The Most Important Book You’ll ever write… The First Novel

Hillcroft Manor in its first form
Hillcroft Manor in its first initial form

Since this is my first real post on this blog, I thought it would be relevant to begin by talking about first novels. Recently, I just finished my very first novel and thought it would be an interesting space to discuss my initial feelings on the subject.

When I say I “just finished” my first novel, I mean that I’ve finalised my editing, had two very trustworthy (and  most importantly, critical) allies read my text and have now begun the ongoing submission and rejection process.  The novel is a Gothic tale named Hillcroft Manor and has been a labour of love for me over the past few years. Born of my own love for Gothic stories such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Grey, the story follows the journey of a young, rebellious aristocrat, who journeys to a remote, rural mansion to live with his reclusive uncle. It is a story of patriarchal oppression, the supernatural and madness with a distinctly satirical edge, and has taken  many long nights of dedication and hard work to finish it. Needless to say, its been an experience like no other and with movies such as Crimson Peak being released to audiences soon, the story could make an attractive, marketable venture within the current climate. So much so, that I would go as far as saying that Hillcroft Manor, despite being currently in that  ‘writers limbo’ between completion and agency representation, could well be the most important novel of my life.

You may be thinking, why? Why would a novel that has not even been taken on by an agency or might not ever see print, be my most important and valued novel? There are many reasons for this to be the case.

First of all, Hillcroft Manor taught me what it takes to be a novelist, including; what to do and what not to do. I’m willing to admit that I made many mistakes whilst writing Hillcroft Manor. Be it from simple sentencing and grammar issues, all the way to plotting and characterisation. I’m sure as this blog goes on, I’ll go further into these details, but as it stands, this was the novel that offered me valuable lessons into what it takes to be a novelist and also, how to actually WRITE a novel. How to dedicate and plan my time, how to mould characters, to set scenes, quicken the pace and stop ‘purple’ patches of prose from appearing throughout the manuscript. Whether these lessons have resulted in a publishable work, remains immaterial. The fact that they have helped develop my writing skill for future works is what is important. I once read that writing is like an continuously ongoing apprenticeship, that one can only get better at. It’s a good way of looking at it and in this case, Hillcroft Manor has been an valuable tool in continuing my progression.

The novel has also  provided me with the opportunity to explore the novel form and show that I can, if I put my mind to it, complete and dedicate myself to finishing one. For years, I have pluttered with short stories, scripts and small stretches of Flash Fiction, but the novel is always one that I have shied away from. In my naivety, I was of the opinion that the aspiring writer must cut his teeth on short stories and novellas before making the ‘serious’ leap to novels. Of course, this is far from the truth. Short stories are very different from novels, in terms of form, composition and requirements. It’s a different type of artistry and so if you feel as though you are better at writing novels, do exactly that, write novels. It was here that I found my niche. That although I love short fiction and flash, I am a more natural novel writer than a short story writer – though I’m still working on that! Novels suit my writing style better, in terms of pacing and form, and this is something I will take into my career as it continues to progress.

Chateau Miranda in Belgium - An Inspiration for Hillcroft Manor
              ‘Chateau Miranda’ in Belgium – An Inspiration for Hillcroft Manor

Finally, Hillcroft gave me something I have never experienced before. It gave me substance as a writer. After years of trying, finally, I had something to be proud of. Something that was physical, tangible and that I felt was decent enough to be sent. It also gave me the opportunity to experience life as a writer, visiting places for research (again, another article coming up) and reading on things I never would have expected (19th century Edinburgh prisons?). After years of writing short stories and sending them out to small time publishers, here I was with something I felt confident enough with that I felt it could be sent to agents. It also gave me experiences of creating submission packs for agents (As of writing, I’ve sent five out, with the potential for more fairly soon!) and the rejection that follows. It’s kept me positive and grounded in terms of expectations, as well as realising submission pack mistakes and removing them for later submissions.

It is for these reasons that Hillcroft Manor, no matter what may come in my life, will always be regarded as my most important, most personal novel. I’ve loved every second of writing it and its taught me a lot.

I just hope that one day I can share it with everyone.

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