Hazel McHaffie

Breathing space

I’m a firm believer in the idea that readers are active collaborators in the creative process started by the author. But when a literary agent first told me my early manuscript didn’t provide enough breathing space for the said readers, I confess I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. I’ve a rather better idea of the concept now (I think!) but it’s an element in the writing process I constantly grapple with, never more so than now with my tenth novel.

Medical ethical dilemmas are by their very nature, triggers for debate. There are very few black-and-whites. My aim in using fiction to explore them, is to invite readers in, leave them to ask the questions, supply their own answers. What I – the author – think about the issues is irrelevant; my job is to allow them – the readers – to see the difficulties for themselves, feel the conflicts, become aware of perspectives and opinions they’ve maybe never considered before. If the characters are truly authentic and believable, they will speak for themselves, and as long as there is enough breathing space, the reader can get in there amongst them, watch, listen and feel for him/herself.

With this current domestic thriller, Killing Me Gently, I want to create suspense, even maybe terror, in the minds of readers. How is that done? By cataloguing horror or spectacle? Absolutely not. No, I have to somehow open the door to tap into their unconscious fears, give them elbow room/space to let their imaginations do the work.

And it’s meticulous work. Plotting, planning, connecting, surprising, tweaking, revising. I go over and over the threads and links. Determination … persistence … stubbornness … sheer bloody-mindedness? Call it what you will, I need it in spades this time around.

So I take comfort from Doris Lessing:
What I did have, which others perhaps didn’t, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.

Or Michelangelo:
If people knew how hard I work to get my mastery it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.

And there you have it. In my case, not being a genius, 95% perspiration, 5% inspiration!



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