The world needs a Newport novel – mine

Black Ash Park – otherwise known as the horsey park

I’ve been quiet on the blogging front for quite a while now. The main reason for my apparent tardiness is that I’ve been dedicating my time and energy on completing a Newport novel I started several years ago – a project which has had a chequered past since its inception as a rather melodramatic screenplay. After picking it up and then abandoning it for several years, I was just getting stuck into it again in August 2019, when I encountered a devastating setback: I lost four chapters due to a memory stick malfunction. The incident meant I couldn’t pick the Newport novel up again for several years, however for some reason the idea behind it refused to die.

Then finally, in August 2023, an Albufeira-based writer friend and I made a pact to finish our respective long-shelved novels. I still can’t quite believe it, but on 2 November 2023, I finally finished that first draft. I’m currently working on edit number four and the plan is to hand my 95k word manuscript over to my editor next week (my editor being Harri, of course).

The lane that ran between two of the terraced streets

Losing Dick and my voice

I’ve also been unwell with (self-diagnosed) whooping cough since returning from Wales at the end of March. This has rather curtailed my hiking life – and thus my blogs about hiking. Thankfully, I am slowly regaining my fitness and stamina, however it’s going to be a few more weeks before I’m up to tackling the longer distances we love. Frustratingly, I seem to have mislaid my digital recorder – last seen when I was transcribing dictation for my most recent 25km+ hike (a wonderful solitary stroll to my friend Chris’s house near São Bartolomeu de Messines). I’m hoping my digital friend is here in the house somewhere but, for now, Dick is resolutely refusing to be found.

Coming to a bookshop near you

Back to my Newport novel. This is my first attempt at fiction if you discount the Mills & Boon I wrote back in the mid-nineties. While I got some really lovely feedback then, including being told how well-researched the sailing background was, I was not offered a publishing contract. Like Helen Fielding, I was rejected for not being good enough – from memory I think the exact words were ‘not enough emotional punch’ – however, unlike Bridget Jones’s creator, I did not go on to greater things.

The (once red-brick) terraced house I grew up in

My Newport novel is set during the legendary UK summer of 1976 when I was 15 and the youngest of my three protagonists is 16. It is not an epic story, rather it focuses on a small cast of characters over the course of a week within one specific location, i.e. Newport. Newport is the third largest city in Wales (after Cardiff and Swansea), however it remains surprisingly unpresented in literature. While my storyline is entirely fictional, my novel delves into a reality that has increasingly fascinated me as I grow older, i.e. the almost complete lack of academic or professional aspiration which existed within my South Wales working-class community when I was growing up. Instead, what really mattered to my parents’ generation was securing a stable job. This lack of ambition was passed down to many of my own generation, unless you were lucky enough to have parents who were themselves aspirational or well-educated – unfortunately, mine were neither. It’s taken me a lifetime to realise that you do need role models – or at the very least a cheerleader – to achieve your full potential in life.

No-one buys books

I’m not expecting this novel to make me money – Harri and I have published enough non-fiction books for me to manage my expectations on that front. That said, I was still rather disheartened when Harri stumbled upon an excellent article called ‘No-one buys books’. In it, the author Elle Griffin looks at publishing trends, the actual sales figures for bestselling titles and the sad reality that 96% of books sold less than 1,000 copies.

In Elle’s own words:

‘I think I can sum up what I’ve learned like this: The Big Five publishing houses spend most of their money on book advances for big celebrities like Britney Spears and franchise authors like James Patterson and this is the bulk of their business. They also sell a lot of Bibles, repeat bestsellers like Lord of the Rings, and children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’

(She has written a host of other essays with similarly depressing titles, e.g. No-one will read your book and Writing books isn’t a good idea.)

An addiction I have no desire to fight

Like many would-be writers (yes, I still suffer imposter syndrome despite having written and self-published four non-fiction books), it’s not the expectation of great wealth that compels me to sit at my laptop for hours on end, but the love of storytelling and words. Most days, the logical part of my brain admonishes me how I could be spending my time more constructively aka lucratively, however my fingers are drawn to my keyboard. This Newport novel will be completed if it kills me.

Pay for anything except books

When I published my first book Never too old to backpack: a 364-mile walk through Wales, I received a lot of support from close family and friends, many of whom even bought a copy. After a few months, I decided to take Amazon’s generic advice and offer it free for a weekend (the free downloads help to make your title more visible). I was astounded how many people I knew seized this opportunity to ‘support me’. One encounter really sticks in my mind. A running friend, a teacher at the top of her profession, came charging over to me at parkrun to tell me she’d downloaded her free copy and was thoroughly enjoying my book. It was for sale at £2.99. Would it have made much of a dent in her pocket to actually buy a copy?

Yesterday, I was watching a daily vlog I’ve followed for a while. In the episode, the fifty-something creator said she hoped to be able to make more money from her vlog and blog now she was going to be working reduced hours at the office AND then professed to her 10k following that buying books was a waste of money! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This Karen stood there poo-pooing the idea of paying for books, while she herself was expecting to earn money from her own ‘creative’ efforts. Really, it’s an awful vlog anyway – all about prepping and preparing for the worst – so I’m just going to unfollow it. I’m only mentioning it because she clearly has the same opinion as my running friend, i.e. authors write it for our own gratification and shouldn’t expect payment for our efforts.

Right, I’ve had my rant. I’m off to lead a walk for Hiking Algarve in 45 minutes.

More on my writing progress in the next blog.

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4 Responses

    • TheWalkersWife

      Maybe I could give you a small part in the next one? It’s going to be about a student photographer.

  1. John Hilton

    No, sorry, you have to rewrite this one 😉