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'The role of omnipotent creator'

26 March 2012

'One reason why first-time novelists are frequently turned down by agents and publishers is because they tend to regard freedom of expression as a permit to waffle on, page after page, about nothing in particular. Their manuscripts lack rigour and economy, and this reveals a common failing in the creative mind-set of beginners: too much allowance is made for the gratification of every expressive urge that springs to mind. Like a greedy child with a pocket full of coins in a fast food mall, debutant novelists grab hold of all the tasty junk within reach, and guess what? They pile on the flab. Someone needs to cut the pocket money and show them the way to the gym. I found this out when I made the transition from non-fiction to fiction writing. I hadn't anticipated quite how different the two crafts would prove to be. It's not as simple as a chef switching between French and Thai cooking, nor even like taking up abstract art after years of doing pretty watercolours. It's more like having a sex change. When you begin to write fiction, not only does your writing look, sound and feel different, but the ground from which it springs has been overturned. Only yesterday you were a glorified essayist, organizing your sources, synthesizing and filleting them, introducing argument versus counter-argument with lucid insight and sparkling prose. But today, you are nothing less than the creator of your own universe, God Almighty, with the power to reinvent the world, grant life or slay at will.

If your readers buy into your giant leap of faith, put themselves in your hands and remain tight with you to the final page, your assumption of divinity has worked, phew. If they don't, if they feel bored, patronized, irritated... prepare for the onslaught: you have not just written a bad book, you have mocked their trust, and that is a crime worse than anything a non-fiction author can commit. How, then, to assume this role of omnipotent creator without offending your readership?

Roland Vernon, author of The Good Wife's Castle in Bookbrunch