“So how long did it take you?”

It didn't exactly start with a bishop...
It didn’t exactly start with a bishop…

If I had a page of Frequently Asked Questions (I might some day – who knows?) this one would be at the top of it. And I always umm and ahh a bit when I answer it.

There are two answers, really.

In the autumn of 2007 I was writing about six people whose lives are affected by a political complication in which they are passively and tangentially involved. The point of view was passed around the six of them. They had their own views. They expounded upon their own views at great length.

That was about as interesting as it sounds, and I picked it up and put it down several times over the next few years. I restarted it completely in 2011. It got to about 95,000 words of scenes that worked reasonably well on their own, but lacked any coherency or interest when stitched together. Several times I decided that it was boring and gave up with it. I wrote down scenes when they occurred to me, and after a while they stopped occurring to me. By 2012 I had abandoned it.

Then Synod happened. Synod happened, and I learned how it felt to be comprehensively screwed over by a Church that I loved, that I had no intention of leaving, but which had made it very plain that it didn’t want me. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

I wrote a blog post but, like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, I was still hungry. No, not hungry. The other one. Angry. And I had a character sitting around in my head. She was the love interest of one of the original six. I didn’t have anything written from her point of view. But she was a character who’d been comprehensively screwed over by the Church she loved. So, having written what I felt like, I wrote what she felt like.

I was still angry into the new year. I ranted about it to anyone who would listen. I even used the story of Synod in a training exercise at work, where we were asked to give a brief verbal presentation on something we felt strongly about, because, my God, I felt strongly about that. And I kept writing.

Ninety-five per cent of what is now Speak Its Name was written after that Synod vote. (The remaining five per cent is mostly chapter headings and background infodumps, with the odd scene in which it was easy to flip the point of view.)

Now that I’d started writing Lydia from her own point of view, it became obvious that this was her story. I remembered a truism from somewhere: the hero of a story is the person who changes the most over the course of it. That was definitely Lydia.

Over the next two years, she took over the book. The six original viewpoints became three, and Lydia was one of them. From Georgia, Peter, Olly, Colette, Will and Becky, the focus shrank to Colette, Peter and Lydia.

Eventually I realised that Lydia had to be the sole voice, that the whole book had to be written from her point of view. This was not a welcome realisation. In early versions, her sexuality was the big reveal at the half-way point. It was meant to be a huge surprise to the reader and to all the rest of the cast. I had no idea how to write a character who wouldn’t even come out to herself until half-way through the plot.

I had another problem. The political plot was tedious. Too many committee meetings; too much talking; too many petty differences that took too much explaining.

Fortunately, moving everything that wasn’t from Lydia’s point of view into a separate document clarified things considerably. It cut out most of the committee meetings, not to mention a sub-plot about a pregnancy scare and a rant about Bristol VRs (buses, if you’re wondering). I read through what was left and worked out what was missing. I found that I could rework existing scenes to fill some of the gaps. Some of them had to be written from scratch.

After that, all I had to do was sort out the first half of the book. Go back to act 1 and place the gun on the mantelpiece so that when we get to act 3 nobody’s surprised when it gets fired. Scatter a few bullets around the place. Rewrite pretty much everything, because I hadn’t been letting anybody see inside Lydia’s head, and so there were huge chunks missing. After all, I’d had to take huge chunks out.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some of the deleted scenes on here. If you’re wondering how Will came to live in such a dangerously liberal household as 27 Alma Road, what Becky told the Equalities Officer, or what Peter actually thinks about Bristol VRs, well, you’ll find out…

3 thoughts on ““So how long did it take you?””

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