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Special guest post: How do you know if you've got a novel in you?

Fiona Veitch Smith
17 October 2016 19:00

By FIONA VEITCH SMITH (pictured above), who has very kindly agreed to guest on my blog as part of her 2016 blog tour to celebrate the release of The Kill Fee, her second novel in the Poppy Denby Investigates series.


That question ('How do you know if you've got a novel in you?'), along with ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ is probably the most asked question of any novelist. It usually comes from people who secretly – or not so secretly – would love to write one themselves and are genuinely interested in the answer. However, other types of comments include:


‘I would write a novel if I had time’ – implying novelists must have a stress-free life with oodles of spare time. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remember writing my second novel over the course of 18 months in the small waiting room in my daughter’s gymnasium where, at the time, she trained three times a week hoping to qualify for the regional gymnastics squad. She never qualified for the squad; but I did get my novel finished!


Another one is: ‘I’d love to be able to afford to leave my job and stay at home and write’ – implying only financially independent people can be novelists. I did leave a full-time, reasonably well-paid job to write; but not because I could financially afford to. And every day is a struggle to find paying freelance work. I am far poorer, in financial terms, than I was before I ‘left my job to write’. I do earn enough to get by, but that nice new car and the house in the ‘better neighbourhood’ and holidays abroad are things I’ve had to sacrifice in order to pursue my dream of being a published writer.


So, if you are the type of person who asks the latter questions then there’s nothing I can do to help you. Only you can decide if the sacrifice will be worth it. But if you are the type who asks the first, then here are some thoughts:


How do you know you’ve got a novel in you?


You have stories playing out in your head. You sit watching the telly and your mind wanders into your own dramas. You would rather spend hours on the train thinking up stories than reading a book or watching videos. You have already invented characters with names and an idea of what might happen to them – but you don’t yet know where to take them. If that’s you, I think you might be pregnant with book.


How do you know you can write a book?


You don’t until you try. My first attempt was a bit of a failure. I could never seem to write chapters longer than 1200 words. This was because I had trained and worked as a journalist and 1200 was the optimum length of a feature article. But 1200 words is too short for your average chapter for adults (although fine for children and young adults). My ‘full-length novel’ turned out to be 50,000 words long. I was very proud to have finished it, but that was soon dashed when I discovered that most published novels were 80,000 words plus. Disheartened, I abandoned that novel. However ten years later, after much practice and development, including a MA in Creative Writing, I picked it up again and finished it properly. It is now published as The Peace Garden. In those ten years I had done four things that made the difference:


  1. I had researched the market to see what books were being published and studied them to understand how they were written and structured.
  2. I had attended a number of creative writing courses where I received feedback from fellow writers on what I was doing right and wrong.
  3. I had studied the art of scriptwriting which helped me understand story arcs and structure. (I’m not suggesting everyone should do it, but it helped me.)
  4. And finally, I had never let go of my dream.


So if you think you have a novel in you, why not give it a go? But don’t give up at the first hurdle. I have a rejection file three inches thick and it took me 15 years before my first commercially published novel was accepted. Editorial services like Alexa’s can also be immensely useful. I have paid for a few critiques of my work over the years – and they have been invaluable. Happy writing!


Fiona Veitch Smith has written books, theatre plays and screenplays. She is best known though for her novels and children's picturebooks. The Jazz Files is the first novel in her mystery series, Poppy Denby Investigates, and is set in 1920s London. It was shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger Award, 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, sees Poppy continue to investigate murders and mysteries in the Jazz Age. Her next book, a historical romance set in the First Century, will be coming out Easter 2017 and the third Poppy Denby in September 2017.