CK: What has the process of completing your first novel been like, and what sort of advice do you have for writers?
NH: I’ve never had a baby, Caroline, but the twenty four month gestation period for this novel and the labour during the days preceding its release gives me some idea. For me, as with mothers, it was a labour of love. I never wanted to let it go; every time I reviewed it, I saw areas needing improvement. It was like, “How could you have said it that way, dummy? You can write better than that.” And so it would go, day after day, until you convinced me I had a book and to let you smooth out the rough edges. When the book was released to the public it was like being naked, exposing my self to criticism, praise and perhaps worst of all, indifference!
Do I have advice for new writers, I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just restate the obvious just begin. Put words down every day, without being concerned about content, grammar, spelling or structure.Your only concern should be expression, putting down what’s in your mind, heart and imagination. Find your creative sweet spot, that time of day when ideas seem to flow effortlessly. Mine is early morning, but for others it’s evening or the middle of the night—whatever works for you, but do it. I might also suggest that you not read too many books on writing. In the end your storyline will carry your book, not your sentence structure or preoccupation with the beginning, the middle, and the end. I find that words come to me scene after scene, but I must confess—and my editor reminds me—that I have problems with chronology and time sequence. I concentrate on the creative process, developing a story that first entertains, but always with a message.
As a first-time author with one published book to my credit, I don’t presume that my advice to writers will be all that prescient. Find your own style, your own story, and make sure you fall in love, deeply in love, with your characters. They will become the most important people in your life for the duration of the book.
For me it was about narrative and dialogue. I want my readers to feel the emotion, the tension, the anxiety, all the demands of life wrapped up in a character’s role. I’m a storyteller first and a writer second, if that makes sense. There are passages and whole scenes in this book that bring tears to my eyes each time I read them. I welled up when those words were written, they weren’t my words—they were Nabby’s and Maggie’s and other characters in the book. Maybe that’s the litmus test for a writer; maybe it’s about human emotion and finding words to express it. In Under the Skin, I hope to have found the right words.