Interview – Length and Skill!

Here is the second part of the author interview serialised on the blog yesterday. The following answers deal with the important (and not mutually exclusive considerations) of length and skill.

2) How long did the book take to write? Did you plan it all down to the finest detail before you started or did you loosely sketch it and then see where the story took you?

Given a straight run, it takes me about three months to write a book. It is a little more complicated than that, however, since working in a school means that I don’t have a straight run. Projects often have to fit themselves around the demands of the school year. Every writer has a different way of approaching a book. I like to have an initial pitch to sound out my editors and make sure they feel as I do that the book has an appeal. I also like to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with anything else anyone is writing for them at that time. I then furnish a synopsis/chapter break-down with the characters and events required to tell the story. This is to ensure that the narrative has an emotional integrity, holds together and makes sense. The trick here is not to include too much detail. My editors check this also. Another experienced pair of eyes is really useful here. I read some books and watch some films and television programmes that contain nonsensical plot holes that you could drive a bus through. You don’t want to get tens of thousands of words into a project before you discover one of these, so editors’ comments at this stage are useful. Then comes the hard graft. Writing a 100,000 word novel is not easy. It takes real stamina and commitment, no matter how much you’re enjoying the process. I keep the synopsis loose and functional to enable the creative juices to flow during the actual writing of the novel. Characters, setting and the mechanics of the plot are all fleshed out here and there is an element of seeing where a scene, section of dialogue or sub-plot takes me. This, of course, takes place within the safety net of a good deal of planning already undertaken. The finished article then goes to my editors (hopefully somewhere near the deadline) for several read throughs and technical checks to ensure it still makes sense and is as free as possible from errors. Done.

3) Do you feel that your day job as an English teacher and the skills you need for that have helped you to write the novel?

Do you need to be an English teacher to write a novel? No. Does it help if you are? I certainly think so. I read a good deal. I have taught English, English Literature, Drama and Media across all age ranges and I have a First Class Honours in English and History. All of these things require the deconstruction of other people’s texts on a daily basis. It is not unreasonable to suggest that this experience has benefitted me when writing books of my own. If you pick up a Rob Sanders novel then I can guarantee you will be reading a text into which an enormous amount of imagination and skill has been invested. Atlas Infernal is only my second novel, however. I am at the beginning of this process and have much to learn as I develop as a writer. Being a teacher certainly teaches you the importance of the learning process - of reflection and continual improvement. I’m in this for the long haul and to last the distance you have to be inventive, adaptable and be prepared to learn from any mistakes you make.

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