Jane Austen wrote:
“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
In 1996, when I was taking a correspondence course in novel writing with Writers’ News Writing School, I wrote to my then tutor expressing my worry about a novel idea I had at the time. I had in mind a story based on the civil war in Lebanon. My book was not going to be political, nor religious, nor anything partisan.
All I wanted to do was tell the story of ordinary people, a couple and their struggle to survive. The difficulties and dangers they faced every day when gunmen ruled the streets and bombs fell randomly around them. I was worried that even if I went ahead and wrote the book, there would not be a publisher interested enough in my story.
She wrote back to me saying, “I suspect the difficulty will arise if you home in on the Lebanese aspect, whereas it is the human element that makes the story. Ignore the setting for the moment and think about your story in the most basic terms. A novel is about the way a person or people relate to the world in which they live. In this case we have a couple struggling to survive in an environment where things that affect them are largely outside their control- not of their own making. They need to adapt and to respond to the things around them if they are to have any life together. It is about human behaviour and how people act in times of adversity.”
Best advice I have ever received. This was all the encouragement and inspiration I needed to hear to go ahead and finish my book.
Ernest Hemingway wrote:
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”