The Novel: A Short Writing Sample

Here is one of my favourite sections told from the perspective of the central character Alan Holmes – an eulogy to his childhood friend Wayne.  The gist of the story is this: Alan escaped a murder scene when he was ten-years-old, but has no recollections of the event. 

For a few moments, I’m a boy again, trekking along the muddy trail with Gordon Day and Wayne Winters, the three of us building dens near the tyre swing in the woods,Wayne trying to teach us one of those silly rhyming songs he’d just made up. Then, the vision fades, and I stand by a wooden bus shelter near the village pub, peering at fields and rolling hills and tall chimney-like structures.

I suddenly remember the significance of today’s date. The first day of October. How could I have forgotten? Today is Wayne Winter’s birthday. If he’d lived, he would have been my age, Gordon’s age. Thirty-five. And how different all our lives would have been if I hadn’t suggested the bike race to Whaley Hill when we were boys of ten.

Nearby, in the village, the church bells are ringing, their sounds soft and mournful. They evoke images of the horse-led funeral procession along bleak northern roads twenty-six-years ago as people came out of their homes to watch in silence, heads bowed. Images of the Pennines skyline cloudy in the distance. Images of the small coffin draped in a Manchester United scarf, decorated with flowers. The groups of sobbing adults and children following in the cold and the wet to pay their final respects, their footsteps slow like a funeral march, matching the tempo of the horses’ hooves.


The Chill Factor In Novel Writing: Getting To The Heart Of The Matter

I’m midway through my second novel, a psychological thriller. My main character Alan, a former tough guy who used to play rugby and football, has recently moved back to the north of England following the break up of his marriage and has got in touch with a former childhood friend. 

Alan witnessed a murder when he was ten, but has no recollection of the event.  A series of disturbances at his new home, a flat in a converted old factory in the countryside, prompt Alan to investigate the murder, but each move he makes results in further confusion. 

For instance, Alan meets a an elderly woman who played a significant role in his childhood, but he doesn’t remember the woman at all.  However, he recognises her post retirement house, even though he has never visited the house. Further, the interior seems strikingly familiar to Alan, reminding him of a house he only just remembers: the murderer’s. 

In tackling the matter, I hope to look deep within Alan’s mind – in particular, why certain seemingly insignificant things unsettle him so much, such as a vase in the wrong house.  I feel that the brief memory flashbacks in the story must capture Alan’s uncertainty and hint at the reasons for Alan’s fear, drawing on specific details that strike true fear in Alan’s heart.   This will mean cutting old redundant material and going deeper into Alan’s character.

Demanding, to be sure, but I’m managing about four to six hours a day of writing.

Novel Writing: Having Normal Scenes

Normal can mean different things….to me, it means having scenes where the main characters do normal things, like enjoying an afternoon out.

I always find these scenes the hardest to write, but I think they’re crucial.  In my second novel, the central character, a thirty-five-year-old man, has an eight-year-old son who is vulnerable.  In the most recent scene, he and his son, a keen photographer, go for a walk along a former railway track.  They take photos of the surrounding scenery and the father decides to spend the evening helping his son build photo collages.  

The scene acts as a calmer between the more chilling moments of the story, allowing the central character to evaluate his priorities and make time for his son.

Difficult, but rewarding.

Novel Writing: Cropping The Story

Digital photography enables people to crop photos using photo editing software.  The photographer will look at a photo, decide which part of the photo they’d like to display and cut the rest.  Certainly, I do.  All the time.

I think cropping can be applied to story telling.  Often, writers will have more than one central idea.  A combination of story ideas may work well in some novels, but not in others.  It may leave readers asking, whose story?

For a long time, my second novel, a psychological thriller, focused on two protagonists, but this led to clutter and confusion in places, and I had to decide to crop the novel and choose only one protagonist, developing the story along a single route. This meant eradicating large section of the former story.  Basically, it meant rewriting much of it and using only one plotline.  However, cutting most of the material has resulted in many new scenes and opportunities to take the story further. 

Early days, but I’m enjoying the process.

The Scene Setting In My Novel

Originally, I’m from the north of England. The photos below show the type of the scenery I grew up with.   I’m hoping to bring alive some of the bleakness in my second novel, a psychological thriller.  The gist of the story is this: the central character Alan Holmes has recently moved to the north of England from London following the break up of his marriage.  Within a few days of arriving, he meets a childhood friend.  Flashbacks of an incident in the local woods follow, along with growing menace.

The North of EnglandThe North of EnglandThe North of EnglandThe North of England

Novel Writing:Flashbacks And The Psychological Thriller

I’m at the point in my writing again..memory flashbacks of traumatic childhood events, and part of me wishes I could find a different way of dealing with the material.  I often wonder whether my coverage of these issues is convincing enough. 

And yet, for many people, flashbacks do occur, though perhaps not in the way presented in fast paced crime/thriller novels.  Sometimes, the sections in these works seem too ordered, explaining the plot rather than inviting the reader to experience the world of the character in question.

I would imagine that a traumatised person would experience some level of confusion in recalling traumatic incidents, that they might confuse certain details and have huge gaps in memory.  That specific sensory details would stick out, such as particular smells and sensations, but not an actual timing of events.

I think the key to writing about flashbacks lies in the confusion, the mixing up of timing – along with the intensity of a few select details that might develop over the course of the story and appear to echo in the character’s mind.

I’m experimenting with the flashbacks. It’s still very much early days, but I’m enjoying the editing process.