Jules Lampshire is the winner of the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award 2018 for her novel My Poor Deluded Girl which she wrote while attending the six month Faber Academy Writing a Novel programme in 2017. Our judges praised her work as being “one of those real moments in fiction where a reader can put themselves right in the protagonist’s shoes” (Madeleine Milburn) and for combining a “hypnotic, slightly sinister voice together with a scintillating story” (Fiona Mitchell). Jules is now represented by Madeleine Milburn.
Our competition is running again this year, and the deadline for entry is the 31st May 2019. As some inspiration for editing your manuscripts, we have asked Jules for some tips and advice on writing.
How do you deal with writers’ block?
I had the longest writers’ block ever after I interviewed a number of writers on this very topic back in 2000! I ended up abandoning my work in progress and leaving two others unfinished over subsequent years.
I have found it incredibly helpful to be part of an active writers’ group where we all submit work to each other for review fortnightly. This deadline gives a sense of purpose. If I am ‘blocked’ by a scene I usually skip it and move on to the next part of the story. I find a long drive helps me think and solve plot holes, for others it might be a walk. The other tip I’ve heard is to stop writing in the middle of a scene where you know what comes next. However, for me this results in sleepless nights as I am too excited about what I want to write next.
When you start writing/come up with an idea, what is the first thing that you do?
Jot it down. I have a notebook of random thoughts and inspiration, including articles, quotes, images and ‘what ifs’.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
Anywhere. Newspaper articles, observations, images, overheard conversations. Walking through an underground station one morning last week I heard a man shouting out a girl’s name so loudly it could be heard above the rush hour crowds. Of course, it being London, no one reacted. But what was his story? Last night I passed a woman who was fighting back tears while talking on her mobile. I heard her say, “but what am I meant to do?” Anything I see or hear could be the catalyst for a story.
What is your writing process like?
I am a planner. That said, it is amazing how much the story changes in the telling. I usually have an idea of the beginning and the end, so scope out the story in some detail for the first half expecting the rest to evolve once the characters come to life and take over.
Do you have any advice for avoiding falling into the trap of telling rather than showing?
The question ‘is it a scene?’ is a tricky one. In first draft I can sometimes use tellingto speed up the process of getting the bones of the story down. When I read through again I may realise this needs to be shown. However, I do believe it is a question of balance.
I read a book recently which seemed to have a lot of repetition as the author showed us an event several times – the reader was in the scene with the protagonist when the event happened; then we saw the scene in detail again as the protagonist explained it to a third party; and then the protagonist ran through events later in her mind’s eye. It felt a little like coming back to a TV programme after the ad break when they remind you what happened before. Since no new insights were added I wondered if the repetition could have been avoided by telling– “She briefed Fred on the events”; “Later, thinking through what she’d seen that afternoon, she considered…”
On the other hand, an interview I read in a local magazine said: “he told a lot of funny anecdotes and we laughed a lot.” Reading this I felt robbed – I wanted to experience the witty stories and laugh along with them. I wanted to be shown exactly what had happened rather than provided with a summary.
Any advice on editing?
I write quite quickly, each chapter in a separate file, and I edit as I go. Each time I sit down to write I re-read the previous one or two chapters and tighten them up before continuing. I find this gets me back into the characters’ heads. Generally if I have tried to shoe-horn something in (back story, a metaphor, etc), I know it is wrong it and it needs to be sacrificed.
Editing a full manuscript is much harder, as the story is so familiar and you have crafted the first draft to hang together, with all the strands interwoven. I have found it immensely helpful to have feedback from a beta reader who is also a writer. And a professional review of the work can be invaluable; it can highlight issues you may never notice on your own and help make your novel so much stronger. The feedback can be daunting but having a professional perspective has really made me think and I feel my novel will be richer for this input.
BPA First Novel Award 2019 is open for submissions from unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre. Our Judges this year are literary agent Nelle Andrew and author Beth Underdown. The deadline for entries is the 31st May 2019.