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Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Copyright Peter Sissons © 2023

novel book dartmouth castle ship boat river
My novel's cover - misty Dartmouth castle

Yes, it was the freedom to decide whatever I wanted to write! Liberty to choose the ingredients of my first novel – the period, countries, settings, characters and the main plot and sub-plots - a realisation that opened the floodgates of my imagination. I would describe it as a tsunami of words.

Why did this happen?

Someone suggested this two years ago: 'You can't write a book – it's too difficult!' Throwing that at me was like dangling a red rag in front of a bull! To cut an extremely long story short, the result of this negative assessment of my creative juices was "The Rosario" - my first mystery-thriller novel.

I had fallen in love with creative writing. This seemed bizarre to me since I was nearly thrown out of English lessons - the usual occurrence at my school where awful teachers demolished every subject and, worst of all, my enthusiasm to absorb knowledge.

The discovery of my love for writing and creating stories let loose an avalanche of words from a part of my mind I had no idea existed. I sat for hour upon hour, with my story unfolding on my laptop screen. The time melted away into what seemed like seconds, causing a surprise on my face every time I saw how many hours had disappeared.

Chapter upon chapter appeared on my screen. I was astonished that my new love of creative writing had swelled my word count to over 500,000. But something kept niggling away at the back of my mind as I pumped out the pages - that little voice saying, 'My knowledge of written English is rubbish! Do something about it!' And I did - I (thankfully) engaged a professional editor - Jessica Read (yes... Read), to check my jottings.

If you talk with all new authors, they will tell you (including me when I first began writing) that their words are precious - they can't be changed or removed - no way!

Mine had to be.

My editor politely suggested that my enormous word count could not be the length of a novel - the content could fill several books many times over. She challenged every one of my brain cells with her pin-sharp editing. I experienced many steep learning curves that tested my awful English language knowledge. My editor ensured my manuscript made sense - the story ingredients were tied together, and nothing superfluous was left. Under the guidance of my editor, I had the unenviable task of learning the painful author's lesson, discipline and art of editing my colossal story, not by merely removing a sentence here or a paragraph there but by scything through every single chapter, cutting out extra and unnecessary details, characters and scenes. Now, it is hard to imagine that I (via my editor) removed nearly two-thirds of my story!

I finally arrived at a much shortened but heavy-weight novel of 185,000 words! The editing discipline is tricky to learn and accept as a novice author. Thankfully, editing has become an essential and positive part of writing.

The whole process was an editing nightmare for me; however, it was worth it - it produced a professionally polished novel - my obese "The Rosario' became a reasonably svelte book that was well-honed and ready for publishing.

Why was there so much content before the editing process began? I relished using words to picture scenes in detail and visualising the various characters – how they looked and spoke, their characteristics and how they interacted. Many moons ago, I was a professional artist. This sounds a bit naff, but I traded my paints for words, applying them as colours throughout writing "The Rosario". By exploring different hues and shades and painting techniques through my words, I finished my story – my 'painting'.

How is my tome after being slashed to bits with a machete? I can say with some surprise that my story’s original ingredients remained intact, and the fundamental basis of the story never changed.

My search for a storyline began without any plan - I had no idea what I was doing. I let my mind overload on every exciting and interesting scenario I could imagine. It was not a good strategy.

Finally, in my fog of unending plots, I decided I needed help. I visited the world-famous Blackwells bookshop in Oxford, knowing they would help me. Unfortunately, I was bored to tears with countless volumes offering tedious explanations on how to write a book. That is until I came across Joe Moran's "First You Write a Sentence". This small book exposed my ignorance of the English language. I knew I had to fill my pages with sentences and paragraphs that made sense, were to the point and made an exciting, satisfying and refreshing read.

However, I combined Joe's words of wisdom to find a simple storyline idea to get the ball rolling. He proposed that a writer can change or add to a particular time in the past and create a new strand of imaginary history closely related to real life.

On reading this story-generating brainwave, I remembered seeing two beautiful oak–carved doors that appeared to be from the 16th century in an old property in Dartmouth; I pictured them built into a galleon of the 1588 Spanish Armada - an exciting idea that began to feed my imagination. The doors were the catalyst to begin my tale. I could visualise them weaving a trail of intrigue throughout all the chapters.

Now, my novel is finished and needs a literary agent and publisher to bring it to the publics’ eye – a task that I know is a BIG mountain to climb - a sheer cliff if other authors' tales are to go by! Wish me luck!

And what is my tale of intrigue? As many authors have written in the past, that is another story. Soon, I will write another Blog explaining the whole tangled web of juicy plots and subplots - exciting stuff!

See you soon.

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