Three excellent novels I’ve just read all prove that Larkin was right.

I’ve just read three novels, all literary fiction, which are really enjoyable and memorable, albeit for different reasons. Whether you just like a profound and meaningful  narrative, or whether you’re inspired as a writer by well-conceived and well-written novels, there three are highly recommended.

We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, is full of surprises in terms of the storyline. It is well written, dealing with sibling love and rivalry but the real point of the novel comes at the point where we find out about the protagonist’s sister, Fern. It’s a shock to discover why the main character, Rosemary, grows up so unhappily and is so incapable of forming stable relationships. Her brother Lowell is in a similar predicament, differently manifested. As we discover what happens to Fern and that Rosemary’s entire childhood was an experiment, the novel makes profound sense and is very moving. My moment of real epiphany was the understanding that all relationships between parents and their children are bound to fail to some extent, and that while parents may try to do their best, their efforts are undoubtedly flawed and invariably subject to scrutiny. This is a provocative and important novel, and I haven’t given away the most powerful part. The narrative resonates with grief and frustration, and the central discussion point is mankind’s treatment of others in the name of science and discovery. I won’t spoil the story. However, Larkin was right! 

Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright’s novel, The Green Road, is a perfect example of how a simple idea, beautifully written and detailed, works so well. The story concerns four kids who have grown up, have created their own lives and return home to their mother for Christmas. Hanna, Dan, Emmet and Constance are very different to each other and  their lives are explored by Enright before they return to their family home and their mother, Rosaleen.Of course, it is their independence and different lifestyles which cause problems, and the mother’s loneliness and stubborn nature. The novel is is fast paced, packed with beautiful description, perfect prose and vivid setting. Enright is a fabulous story-teller: the characters are visual and credible, likeable yet flawed. The humanity, grief and vitriol are tangible. Yes, Larkin was right.

I really enjoyed The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. Readers may make comparisons with Doyle and Welsh but McInerney is a talent in her own right. I loved the characters, the setting, the interplay, the roving first person, third person narrative. The novel tells the story of  Ryan who grows up with five siblings, no mother and a loser of a father, Tony. Ryan’s relationship with Karine is a redeeming factor but his decline to crime and failure is inevitable. McInerney creates some fabulous characters. Maureen, who kills a man with a holy stone. Her son, the dangerous Jimmy Phelan. Georgie, a lost and hopeless victim, and Tara Duane, the next door neighbour who takes advantage of fifteen year old Ryan. At times, the narrative is poignant but it is also funny. The characters stoically accept their lot and still rail against life’s injustices; the narrative is exciting and fast-paced. The storyline is, at times, incendiary. And of course, as Ryan learns too quickly, Larkin was absolutely right.

These three novels are highly recommended, whether you’re a parent, someone’s child, or both. Highly entertaining, poignant, inspirational and, of course, all three stories come to the final conclusion that Larkin’s resonant  words are an inescapable realisation, a part of parenting, of growing up. Read the whole poem, This Be the Verse. It’s as uplifting as it is demoralising.

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When should writers sit down and write and when should they stop writing and seek inspiration? The answer is easy.

I’ve finished editing my second novel, for now. Of course it’s impossible to finish editing, ever: there’s always more to upgrade and revise and rethink, but I wrote this one, currently titled The Matter with Men, from August to November. It was an exercise to see if I could write within the CWF genre. I read a few commercial women’s fiction novels to start me off and, once I’d created a character who was a little feisty and I’d given her some problems to resolve, I was away. I really enjoyed it.

Many writers make helpful suggestions  about when and how one should write, and routine seems to be all-important. Write after breakfast, write before breakfast, write all morning, all night. I have a guaranteed way of making sure I can write a lot, and in a disciplined way – at least I can do this as long as I live in the UK. I write when the weather is bad and go out and find inspiration when the weather is good.

I set my second novel in the South West and researching a setting is really good fun. Driving to Cornwall, across Devon, to Bristol, having lunch on a barge because my main character does, checking out a pub in East Devon, a beach in Barnstaple… is this hard work?

There’s a supermoon tonight, so I’ll be out there, maybe climbing Haytor rock at sunset and taking some photos so that I can internalise it all and use the mood later. I am not naturally good at writing romance but I can do pantheism, then merge the two in my head and later use the moment in my novel.

I recently wrote a scene where my protagonist goes horse riding without the benefit of appropriate sports underwear. Research is essential if I’m to understand the emotions and sensations  behind the experience.Now that has to be a good example of suffering for one’s art.

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My protagonists are never me. They may occasionally be composites of different people but mostly they are made up and I can always project experiences and ideas or work empathically.  It’s easy to bring a thought or an experience back to the computer and then subvert it, apply it or change it and turn it into something entertaining, moving or poignant.

I’ve just started my third novel, which will be set in two cities I know well and that I visit regularly. However, I’ve been walking on Dartmoor this weekend, so I have a scene in mind which will take place on Grimspound.

Based on the experience of trying to invent an acceptable male protagonist in the second novel, I have decided to change my methods completely and create a new and unusual protagonist in the third- (no title yet) – who is completely different, annoying and hugely flawed. I will enjoy working with him and I hope the fun will rub off on my readers.

November has been great so far, both in terms of writing and in terms of good weather,  so I have been on the road while the sun shines and making hay, or at least chapters, in the rain. I am lucky to be in touch with a great group of helpful readers who read what I write and who let me know if it  works the way I want it to. I have two particular readers whose reading experience is completely diverse: one has an MA in writing, the other seldom reads fiction, so I combine their responses to help me gauge how effective my novel might be to a wider audience.

I belong to a brilliant writing group, which is so mutually helpful: we try out new ideas and it keeps the writing spirit crazy, feisty and humble. All the support and input is invaluable and inspirational and the mischief we create is as volatile as any coven.

Today the weather is good, but I am expecting the weather to turn wintery very soon, so I’ll be out in the fog and the slush and the storms. Then during the cold and the rain, after a quick bowl of soup, I’ll be back  on the keyboard while Pushkin the cat snoozes in front of the screen, right in my line of vision. Love it…

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Dartmoor painting by Cait Hill