Monday, 13 March 2017

What's It All About Then?

Summarising the plot of a novel is tricky. I have several synopses on my hard drive, all at differing lengths and for differing purposes. But a synopsis is not what people want when they ask about my book. What they want is a pithy one-to-two-line teaser. They want to know something basic - the genre or style, and whether it is something they would read.

As hard as summarising all that is, it's also my job to sell it. I need people to want to buy it, regardless of whether it's their usual type of reading matter. So it's with some trepidation I share this blog post with you. I'm going to give a bit more insight into what it's all about, tell you some of the influences I had, as well as the kind of novels it would comfortably nudge up against on a Waterstones bookshelf. Hopefully no one will run for the hills.

What's It's About
Tilda Rudd is struggling to keep it together. Her ordered, calm life has been feeling a bit 'messy' for a while now. It's not a feeling she's comfortable with. As we get to know her, we learn there's a lot of unfinished business from her past that needs closure, although what that is, isn't clear. With encouragement from her less cautious friend, she does some digging and decides to find the answers to her long-held questions.

OK, that was another version of the blurb. Now for some mechanics. This is a novel split between two time periods. Modern-Day-Tilda lives in 2016, works for the Local Council and is married to Mike. Back-in-the-Past-Tilda is in 1996 and studies Geography at Liverpool University. As readers, we are given new layers of information as we jump between both timelines, building up what we eventually know. By the end it all becomes clear. Tilda's, and our own questions, are answered.

Carry the Beautiful is a contemporary novel with witty (I hope) dialogue and authentic voices. It's set in a variety of locations in the North of England, mainly The Lake District, Stockport and York.

When I'm thinking of new plots or characters, I tend to lean towards film rather than literature in order to form ideas in my mind. My favourite film, Before Sunrise, consists of one long conversation between two people, showing an immediate yet inexplicable connection and attraction. I wanted to create something similar in my own writing. Chapter 17 - the longest in the book - is influenced by that film. Mostly dialogue, it shows two people finding something lovely in each other. Whilst packaged within a bunch of other chapters, plot developments and characters, it is the heart of the story.

I love writers that harness realistic dialogue. Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally continues to be a treasure trove of wittily believable conversation. Likewise, and closer to home, Willy Russell shows the mundane drudgery of life in Shirley Valentine - a firm favourite from my teenage years. The idea of losing one's sense of self under societal roles such as 'wife' and 'mother' are explored in all his writing and definitely influenced Carry the Beautiful. Tilda's life has not turned out like she thought it would. She made plans but they came to nothing. She needs to rediscover who she was, what went wrong and why.

The Bookshelf 
A prospective agent asked me to compare my book to others out there, in order to give a sense of how I perceived it. It was well hard (technical term). In the end I came up with the three examples below.

There are similarities to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. When I'd asked friends and family to read the draft, this book had been the big new release at the time. Several people commented that the suspense built up in a similar way. There were flashbacks that hinted but didn't fully explain. It took time for the relevance of some characters to become clear. (One reader commented that the character of Tilda was more likeable than the central character in The Girl on the Train which meant he cared more about finishing it. I'll take that.)

I also compared myself to David Nicholls and One Day. (Yeah, I know. Check out the absolute arrogance of me.) This was based on feedback from readers though. Honest. One friend said that Carry the Beautiful was reminiscent of One Day, but 'for people of a certain age'. I quite liked that. Like Nicholls' work, it could be described as a coming-of-age story - it's just that it's middle age rather than anything perky and youthful. 

Despite the fact all the blurbs focus on Tilda, there are a range of characters involved in the bigger picture. This is definitely Tilda's story but beyond this book, there are several characters we can return to, several others we can follow as we explore their stories next time. Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels do this beautifully. An ensemble of characters, each book charts the next stage of their lives, the next part of their stories. I like the idea of returning to the characters in Carry the Beautiful in the future, giving Tilda a break and focusing on some of the other people in the book.

So there we have it. A bit more insight into what's going to be hitting Amazon in less than a month's time. You got that? LESS THAN A MONTH. Holy Moly. It's nearly here.

Have a great week, folks. 

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