So, how do you write a novel then?

I'm writing a novel and it's really bloody hard. So, I swallow my jealousy and ask two published authors what the secret is

Jun 26, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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David Whitehouse doing something authory

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. In fact I’m writing one right now (not literally, this is actually classic procrastination). I woke up a year ago with an idea in my head and finally started my lifelong ambition. Now I’m about two thirds of the way through my great work. I’m chugging through thousands of words and chapter plans and synopses. I’m agonising over adjectives and re-writes and character names and the building up of suspense.

I’m doing historical research. I’m reading other writer’s books. I’m writing drunk, I’m writing sober, I’m writing in the half-light before morning. I’m having moments of exhilarating “autowriting”, then I’m feeling guilty for not writing and calling it “the block” – for three months. I’m writing in the library, on trains, in the kitchen, on the bus, in bed and at work when no-one’s looking.

Even though being a writer is my job and I’ve spent my whole life mentally preparing myself for this moment, it’s really difficult and I wonder if it will ever end. And if does end, will I get an agent. And if I get an agent will I get it published. And if I get it published, will I make enough money to give up my job and write books full time with six months in London, the other six months abroad. (The average advance for a first time novelist languishes in the five figure-region, fact fans).

And then some people make me jealous and go and publish a novel when they’re about 12 as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. So I thought I would ask two of the hottest young novelists right now how on earth you go about it as well as other things – like does it get you more sex.

Just out of interest. Rebecca Hunt (32), scored a big bucks deal with Penguin and published her first novel Mr Chartwell last year – and 30-year-old David Whitehouse’s first book Bed won the To Hell With Prizes first novel award and is being made into a film. I managed to swallow my jealously long enough to ask them my ridiculous questions.

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Rebecca Hunt - thinking about her next novel?

What does it feel like to have a published novel?
Rebecca Hunt: In a word: awesome. In three words: bizarre, awesome, changeable.

David Whitehouse: Occasionally you forget and then you remember. It’s a nice surprise.

Have you met more famous people as a result?
RH: I’ve been interviewed by Mariella Frostrup and Simon Mayo. Compared with my previous record it’s a massive leap.

DW: I’ve met famous authors. But the thing about authors is you never know what they look like. So they could have been anybody.

Have you had more sex as a result? 
DW: If you’re writing a book to have more sex, stop and join a band.

How has your life changed? Have any of your friends stopped speaking to you because of jealousy?
RH: My life completely changed when I left my day job. My friends were excellent and made me feel proud. But nothing has changed there, we still sit around each other’s houses drinking newsagent wine and talking bollocks.

DW: I quit my day job at a magazine to go freelance. The weirdest way it’s changed is that every so often I stand up in front of a big crowd of people and read out loud, or answer questions.

How did you do it? Did you “wait until the vibes felt right” (my approach. Joking. Not really)?
RH: My process was methodical: I did try and write every day and from the beginning I knew what I wanted to happen to the characters. The rest was an experiment: I learnt as I went along. I think only writing when the vibes are right might be a slightly dangerous method, as bad vibes are just one more excuse to dodge the laptop. Most of the time my vibes suck initially, but when I get going I suddenly find that hours have gone past and the vibes are pure heavy metal.

DW: I made it up as I went along.

Did you have any special writing rituals?
RH: Writing and drinking wine is one of the best combinations in the world. I try not to permit any superstitious rules or lucky mascots because I worry they’ll spawn others and the whole cycle will get a bit intense.

How did you find an agent and all that fandango?
RH: I found mine using a copy of The Artists’ and Writers’ Yearbook. Seriously, I’d recommend it to anyone, everything’s in there. I read the various informative essays and slavishly did exactly what they said. When I heard the message from the agent saying she wanted to meet me, I nearly crushed my phone to pieces in excitement. She then managed the book sale, whilst I experienced the most hardcore levels of panic, exhilaration, anxiety and hysteria I think it’s possible for me to physically survive.

DW: I started the book and Googled ‘How to get an agent’. It said I needed to send 5000 words and a one-page synopsis, so I did, to the only agency I’d heard of. They took me on, then I had to finish the book. 14 months later it was done and it was sent to every major publisher in Britain. Everyone rejected it. It sat in my agent’s drawer for two years. Then it was entered for a prize to find the best unpublished manuscript in the country. It won. The moral of the story, if this was an episode of Dawson’s Creek, would be to never give up.

Dave, did you get a boner when you heard Bed was being made into a film?
DW: Yes, I got an erection so powerful that I was fined by the council for not having planning permission.

Becky, what is you advice for aspiring novelists?
RH: The advice I tell myself all the time is: get on with it. Basically, lock your jaws and hang on. We all know the inspiration / perspiration adage, and it’s true. Tenacity is every bit as important as the initial idea. Stick with it.

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt is out now (Penguin). Bed by David Whitehouse is also out now (Canongate).