‘When your work-in-progress is causing trouble, it’s easy to become seduced by alternative ideas.’
Today Rachael English joins me for #IrishWritersWed with a post all about turning your ideas into a book, one I’m sure many writers can empathise with.
Rachael is a journalist and author of three best-selling novels. Her latest novel The Night of The Party is due for release in May.
I hope you enjoy!!
Turning an Idea into a Book
by Rachael English
Until now, when asked where my ideas came from, I’ve always had an answer. My first three books were inspired by memories of a teenage summer (Going Back), a court case (Each and Every One) and a radio interview (The American Girl). Each story morphed and shifted as I wrote, but the initial ‘what if’ remained at the back of my mind.
My next novel, The Night of the Party, will be published in a few weeks, and for the first time I can’t say where I got the idea. The book starts with a crime – the unexplained death of a parish priest in a west of Ireland village – but it’s not a crime novel. While I love reading crime fiction, especially police procedurals, I don’t think I’m well-equipped to write one. I’m content to leave the DNA-matching and serial-killer-profiling to others.
Like many writers, I’m constantly jotting down ideas. Interesting headlines, snatches of overheard conversation, snippets from my own memory: I’ve used them all. I write them down or print them out, put them in a green folder, then try to forget them. When your work-in-progress is causing trouble, it’s easy to become seduced by alternative ideas.
I’ve also found that my day-job as a journalist tends to seep into my novels. The influence isn’t immediate. I don’t record the details of a news story, then take them home and put a fictional gloss on top. But I do find that situations and controversies I’ve encountered at work circle my mind and end up inspiring the stories I write.
The Night of the Party is about four friends – Tom, Conor, Nina and Tess – and how their lives are changed by the death of Father Leo Galvin. Tom sees something that could help solve the mystery. But he’s very young and he’s confused, so he stays quiet. This is something that I’ve always found intriguing. In almost every unsolved crime, there’s someone who holds a vital piece of information. Maybe it’s something they overheard, maybe it’s the behavior of a family member or a friend with a tale that doesn’t add up. They mightn’t know everything but they know enough to break the chain of lies. What’s it like to be that person?
I also wanted to write about the impact one violent incident can have on a small place. The book is partly set in the fictional village of Kilmitten. Everyone knows everyone else. Or at least they think they do. Then their homeplace becomes besieged by reporters, and people start asking uncomfortable questions.
I began The Night of the Party with only a vague idea of how it would end. For me, that’s one of the joys of writing. I like setting out with lots of possibilities – and the hope that one will eventually seem better than the others. In this case, all I knew for sure was that a long time would pass before the crime was solved, and that at various times it would bring the main characters together. And push them apart.
One other thing: the story starts during ‘The Big Snow’ of 1982. I’ve long been fascinated by the impact of extreme weather, and I loved researching what life was like during those January days. I read about farms and villages becoming cut off, people running low on food, and power lines being felled by heavy snow. Of course, as soon as I’d finished editing my fictional account of life during a blizzard, I got to experience one in real life.
The pages are with the printers now. The cover is ready, the blurb written. And I’m going through that phase that most writers know: where you’re delighted that the large file on your computer has finally become a book yet terrified that the story might not resonate with readers. Oh, and I’ve returned to the green folder and chosen a new idea. I’m tinkering with it at the moment, hoping that in time it can make the journey from ragged newspaper cutting to published novel.
Rachael English is the author of three best-selling novels. Her first book, Going Back, was shortlisted for the most-promising newcomer award at the Irish Book Awards. Her most recent novel, The American Girl, was a number one bestseller in Ireland. A journalist for twenty-five years, she started her career with Clare FM and has been a reporter or presenter on many of RTE radio’s best known programmes.
She currently presents Morning Ireland.
Her fourth book, The Night of the Party, will be published on the 3rd of May.
Twitter – @EnglishRachael
Facebook – Facebook.com/RachaelEnglishWriter