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Miriam Halahmy : Ready to start writing?

November 28, 2010

Thinking about my novel on the beach.

In the Guardian this weekend, Kathryn Schultz, writer of the Guardian First Book Award for Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, said, “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that I’d be ready to start writing( my novel) when I could outline it on a Post-It note.”

This was not the way I started to write the three novels in my Hayling Cycle (first title, HIDDEN ,Meadowside March 2011.) I started with a thought. I was walking on the beach where my parents used to live on Hayling Island. I had been doing a lot of work with refugees and asylum seekers and had published both fiction and non-fiction on the subject. A thought came into my head. What if a couple of teenagers were walking a dog here and they found an illegal immigrant washed up on the beach?

Hayling beach.

That was enough to get me started on my first Y.A. novel. I hadn’t even heard the term Y.A. at that time. But gradually I met other Y.A. writers, some well known – Meg Rossoff, David Almond – and many wannabees, like myself. My novel began to take shape and as I was writing a new idea began to form and then a third. But I certainly didn’t have my novel crystallised into the one-line pitch sentence so beloved of agents and editors : Example – Artemis Fowl, Diehard with fairies. Brilliant.

Then I met the writer, Julia Golding and attended a talk by her. I had already complete HIDDEN and was looking for an agent. I had begun the second book, ILLEGAL, and was planning the third, STUFFED. Julia told us that we absolutely must be able to describe out novels in one sentence. Impossible, I thought. You have ten minutes, she told us and then we’ll share. Crikey! Where to start?

But it was one of the best writing exercises I ever did. Here is my one line pitch for HIDDEN : Two teenagers find an illegal immigrant washed up on a beach and hide him to save him from being deported.

This may not be the place I want to start writing my novels but it is certainly the place I want to arrive at and the sooner the better. When are you ready to start writing?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    November 28, 2010 6:14 pm

    This is a really valuable insight. With my very first novel (now consigned to the ‘learning curve’ drawer) I could burble extensively as to what it was ‘about’, but I never really defined for myself the nugget of the idea. This is why it now sits in a drawer. Keeping that ‘nugget’ somewhere in your mind is really important. It helps you get back on track with your writing when you hit problems.

  2. December 2, 2010 5:40 pm

    Interesting post, Miriam.

    I love that ‘What if?’ moment. I remember reading about the arrival of four giraffes at London Docks in 1836. They actually walked to the new London Zoo and, not unnaturally, caused a sensation.

    Suddenly I saw Decima, naive, rich, and passionate about these curious creatures, sneaking out of the house to see them – against her strict father’s wishes. But there are others in the crowd, criminals who are after ladies’ clothes, purses, even hair. And they close in on Decima…

    I hadn’t a clue what was going to happen next – but I had my opening.

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