How to promote a novel? Don’t ask me! I’m on Twitter but have no followers, I have Facebook but rarely post on it, and the thought of sending a message asking friends to spread the word seems presumptuous to say the least. Although…
I’ve just gone all out and contacted Radio 4’s Open Book. Aiming too high? Quite possibly. Don’t think they’ll be calling me any time soon.
In the mean time I’ll sit back and chuckle at the suggestively scandalous shareables (that’s what the racy soundbites are called in the world of book promotion).
I nearly forgot to say. I’ve written a novel. It’s now finished, and although it may not be the novel I’d intended, it’s been a delight to write. Inspired by a joint Tracey Emin-Egon Schiele exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna 2 years ago, it’s based on a true story.
What follows is the original synopsis, and although I’ve made many changes to the manuscript, the basic story has stayed pretty much the same.
It’s set in the early 20th century in Vienna and has as its ‘heroine’ the artist’s model, Wally Neuzil. Wally was model to Klimt when very young, and at 16 he gave her to Egon Schiele with whom she had a relationship. Her changing fortunes force her to look at herself and examine the time in which she lives.
Her initial opportunity comes with the death of her father, an event which thrusts her family into poverty, and into the city. The values she’s been brought up with are on trial. Limited opportunities dictate that she become an artist’s model bringing her face to face with her own prejudices (and so us with ours) towards a certain class of woman considered to be no better than a prostitute. Sexual mores are questioned as is the accepted exploitation of poor young women by an educated class.
Wally is on a journey of self-discovery. Accepting and rejecting then growing. Her role is to highlight her own plight but also that of all women with no voice. Her interactions with educated, middle-class women are channelled through their judgement of what she does to earn money. Emilie Flöge’s treatment of Wally is little better than Klimt’s (she’s his posh totty) and in some ways worse as it constitutes a betrayal. Emilie and her sisters espouse ideals and hopes which Wally foolishly believes to be applicable to all women. She reaches out to them in a spirit of solidarity only to be judged and vilified by them. She experiences a cruel kind of prejudice at their gloved hands and even when all classes of women come together at the end – to help with the war effort in the city, a sense of change (with the future of suffrage) heavy in the air – the social class distinctions still cut in.
Meanwhile Wally develops and illustrates that modelling is a performance art in itself. And she shows us that it is not only the artist who suffers for his art : Wally herself is sacrificed many times over. The raw talent of Egon Schiele cuts Wally up in his work, dissecting and reducing her. Similarly in the years they spend together he drags her to the depths, but they stay together which allows their relationship to deepen. This is down to her. She endures much, standing by him through accusations of sexual deviancy and imprisonment.
As the pair mature Wally dares to hope that they can make a future together and Egon comes to love her. Yet when they get to know the Harms sisters, who live across the road, the weight of society’s judgement falls down, not upon Egon’s head as the artist, but, on Wally’s head as the model. More disturbing still is that Egon turns against her in hypocritical judgement. He rejects her savagely in favour of the socially acceptable Miss Harms.
But how does it all end? I hope I’ve not revealed too much already.
How long does it take to write a historical novel?
I tell myself it’s a slow, meandering process, historical novel writing. A coffee here, research, a little bit of novel reading there (for inspiration purposes), research, a bit of wandering round the house (self-imposed isolation is a must), research, some food(you’ve got to have a break), research, some more food, research, perhaps a spot of Netflix, and, if there’s time, more research.
And that’s on a good day.
So where’s the writing? Where, indeed.
I have now written a novel. A historical novel. And how I ever got round to finishing it is still a mystery when I take a look at my working methods.
I’m not exactly prolific. One novel. Second started. Dread to tell you how long I’ve taken.
I read that Ian Rankin (yes, I know he’s not a historical novelist) can take as little as 27 days to get a first draft down. The bitter failed writer in me sneers when I read that he has a house he can disappear in, cut himself off from all distractions, and just get on with it. Oh, if we all had our own hideaway in the middle of nowhere we’d all be able to do that.
