Yesterday, I took my little baby, who, up until now, I have guarded from everyone but Joyce Carol Oates and my mother, and dumped him in the middle of the Champs-Elysées.
By which I mean, I took my novel to a writing group.
Ok, it wasn’t quite as busy as the high street of Parisian shopping. It was more like I deposited my sprog on a back road in the Latin Quarter, where the beautifully judgmental line the streets in their outwards facing café chairs.
I haven’t blogged much about writing my novel, so I imagine you’ll find it hard to believe it’s the center of my universe at the moment. But you know how the things that are most important to you are either plastered to your forehead or locked in a secret drawer at the back of your wardrobe? Well, writing Nihilists Anonymous, as my book is called, has been an endeavor kept firmly under lock and key, until yesterday.
Since it’s out, I might as well give you the brief synopsis. (Don’t worry – I’ve got it down to one sentence.) Nihilists Anonymous is the story of an unlikely quartet who semi-accidentally form a support group for people who think the world is meaningless. It’s part serious, part funny, and full of eccentric people who have become my new best friends. (My first imaginary ones! Never did that as a kid…) There. Now don’t you dare steal my idea.
Writing this novel is the reason I am in Paris. It’s the reason I upped and left university for the year – it’s the reason I am living in 10m2 box in an attic – it’s the reason I spent my Saturday night changing nappies. I’ve always enjoyed doing so many different things that I think, up until now, my life has lacked much truly dedicated passion. But this little novel – well, he picked me up by the scruff of my neck and dragged me into a whole new world that revolves around him.
Now, imagine me, sitting in a room made of books on the second floor of Shakespeare & Co, the center of the Anglophone literary world in Paris, with the 15 strangers that make up “The Other Writers’ Group”, about to pass around copies of my first few pages. I was actually shaking.
The feedback wasn’t all positive. I think the diversity of age and experience (there were some published authors there) made the dynamic somewhat more aggressive than a university writing workshop. But, generally, Nihilists Anonymous went down fairly well, I think. And thank god for that. I’m heading for 30,000 words so it’s a good thing they didn’t tell me to throw it in the rubbish bin, because I’m not sure it would have fit.
I got some very useful advice and feedback that shall help propel me as I tackle the most difficult section, if my previous attempts at novels are anything to go by – the nearly-half-way-there hump. But I also discovered a new source of forward momentum. There were a few comments, particularly made by one of the members of the group I didn’t warm to, that I disagreed with. You’re not supposed to argue back in a writers’ workshop, so I didn’t. But now, I have a new little daydream to add to my repertoire, which involves me sending said man a package with a note that reads:
“Remember, in a writing group in Paris, you told you didn’t like that bit of my novel, and that you thought I should change it? Please check the enclosed, published copy to see that I didn’t listen to you. Hah.”