We’re delighted to welcome Huw Thomas, author of The Vault. Huw joins us today to share his thoughts on how a change of setting helped him to complete his second novel.
Leaving your comfort zone can pay
by Huw Thomas
Think of a famous author, any successful, traditional author. The people whose names you see on your bookshelves – you know, those things on the wall holding all those paper objects that ruled the roost before e-books came along.
Chances are you associate authors with a particular genre – Arthur C Clarke for sci-fi, Patricia Cornwell for crime thrillers, Barbara Cartland for romance, etc, etc.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that traditional publishers like to keep writers pigeonholed – it’s supposed to make them much easier to market. Another explanation is that we, as writers, often tend to find something we’re good at and then stick with it.
It’s the same with form. We tend to be novelists, playwrights, short story writers, poets… or bloggers.
Of course, there are some writers versatile enough to mix and match. Newer authors also often hop around trying out different styles and genres – generally while still trying to find their particular, unique ‘voice’.
But even with the advent of indie publishing the majority of us still find our niche with a particular form and a specific genre and then stay there – whether that’s diesel punk poetry, femslash comedy novellas or advanced tweeting.
Sometimes though leaving your comfort zone can pay huge dividends. I’m a novelist and occasional short story writer (although I have dabbled in a few different genres).
A few years ago, I started work on a mystery novel called The Vault. The concept, involving some bodies found in a lake and some schoolboys who come across something nasty in the woods, seemed good to me and the writing was going well… until I got about half way into the book.
Then everything just stuck. The story was grinding to a halt. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but somehow I knew that it had lost its spark – something that’s always such a depressing realisation for any writer – and, reluctantly, I shelved the project.
Some months later, the opportunity came up to try something new. A film company had got some funding to run a weekend screenwriting course.
It wasn’t something I’d ever tried before but I knew some of the organisers and went along. It was a fascinating and informative two days. What was even better was that the experience encouraged me to get The Vault off the shelf and try reworking it as a film script.
And suddenly the story began to make sense again. I started to visualise the scenes and think about how they would work on a screen. I concentrated on the action and the dialogue (my weaknesses at the time) and slashed some of my more rambling descriptive passages.
After a while, I stopped work on the screenplay. But by then it had done its job. I was able to pick up the novel version of The Vault again – this time knowing not just which bits weren’t working but also understanding why they weren’t right.
I set off again with a new lease of life and in the space of a few months completed the first draft of the novel (published in March this year).
For me, putting my novel writing aside and trying out a completely new form was a fairly radical experiment. But, not only was it a surprisingly enjoyable experiment, I also believe it really helped me as a writer, both with a specific project and – more importantly – developing my skills in general and my confidence in dealing with dialogue in particular.
So, go on, get out of your comfort zone. It might go pear-shaped but on the other hand it might just provide a brilliant solution.