A photo and a memory – how a novel is born.

It’s funny how some novels start out. Sometimes there’s a sensible linear journey that begins with an idea, proceeds to draft, and then becomes an edited, finished product. Nothing could be simpler. Sometimes it’s a lot messier than that. The Memory Game is one of those messy novels.

bikeLike many of the books I’ve released this year, The Memory Game started life while I was doing my creative writing degree between 2006 and 2009. I remember sitting in a class and being handed a photo. From that photo, I was told, I had to create a scenario. My photo was of an abandoned bicycle. It looked forlorn to me, as though something really bad had happened to the owner. I decided that the owner was a boy on his paper round. It wasn’t hard for me to make the next connection, that the boy had been knocked from his bike by a car, because, as a teenager myself, I had worked as a paper girl and one of the boys who worked alongside me was killed by a car while out on his round one night. It was one of those deeply affecting events, one moment that changes your outlook on life forever. It was the first time I had encountered such a tragedy first-hand involving someone my own age. Suddenly, I understood that we weren’t as invincible as I had always believed. That memory came to the fore of my mind while looking at the photo in my creative writing class that day. The next thing that happened in my story scenario was that the boy was telling us about the way he had died.

I took the scrap of an idea home and wrote a short story. I sent the short story off to one or two competitions and was shortlisted for one in 2008. This version was called ‘Say Hello to the Living’ and was a much more darkly humorous tale, based on David (the protagonist’s) experiences of the afterlife. Buoyed by the small competition success, I decided to turn the story into a full length work, keeping the black humour, but I never ended up finishing it.

Sometime in 2012 I was reminded of the story while going through some old notebooks. It seemed the right time to dust it off, only this time, as I wrote and planned, it began to turn into something much grittier. New characters were added and a new central conflict in the form of Bethany. I wrote a novella length piece early in 2013 and a couple of writer friends very kindly read it for me and gave me feedback. Having had some experience of self-publishing by then with my Sky Song books and feeling fairly confident about it, I decided to go it alone and publish the book myself. I went back and re-drafted, fleshing out the story until it had become a more complex tale. That’s the version I’m sending out into the world on September 1st with my fingers and toes crossed that people will like it.

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5 thoughts on “A photo and a memory – how a novel is born.

  1. Sharon, I love writing from photo or word prompts. We use the former in the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction we share on our blog, and the latter for the short stories we write for our local Writers’ Circle (we are given two suggested titles for each meeting).

    One of the short stories, originally 1000 words long (as preferred for Writers’ Circle) begged me to write more, and is now a novella-in-progress with over 7000 words to its name! I only stopped writing it because the novel is more important at the moment. 😉

    I’m continually surprised and delighted by how we can take just an image or a word or two and craft something so rich and detailed and full of life. Thanks for sharing the history behind The Memory Game – I look forward to reading it! 🙂

    PS Sorry for writing such a long post! Eeks!

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