By Mark Leggatt
How did I get here? Well, the journey from Day One to the moment my
first book ‘Names Of The Dead’ was accepted for publication by Fledgling
Press took quite a while, so let me give you the abridged version.
Around eight years ago, on a sunny Tuesday morning, in a wee village
outside Toulouse in southern France, I was lying in the bath, thinking
what I was going to do for the day. I had a few months off between
work contracts, so I was enjoying the time off, mooching
around the house, chopping firewood, and taking long walks in the forest
with our Cairn terrier. But I was getting bored, and rather than a
Eureka moment, I had a JFDI moment, and decided to finally stop talking
about writing a book, and actually do it.
I have always carried a notebook on my travels. I had years of
scribbled notes, half written chapters, sketchy sketches of characters,
and plots with more holes than a colander. I counted my notebooks. There
were around 150 of them, in various sizes. I scanned through them for
hidden gems, but I got the feeling that I wasn’t going to find anything
of much use (in the long term, I was wrong, they were crammed with
golden nuggets, but I just couldn’t see it.)
So, I decided to start from scratch. I drove up to the next village
and found a newsagent, where I stocked up on pens, pencils and an
artists A3 sketchpad. I arrived home, cleared the dining room table, and
I had no where I was going, but that was fine. All I wanted to do was
write, keep writing, and trust that I’d find my way. Well, I did, but
it took me a lot longer than I expected.
It was four years of work before I was ready to submit to agents, and
another three years before I found an agent. In total, it took eight
years before I was accepted for publication. But in all that time, after
that first day, there was no way in hell that I was giving up. I had a
objective, and I was determined to see it through.
The first few months before I went back to work were spent scribbling
any story that came into my head, and walking around the garden,
followed by our dog, who was wondering what the hell I was doing. Plots
came, plots went.
Travel allowed me to read widely, and I’ve spent about ten years
dotting from job to job in various airport lounges three times a week.
I’ve lived in every sort of hotel from a five star palace in Den Haag to
a seedy dive in Montmartre, where the lights of the Moulin Rouge
flickered outside my window, the carpets were as sticky as treacle, and
you could hear the whorehouse banging away next door.
I noted everything down as I moved from city to city. Amsterdam,
Berlin, the history of Paris and it’s inhabitants, and any news that I
found interesting, plus the people involved. The research gave me tools
for my toolbox, and a platform to research the softer skills of dialogue
and emotion, to draw the reader into the mind of the characters. These
softer skills I had to develop, and through imagination and observation, I wrote down why people acted in the manner that they did. What were
their fears and motivations, what drove them on, and what fear (or
strength) stopped them? I used my notebooks to record these thoughts,
and educate myself in what exactly was driving my characters. I wanted
my characters to do what they wanted to do, not what I wanted them to
do. It took time, and a lot of notebooks, but my characters emerged,
along with their passions, strengths and fears.
Four years later, I was at a point where I could justify and explain why my story would work. That was the beginning of Names of The Dead.
I took the decision to lay aside all the previous work, and call that
my “Prentice Piece”. Then I picked up the pencils once more, read my
notebooks, and began the plot for Names of the Dead.
Great post, it resounds with me. I've always carried a notebook around and have many first chapter startings!
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