Monday, May 10, 2010

On Becoming A Novelist, with Michael C. Bernard

As a freelance writer, I know I harbour a dream of one day writing a novel. But where do I begin and what do I write about? The problem is not that I don’t have any ideas- I have too many ideas, and too little time. So it was fascinating that I could pick the brains of a published author, and see how he came up with the time, ideas and determination to complete his book.

Michael C. Bernard has been writing steadily for six years, mainly short stories and articles for smaller magazines and writing sites. Recovering Roads is his first endeavour at bigger fiction, examining a youthful story of adventure and hope in desperate times. He lives and writes on the west coast of Ireland. Read on to see how he made the move from freelance writer, to published novelist.

Most writers always dream of one day writing their very own novel. You are on your second one. And like most readers of this blog, you began your career writing for magazines and writing sites. How did you make this transition?

Okay, well moving from one area of writing to another is not as difficult as we first imagine. With only a small shift of focus, it is actually more achievable than we think. Because I am an avid reader and I love reading great fiction, as well as, good books on writing fiction, I’ve always found that my pen was willing to roam, wander and dabble in things - just a little more creative, than say, writing letter’s or articles. It has to begin initially with the fiction itself. If this is what the author is aiming for, then a short story is crucial. Get it out there fast, so people can read it. The feedback which will come back to you is always better than you expect – can and will inspire you to try something bigger, as it was for my first book “Recovering Roads.” If you are already comfortable writing for magazines, sites or blogs, then you’ll already be familiar with that crucial kind of feedback. Try something new, write something else....

Is there any special training you’d recommended a writer take before he or she sits down to write a novel?

Yes, grab a pen and paper, then sit down and read, read, read, read, especially in the genre you like! Writers are incredibly friendly souls who just love to share their very own insights, hints and tips. Needless to say, there are some truly excellent books available for aspiring author’s who’d like to learn more or basically enhance their craft. Books for beginners which currently spring to mind and have helped me out more than once; would be the likes of Stephen Kings “A memoir of the craft” Julia Cameron’s “The artist’s way” And for a complete concise set of gritty and oily details “The Nuts and bolts of writing” by Michael Legat - is a must!

Although, to have these tools is marvellous, the spirit to write is a very personal one and must strongly be there in order to begin. My advice would be to be brave with the page, just write what feels right at the start, the nuts and bolts can come later.

We hear of drafts and half completed ideas gathering dust in drawers. How long did it take for you to complete your first novel, and what was the key reason you persevered to get to the finish line?

I felt I had a story to tell, my novel seems to fall under the category of “ Fictionalized Reality” which also seems to be a bit of a buzzword today, it was directly constructed from personal experience and so, the nostalgia present in my memories, made me say to myself, “ wouldn't it be great if people heard this story.” I admit, the concept for me was an arduously long one, but I am a bit of a perfectionist and it took me three years dissecting a first draft before I was ready to release it. Perseverance, I feel, tends to come within the writing itself. You can get so involved with your character’s lives and the story; it is almost like it begins to play out once more. Again, I feel it’s personal and how much an Author really wants to tell a particular story....

How would you describe the new book you’re working on?

Well, after writing the first, I’ve gained much more experience & confidence which I’m hoping will make this book shine... I’m writing a mystery set at Christmas, a whodunit, where an unlikely bunch come together because they are just where they are - and have no other place to go. There’s a wild party, kids sliding on sleds and a burglary in the vicinity where a highly renowned member of society is found dead. It’s also a collection on the lives of these people and an exploration of what brought them to this place, at this particular point in time, so it skips back into their past to give the reader a fascinating insight. Dare I say, it’s full of charm, romance, rock and roll and all the trimmings of the festive season – watch out people! LOL

How do you derive your characters? Are your scenes based on real-life people and situations?

In a nutshell yes, but you must remember, characters will always unravel all by themselves and begin to take on a life of their own, simply because of the author’s own personal views and perceptions. While you may have a grand idea of somebody who’d make a wonderful character in your book, in theory, they may have similar traits, but you cannot know everything about them, which is good, because the characters begin to live and breathe alone - and this is what you’re aiming for. As for the situations, well, in order to begin, you need to first have a plot in mind. The more interesting this will be, will always determine how fascinating the characters turn out to be.

Do you believe anyone can write a novel, or does an author require certain special traits?

I believe anybody can write a novel. Of course, good grammatical skills are imperative, as is the basic love and respect for literature, language and the arts and a strong personal wish to tell a good tale and share it with others. Unfortunately, it is true that writing is not for everybody, this is perhaps why a lot of potentially good manuscripts end up dusty.... It’s more of a vocation than a hobby and the will and patience has to be there from the outset, so, the author is at least enjoying what he or she is doing - with no other reason for doing it, and a full commitment to see it through. I think if these traits are there, then sure, yeah, anyone can write a novel.

Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers?

I’d like to thank you so much for the interview and to say a big hi to the readers here and perhaps introduce my own book, plugged somewhere above LOL The best advice I feel I can give is that the author themselves will know deep down if they have what it takes, however, long that process for them will take. For anyone who really wants to write a novel but is perhaps afraid to begin or make a mistake, know that we've all been there and please, send out that short story or join that writer’s circle and never be afraid to share your work. Remember, it’s not the grammar or punctuation that stands out at the beginning; it’s your own voice, your own unique way of seeing things and sharing things, just as important as the next person’s, so don’t afraid to say whatever comes to your mind.

Julia Cameron, in her book “the artists’ way” speaks of morning pages, which is pretty much a notepad kept close by and in the morning when you wake, write three pages very quickly without dwelling, of whatever is on the tip of your tongue. Don’t look back, just, keep doing this for about two weeks initially. Well, let me tell you - those morning pages for me have turned into evening pages, night time pages, out and about pages, the beginnings of poems, short stories, character’s dialog. It is truly amazing what you can and will write when you allow yourself the freedom to do so. Most of all have fun; it’s what being creative and artistic is all about.

My very best wishes and high regards to all the aspiring Author’s and Writer’s here and good luck with that first book!

You can learn more about Michael here:


Patti said...

Great interview, inspiring info, Thanks for sharing!

Usha Krishnan Sliva said...

Hi Patti,

Glad you enjoyed it!


Glynis said...

Catching up, Usha.

Great interview, inspiring post, thanks.

Mr Monkey said...

I really enjoyed reading this -nice job
Karma - Mr Monkey

Usha Krishnan Sliva said...

Thanks Glynis, Mr Monkey- It was fun organizing it.