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Writing a Novel: Not a Sprint but a Marathon by Rod Smith

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Article by Rod Smith ©.
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It has been said that ‘everyone has a book inside them, and in most cases that’s where it should stay’. I have been trying to write a novel called The Woman Who Lived on Trains for over fifteen years now. Now and again I dip into it. It is a work of romantic fiction, with an element of crime and fantasy.

As my story has developed I finally understand the overall theme is one of loss – loss of loved ones and loss of innocence. It has only taken me a few years to realise this! However I still have to admit the more I write the more I am unsure about what the final theme will be until the final words are written.

Feedback from one source has suggested that I appear to be writing a family saga. I did not realise this at the time, but it may be correct. Now, my ultimate aim is to have a family saga that spans three generations, which contains mixed points of view.

A key piece of advice I have received is ‘slow it down – do not be in such a hurry – give the characters time to develop and grow – develop your scenes – include more descriptions.’  I am guilty of wanting to get to the end so quickly I rush the story and leave the reader behind.

Now I endeavour to write, pause, breathe and write again and treat the exercise as a marathon and not a sprint. While I want to write about the mountaintop, for the sake of the story and the readers, I need to write about the mountain path that took me there.

I try to write about what I know. I started school in Ireland at the age of four. I remember being in tears, refusing to go into the classroom. The teacher stormed out carrying a bunch of chrysanthemums in her hand and roared at me to get into the room. She walked me down the various desks and asked some of the children could I sit beside them. Some girls refused to let me sit at their desk. (I have since forgiven them!) Memories like these find their way into the story and add an air of authenticity to proceedings.

As I write this novel, I intend to write solely from the point of view of the main character (Liza) when it comes to childhood experiences. I hope it will help to portray the real sense of excitement, wonder and innocence of Liza as she deals with so many new experiences. This may limit my opportunity to explore the inner workings of other characters in greater detail, but I think it is necessary as the bulk of the story revolved around this person.

Balancing showing and telling is always a challenge for me. I tend to do too much showing and not enough telling! So for the moment, I am purposely trying to concentrate on telling by heavily emphasising the use of dialogue between the main characters. At the same time I need to ensure that I do not rely too heavily on dialogue at times to carry the story. This is where the descriptive element to my storytelling will hopefully come into play. Hopefully this may help to reduce the pace and increase the intensity of the experience for the reader.

I have to be careful that I don’t overcrowd the narrative, and end up confusing or boring the reader to tears. In my eagerness to slow down and add more descriptive elements, I need to ensure that I stick to an adage I believe in – that ‘less is more’.

In the meantime I will continue to write my historical novels for children with Poolbeg Press. (I’m a bit behind schedule – don’t tell Paula Campbell at Poolbeg!). This novel for adults may never see the light of day. It has not been commissioned by a wealthy benefactor and there is no publisher out there waiting impatiently for a finished manuscript. It’s a personal project that may take another fifteen years to finish! Will it end up on a bookshelf one day? It doesn’t matter. It’s one of those things I have to do. I’m not sure why, but there Liza is in my head. She will not let me rest until I get her life story down on paper. I have no option but to accede to her wishes!

(c) Rod Smith

About Oliver Cromwell – The Most Hated Man in Irish History – Liam and Aoife’s Story:

Liam O’Malley is on his way to a school history trip, to re-enact Cromwell’s 1649 Siege of Drogheda. He ends up in 1649 for real  – just as Cromwell and his army have breached the walls of the town. With the help of a mysterious girl called Aoife and a horse called Ferdia, he manages to escape the slaughter. Liam and Aoife travel to towns around Ireland to warm people about the dangers of Cromwell and his New Model Army.

Can they reach the towns in time? Can Liam get back to the present day?

Order your copy online here.


Rod Smith has written 10 books for children with Poolbeg Press. Oliver Cromwell – The Most Hated Man in Irish History – Liam and Aoife’s Story, is his most recent book.