As I can’t even get to the end of a paragraph (and sometimes it’s far less than that) without rewarding myself with a coffee, another, better part of myself, knows that I’m delusional. Fooling myself.
Especially when I’ve committed myself to self-imposed purda and stopped seeing people just so that I too am distraction-free.
The coffees just keep on coming but the word count crawls along as slowly as ever.
I hate to tell you that getting on with it is not that easy.
I read somewhere that many artists and writers like to work with a memento mori to give themselves a kick up the backside – a reminder that life is short and there’s no time to waste. And so, not to be left out, I considered tracking down a skull for myself in the hope that evidence of my mortality might serve to get me working a little faster. Unsurprisingly the hunt for a skull took up many useful writing hours.
Then there are the inspirational articles, the how-to books, the courses, following writers on twitter (that took me a while to work out I can tell you). I’ve even adopted the habits of highly successful authors. Many at the same time. And guess what? Yes. I’ve passed many a happy hour achieving nothing in particular.
And so I just have to face it – I have no choice but to commit words to the page. One after the other.
That’s going to be my next move. Try writing. Build it up. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Until I’ve got a chapter. Then another one. Who knows, as long as I don’t get distracted I might even end up with a book.
It’s a new year and time to brush away the cobwebs…
take down the tree (distraction activity one)
show you my oh-so-funny Proust Christmas card. He’d have split his sides at this… (distraction activity two)
re-assess why I’m writing a blog. Do I really quite like the cobweb look? Goes with my home after all.
As you might have guessed I’ve let it slip for a while.
Easily distracted, I lost focus which led to a phase of existential angst. I mean, why was I writing a blog in the first place? To give some meaning to my formless little life? Failed on that score. To keep a record of places I’ve been? Couldn’t keep up. A file to keep the notes for the Proust reading group? Now that would have been so useful today at the first Proust reading group meeting of the year. And what about the sewing? What about that? As for the cooking and the eating?
As my formless little life became more formless so I had to let it go. It was all getting out of control.
Too busy (cooking and eating most of the time), I let it drift off, sad and lonely, bobbing about, anchorless, until it got swept out to the very edge of the big world wide web (because, as we all know, it’s a flat world, like any other), only to fall over the side and float about in a big, getting bigger all the time, cloud, full of useful things, as well as cobwebs and other stuff that nobody knows exist.
And I was happy with that. For a while. But then 2 things happened. Plus one discovery.
The first was that I wrote a novel. Surely I should have written about that? But I felt too self-conscious to confess to this. Then I wanted to look back at my notes on Proust on Mme de Villeparisis (who? Quite. That’s why I wished I’d uploaded them here). But I’d been too lazy to add them.
As for the discovery. Oh how sad for me! I’d curbed my worst writing excesses, sparing my nearest and dearest from reading about their foibles and idiosyncrasies of which they have many (instead forcing myself to go to cafes and restaurants to have something useful to post here). I hadn’t wanted to upset the poor, sweet loves. In fact, subconsciously, and on every other level, I’d wanted to please them. However, when I realised that not one of them (and I have an unbelievably large family) could be arsed (yes, arsed. Swearing can be such a comfort in times of family betrayal) to even remember that I had a blog, never mind remember what it was called, I decided that I would start again. Evidently there was going to be no chance that they were ever going to read it so I decided to give it another go. And vent my inner bad fairy who’s not been invited to the all-the-fairies-in-the-kingdom party.
Wonder if I’m adopted?
Now, in an ideal world I should have two blogs, one for Proust and one for my novel (and three if you count the rest of the hotch-potch of posts and pages) all far, far away from one another BUT in the real world, my real world, life is just a mish-mash to which I struggle to give some intelligible order. So, why try? Why pretend by imposing a perfect structure on a gloriously imperfect, haphazard set of disparate experiences? Why indeed. Let the writing chaos begin.
Happy New Year and I wish you every joy and success in your own gloriously imperfect lives and endeavours.
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