I’m studying for my Masters in Professional Writing and taking a module in novel writing. This three part blog series will capture some of the module’s themes alongside reviews of the novels I am currently reading. This way it will hopefully serve as an analysis of the novel writing process.
Part 1: Ideas – with a review of ‘The Secret Wife’ by Gill Paul, published August 2016, Avon Books.
What do you need to make a novel? Apart from the obvious – setting, characters and a plot – there are the less obvious – point of view, texture and language landscape. I need to think about the atmosphere I wish to create right from the start. Who will narrate my story and how will it sound? Will it be a chatty, first person, dialogue-heavy novel, or perhaps third person narration with beautifully descriptive passages? Another thought – is my book to be a writerly or readerly book? Will I expect my reader to fill in the blanks or will they be taken along for the ride?
These are all interesting propositions, but the first thing I need to have is an idea for either a character or plot. Various ones have been floating around my head, yet my thoughts always come back to the same spot –that of my great grandmother’s story.
I’d read a few novels prior to our first seminar and the one below struck a chord.
‘The Secret Wife’ by Gill Paul is set partly in the Russian Revolution. My great grandma was born in 1901 in Kharkov, Ukraine and lived through the Revolution. I wanted to know more.
Gill claims the seed of her idea was sown by her friend Richard Hughes after he’d watched a BBC2 documentary about the Russian Grand-Duchesses. She worked her plot and characters out first and used the historical backdrop as a setting – the stage for her players.
I enjoyed the book. It was a good read and kept me interested until the end. It has dual storylines with Kitty, a young woman living in modern day London, dealing with her husband’s infidelity by escaping to her great grandfather’s lakeside chalet in the US. She never met her great grandfather and knows very little of his life. He, Dmitri, was born in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and was an imperial guard who falls in love and secretly marries Tatiana, one of the grand duchesses. The story progresses as the revolution occurs and the Imperial family are arrested and moved to Ekaterinburg. The premise is what if they didn’t all die in July 1918.
The book is well researched. I’m unsure about the modern-day part as it sometimes detracts from the Russian story. I found myself wanting to get back to the past and skip Kitty’s bits. However, it does work as a framework to reveal more. The pace with which she tells the plight of the Romanov’s as they are stripped of their freedom, dignity and ultimately their lives, is tense and gripping. Dmitri and Tatiana are well drawn as characters, they felt substantial enough for me to invest in them; Kitty less so. Perhaps this is why I prefer the Russian part of the story.
Photo of Kharkiv, Ukraine 1901
I think of my main character –my great Grandma Tatiana. I know the brief outline of her story, a few facts, but there are huge gaps. I need to get to know her first before I start my novel. Who was she? I met her a few times when I was little but the real person and the character for my story don’t need to be the same. In fact, I think my tutor wishes they weren’t.
Part 2 will explore character in more depth….