Matthew M. C. Smith on writing a mythical novel - work in progress
Over the summer, I bit the proverbial bullet and embarked on writing a novel. All of my previous attempts over the years seemed to come to nothing with aborted first or second chapters. The issue was confidence and many a time I'd look at the setting, characters, even character names, and feel that none of it seemed authentic.
But I'm just a little bit haunted by the fact that I have, somewhere in my house, two incomplete novel manuscripts, by both my father and paternal grandfather that never really saw the light of day. How many people start and finish a novel - it must be millions each year? How many manuscripts end up in cupboards gathering dust, used as scrap-paper or dumped in landfill. It's a sobering thought. Equally sobering is some of the work out there that ends up successful for want of anything better. I don't want to be mean but as I've have written my novel and thought it half-decent, it's daunting to think it may get nowhere in the end and that the secret, apart from graft, is that magic access to publishers, movie deals, etc, etc. There's brilliant out work our there...and some not so good.
What will be will be and if I eventually get the book done and find some excited readers that is its own reward; also something to pass down the family. But I have a dream that I will make it and be a famous writer, with Netflix deals and film options and dilemmas about selling out. The pessimist in me says this might mean a lot of lonely hotel rooms and reflections on how money and fame are really hollow but it would good to get a whole lot of readers and talk at festivals and find out what the literary-powerful are really like. Maybe success and fame is just brilliant with few drawbacks for some stars.
I'm at 42,000 words, which is novella-length. I'd be happy to write books this length - I love Heart of Darkness, Invisible Cities, Woman in Black, Wide Sargasso Sea and Turn of the Screw but this particular story demands novel-length treatment.
I've found good writing spots - the coffee bar at the Dolphin Hotel in Swansea and the Wildflower Cafe in Gower. A large cappucino for company helps with laser-like focus. I just wish I had more time.
As a child, I was inspired by mythical, historical fiction - Robert Graves, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Renault, Roger Lancelyn Green and more recently Madeleine Miller and Natalie Haynes. My novel takes us to ancient Greece and into the reality of characters, through the artifice of myth and a more 3D depiction of people and events. I hope it makes the epic, even more epic, but also far more human at the same time. I have no idea how I internalised all that reading decades ago but I'm feeling good about it - confidence is not an issue this time, helped by four years of poetry submissions and publications and a PHD on Robert Graves years back - it's just the doing of it.
The process of writing has been pretty fast and I want to keep the momentum and go everything later with a more critical eye. The period after Christmas will hopefully allow some time to get back into the writing - also time to get through the to be read pile which must be several humans high.
I have sent some of the first few chapters to a competition and will be prioritising its completion in 2024. I must hold myself to this and this article is a record of commitment! There's also the small matters of the T.S. Eliot edition to complete, a cultural restitution campaign (the Red Lady of Paviland) and the London Marathon to get done. Plus a million other things.
Wish me luck.