The writer Akhil Sarma recently defied the book-maker’s predictions by winning the prestigious Folio Prize for ‘Family Life’, an autobiographical story of Indian immigrants in America. Interestingly he described writing this,his second novel, as “like chewing stones”, and regularly gave up on it before it was finally published. He eventually spent 13 years writing and editing his book and described it as “an ordeal.”
His story inspired Chindi members to share their own experiences and swap notes on how long it had taken to write and publish their novels successfully.
Ray Green, who’s third novel ‘Chinese Whispers’ has just been published, admitted that while his first book ‘Buyout‘ took almost four years from conception to publication, he only spent about one year producing the first draft. “When I submitted it to a literary consultant I was dismayed to learn I’d made just about every mistake first-time authors typically make,” he says. “Things like introducing characters too quickly and mixing points of view in a scene, so the re-writes, editing and preparation for publication ended up taking three times as long a writing the original manuscript!”
It’s certainly a common experience for a first book to take longer to produce as independent writers hone their writing and editing skills. Ray learnt a lot from writing his first book and managed to publish his second book ‘Payback‘ in just under two years, even although it’s about the same length as is first book.
Helen Christmas’s experience however was a little different. “I wrote my first novel ‘Beginnings‘ in just six months,” she says. “I was on a rollercoaster and couldn’t wait to publish it.” Her second novel ‘Visions‘ however took Helen almost two years to complete. “I was on the verge of giving up on it,” she explains, “until I decided on a major re-write, and once I was back on course I was able to complete it. I’m close now to launching my third book, which has taken approximately eighteen months. I approached it with a strong synopsis and stuck to it – so no re-writes!”
Jeremy Good’s first novel ‘The Butcher’s Son,’ required a lot of historical research. It was written in four years but during that time went from being a large epic novel into two or three books. So his second novel, which is due for release later this year, will have taken only two years. “The time I took in my original research has served me well,” Jeremy explains, “and it meant I’ve got two books in the pipe-line to publish as part of a sequence.”
So it seems that a writing and publishing a novel can take anything from six months to over ten years. Jane Cable, author of the prize-winning novel ‘The Cheesemaker’s House,’ offers some sound advice from her own experience of writing while running her own business. “What I would say to first time writers is not to rush anything. It’s easy to be impatient to share your story with the world, but the time taken in editing and re-writes is crucial. I personally find working with a professional editor invaluable.”
Many authors juggle their passion for writing with other professional and family responsibilities. Taking time out to do research, as well as finding quiet time to write, inevitably lengthens the time it takes to produce a novel. The satisfaction however that comes from completing a book, publishing it yourself, and seeing other people enjoy your writing makes all the time and personal sacrifice feel worthwhile. Hopefully Akhil Sharma, whose Folio prize was £40,000, and who beat other short-listed writers such as Colm Toibin and Ali Smith to the first prize, will now be able to share that feeling.