Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Whoops - I did it again! Sheena Wilkinson

I don't seem to learn. Eight books published and it doesn't get easier. What am I moaning about this month? About myself and how s-l-o-w I seem to be to catch on. 

Back in June I talked to Sophia Bennett for her wonderful podcast Prepublished (and if you like Awfully Big Blog Adventure you're pretty much guaranteed to love Prepublished). I was being terribly frank about the big mistake I'd made when writing my novel Hope against Hope, which was published last year. Can you believe it, I told Sophia and all the listeners - because one thing about me, I do own my mistakes -- I wrote the whole book -- four drafts of it! -- from a completely wrong point of view! The story was there, the setting was there -- but the main character was all wrong. I had to rewrite the book from scratch, from a completely new point of view. What an eejit I was!

Well, I remember thinking at the time, I won't make THAT mistake again. 

Except I did. Exactly the same mistake. I wrote a book. I thought it was pretty good. I sent it to my agent. She disagreed. I was upset. I showed it to a trusted writer friend (Thank you, Keren David, I owe you!). She said ... your agent was right. And she told me why. She didn't say You've written it from the wrong point of view, but she helped me see that my main character wasn't doing the book any favours. As soon as I imagined a new heroine  I could see at once how much better the book could be. 

The thing was, I was using a character I knew and loved, Stella, the heroine of Star by Star and a character in Hope against Hope. I had this idea for what she might do in the 1930s. And it was a good idea, but it wasn't for her.  I was trying to make her fit a world that wasn't right for her. And she became grumpy and twisted and lost all the characteristics that made me love her as a heroine. It wasn't her fault; it was mine. 

I started this book back in April 2020. I hadn't written since the start of the pandemic. I was blocked and scared and aimless -- like pretty much everyone I knew. Writing a new book seemed to ground me. This was something I could control; this was something I could do. The words mounted up giving me a sense of achievement and relief -- the world had become unfamiliar, but this, this making up stories, this was an old friend; this was what I did. Except, in literally using an old friend, Stella -- which, I can see now, I might have done because I was too anxious (or lazy?) to make up a new one, I scuppered my book. 

It's OK. I have a new heroine. I took my time getting to know her and I'm confident this time that she's the right person in the right story. She's new and shiny and doesn't trail backstory with her. A new heroine for a new year. 

You'd think I'd learn. 

(If you want to hear me talking about this and other stuff, or hear other writers talking about their processes, do check out

As for me, I'm getting back to my new heroine. See you next month. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Good luck with your new heroine - I'm sure she'll come through for you!

Keren David said...

I loved your book, and I'm very excited to read the next version!

Kelly McCaughrain said...

It was a great interview, Sheena, really enjoyed it!