Trevor Mark Thomas - How I wrote my first novel
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 June 2019
Manchester-based author Trevor Mark Thomas reveals the strain and the pain of having his debut novel published
I first started to write years ago. It was to be a modern science fiction novel in the vein of JG Ballard. I got about forty pages in and decided to look back at what I had written. It was dreadful. Page upon page of turgid, overwritten prose. However, among the dross, every now and then, I'd see a sentence which worked. Generally, the "good" sentences were short, clean, and sparse. Most importantly, they felt as if they had been written by someone else. Being a bloody-minded sort, I kept going. Grinding through novel after failed novel. Trying different genres on for size. Slowly, slowly improving.
About four years ago, I reached a point in my life when I realised I had one more shot at doing something I really cared about. Above all else, I wanted to get a novel published. I felt that achieving this would, in some small sense, make my time on this planet worthwhile. So, after (irresponsibly) quitting my job, and (responsibly) moving back north with my girlfriend, I decided to do a Masters in creative writing at the Manchester Writing School. To pass the MA, you had to complete a 60,000 word novel in two years.
I started the course with no idea of what I wanted to write. I had no story. No characters. In a panic, I decided to list some scenes, images, and characters I thought would be interesting. At the time I was living in the Peak District. I did a lot of walking and loved the loneliness and beauty of the place. I decided I wanted to set the book there. Over about three sleepless nights, I slowly worked out how all these elements might link together. Loosely, the story is about an innocent with a dark secret. He walks in to The Bothy, an isolated pub filled with bad people. All hell breaks loose. That was all I had. The other books I had tried to write had all been carefully planned and they had all failed. So I decided to change my approach. There would be no plan this time. Instead, I would have the characters in my book tell me their story.
It was an exciting, exhilarating process. The characters took over and forced the story in the direction they wanted. These imaginary people did things that shocked me. They said things that made me laugh. It was very odd. They weren't friends but I felt as if I knew them well.
I would not have been able to write The Bothy without the help and support of my loved ones. I asked a lot of them. Too much, sometimes. The worse thing was that the sacrifice would only be worth it if The Bothy ended up getting published. All I could do was to work as hard as possible.
I made sure I established a firm routine. I would walk the dog in the morning and think about what I wanted to achieve with the day's writing. After an hour and a half, I'd come home, make myself some strong tea, and start to write. The process was often emotionally exhausting. I got physically sick. I had stomach pains. Sleep became elusive. I had to deal with sudden and horrific drops in confidence. I was afraid that somehow I'd suddenly revert to the writer of turgid nonsense I had been years ago.
It took me about 18 months to write the first draft. I started by reading through the whole book in one sitting. Checking for pacing. Checking for weird continuity errors. Superfluous dialogue. I read it out loud. Listening carefully to the words. Checking the flow and rhythm of the sentences. After making changes, I'd start from the beginning again. I kept doing this until I got to a stage where it felt like I was reading the words of someone else. Finally, in August 2017, I handed in The Bothy for marking and hoped for the best.
After that, I spent the autumn sending the book off to agents. I got some okay responses, but it was mostly 'thanks, but no thanks'. However, after I received the marks for The Bothy, one of the lecturers on the course asked if I'd like to be published. I said yes. While jumping up and down with delight.
In January of this year, I received six copies of my first novel, sent over by my publisher, Salt. Holding the book in my hand for the first time stirred up many feelings. Pride. Wonder. Excitement. A little bit of sadness. It had taken a long time to reach that moment, and had caused a lot of frustration and heartache. But, when I saw the dedication I had written to my parents, I knew it had been worth it.
Mark's second novel, set the summer after the events depicted in The Bothy, is finished and he hopes it will be released next year.