, ignore her, but after ten years in the back of my mind it’s time to set her free.

Watch this space…

Best wishes

Grace


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