Hazel McHaffie

Back in the saddle

How do you pick up the reins of novel-writing after a 6 months break? Hmmm. I don’t know. Never done it before. So, a new challenge this week.

I was 34,000 words into my latest novel by last October when my heart suddenly decided to throw tantrums and I got sidetracked by disability and hospital appointments and assorted treatments. The plot was pretty much decided, the principal characters fully formed. But there was one narrative thread that I’d only sketchily researched: a young father’s mysterious disappearance. How would his family react? How would they start to track him down? Would the police get involved? Would a private investigator take such a case? How complicated would the search be? Could he vanish without trace? What if it was actually a suicide? … … …

Victor’s disappearance has been lurking somewhere in the deep recesses of my drugged mind all these weeks; but I’ve been powerless to pursue him. Rust and moss have gathered; neurones slowed. Now, post successful treatment, might be the very time to drag these questions to the forefront and get down to the real process of untangling answers. Hopefully coaxing brain, hand and heart back into writerly routines in the process.

As a first step, a few months ago, I’d bought a book on the subject in the Howdunit Series: Missing Persons: A writer’s guide to finding the lost, the abducted and the escaped. It’s written by Fay Faron who, in real life, runs a detective agency in San Francisco. She’s the author of various manuals and columns on the subject, but has also penned a work of fiction herself – ideal credentials for my purpose, you’d think. She should know what I don’t know I need to know as well as knowing what I know I don’t know!

Howdunit text

Off I trotted into the sunshine to see what she could teach me for my novel. Well, come on. Don’t rush me out of the lolling life too quickly. Sudden shocks aren’t good for dodgy hearts, you know!

I’m soon immersed …

What a readable book, well-written, full of anecdotes and facts and humour. Nice short subsections, clearly signposted. Ideal. The trusty notepad is soon covered in scribbles; hints and tips to myself. Ideas to give my story depth and authenticity.

Then it’s hotfoot back to the computer to plug the notes in at relevant points in the text. Now all I have to do is re-read the preceding sections and off I go again. Writing! Ahhhh. Feels like coming home after a prison sentence. And – better still, I’ve acquired sufficient distance from my prose to be able to edit ruthlessly. I discard pet phrases with gay abandon, lose whole chunks of unnecessary material, and then get stuck into the next chapter. Hmmmmm. Not quite as speedy and fluent as I’d hoped, but, hey, it’s a start. I’m back in the saddle. First re-learn how to trot again. Next week’s soon enough to try a gallop.

 

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2 Responses to “Back in the saddle”

  • Heather Sutton says:

    Great to know that you are back in the saddle Hazel. I have just finished reading Saving Sebastian.
    I thoroughly enjoyed it & I must say that I found it to be a “jolly good read!” But of course it is more than that. There is a the characters are complex & true to life.

    I became quite concerned for the woman Candice who had twins & was obviously suffering from post natal depression. No medical professional picked up that she was sick, which is particularly disturbing as she was attending a Fertility Clinic. It was Sebastian’s mother who eventually came to her aid. I wonder how many times women with post natal depression in our community have to rely on friends or relatives. They are particularly at risk now with our early discharge policies in hospitals.

    I think this novel has everything, intrigue, conspiracy, issues & tragedies that people have to deal with in their lives. It is fascinating as it demonstrates how some of the characters deal with the issues better than others. Also they deal better with some of the issues better than they deal with other issues. Just as we all do. Relationships are also important & this story also shows how some relationships can withstand the kind of stress that severe illnesses & extreme high tech treatments cause; whilst other relationships are threatened.

    I am now retired, but I did work for many years teaching nurses & midwives at Flinders University, one of Adelaide’s three universities. As I read Saving Sebastian I could not help thinking that this is a good resource for midwives & nurses & those who are especially involved with infertility, potentially fatal childhood diseases & midwifery. Hazel McHaffie describes very clearly the emotions that people experience in these situations providing us with a better understanding of how to give people support & help them cope with post natal depression, IVF both successful & unsuccessful, & very sick children. She also addresses the responses of all relevant family members, especially the fathers, other siblings, grandparents etc.

    I you have read Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, do not think that this is a similar book. Whilst at the time that I read it I enjoyed it Saving Sebastian is, I think, a far better read. It has greater depth, understands the complexity of people’s emotions & the ethical dilemmas that are confronting medicine the more technology we use. HM’s extensive knowledge & experience as a midwife & scholar of medical ethics & the issues has made this book thought provoking.

    Oh dear, I seem to have made this a book review, hope I am not being too arrogant with this. If it is a book review I need to be looking at any weaknesses, however, I cannot identify any! As I said HM’s background has enabled her to make the characters & their problems believable & relevant.

    I realise I have not said anything about the Pemberton Clinic & the characters. The Head of the Clinic is portrayed as a father figure – the good father & in fact a more attentive father to his patients & staff than his own family. However, the Clinic is also flawed but I cannot say too much about that as I do not want to give away the plot!

    I end as I began A JOLLY GOOD READ.

    PS I have just finished reading Over My Dead Body & will write something about that to. Loved it!!!! Hooked on Hazel I am.

    • Hazel says:

      Why, thank you kindly for this comprehensive response, Heather. I’m so glad you find the stories compelling. I once received a letter from an agent advising me that I had to leave my ‘formidable academic background’ behind once I entered the world of fiction. It’s haunted me ever since, and I’m always concerned about ensuring the books are character driven rather than issue led. I’m glad that’s so for you. But maybe he would think your background formidable too!

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