Happy Birthday, Vanessa!
You can be a young writer at any age, Vanessa Couchman tells me. She is one of the more recent Crooked Cat “finds”, and I can vouch for the quality of her book.
I describe myself as a “young writer”. This doesn’t, alas, mean that I am young. It means I came to writing fiction comparatively late – in my fifties. Education, career (and a lot of excuses) got in the way. But joining online expat writing community Writers Abroad in 2012 was the spur I needed to get pen to paper – or hand to mouse.
To start with, I dabbled in short stories and flash fiction and cringe with embarrassment today when I re-read my early efforts. But, with the help of my more experienced Writers Abroad friends, and by dint of a lot of practice, I improved. Some placings in creative competitions and publication in anthologies followed.
A couple of years ago, I began to feel ready for the challenge of a more sustained piece of work, i.e. a novel. A number of ideas washed around in my head but none of them came to anything. However, a visit to Corsica provided the inspiration to get me going.
We stayed in a B&B in a small Corsican village. On the walls hung framed love letters. We asked the owners about them and learned that they were found in a box when the house was restored, walled up in the attic. They were all that remained of a doomed love affair in the 1890s between the daughter of a bourgeois family, who lived in the house, and the local schoolmaster. Since her family would have disapproved, she and her lover met in secret and communicated via a letter drop.
The stuff of novels indeed! This was the genesis of my debut novel, The House at Zaronza.
Back home in south west France, I developed the characters and the plot. It was also necessary to carry out research about Corsica during that period and, later, on nursing in World War I, since my main character becomes a nurse. I wrote the bulk of the novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short) in November 2012. Without NaNo, I would probably still be on page one. I always write best if a deadline looms and the discipline of writing a minimum number of works every day was essential.
The novel languished in the proverbial drawer for about a year, and some desultory editing took place. Then a bit of luck intervened. I entered the Flash 500 Novel Opening Competition, run by author Lorraine Mace. The judges, Crooked Cat Publishing, asked to see the whole manuscript and the rest, as they say, is history.
The House at Zaronza was published in July this year.
The point of all this is to show that it’s never too late to start writing fiction. There are some well-known examples of “young writers” who went on to become best-selling authors. The Big Sleep was published when Raymond Chandler was 51; Penelope Fitzgerald’s first novel, The Golden Child, came out when she was 60; and Mary Wesley published her first adult novel, Jumping the Queue, at 71.
And, of course, there’s our own Jane Bwye, whose fantastic first novel Breath of Africa was published in 2013 when she was 72! (I’m only as old as I feel, Vanessa!)
If you had told me four years ago that I would not only write a novel but that it would also be published, I would have fallen over. Now, I’m planning the sequel to The House at Zaronza. I will probably still need the spur of NaNo to make me write it but, now that I’ve discovered the exhilaration of writing a novel and seeing it published, there’s no going back.
Set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front in World War I, The House at Zaronza tells the story of Maria Orsini, the daughter of a bourgeois family. She and the village schoolmaster carry on a secret romance, but Maria’s family has other ideas for her future. She becomes a volunteer nurse during World War I and the novel follows her fortunes through the war and beyond.
You can read my review of Vanessa’s book HERE.
Blog: Life on La Lune
Writing site: Vanessa Couchman freelance writer