Hazel McHaffie

self publishing

Structuring a book

As a writer myself I’m always interested in the structure of books, especially when they’re a bit whacky, so I was intrigued by one I came across recently by someone who initially went down the self-publishing route and made a go of it. As he says himself in the acknowledgements: ‘Thanks to Apple for making reliable work tools and to Amazon for turning the writing of novels back into something one can actually earn a living from’.
He has since been taken on by traditional publishers.)

Things We Never Said is Nick Alexander‘s fourteenth work of fiction, and he has adopted an intriguing style for this one. Catherine Patrick has just died from cancer. After her death, best friend Maggie gives the grieving husband Sean a box. It contains 29 envelopes and 29 photos to be opened one a week for 29 weeks.

The envelopes contain tiny cassettes on which Catherine has dictated a message for Sean about their lives together. She warns him it will contain some information that’ll be hard to hear, and indeed he is challenged, angered, saddened and moved by what she confides, as she fills out gaps in his understanding, things they never said.

The book is constructed around these photos and taped messages.
– Waiting for each Sunday to listen to the next installment, gives the author opportunity to flesh out the present; Sean lost in grief, remembering his wife, interacting with their daughter, family, friends; making decisions for the future.
– The photos resurrect memories of significant happenings in their lives, enabling the author to unravel the events and their impact.
– Listening to the recording, exposes the emotion, the reaction, the baggage, the unsaid and the unseen behind their lives together, maintaining the tension.

All relationships have their ups and downs, all have their secrets. Loss is universal. Nick Alexander develops this reality in a way that keeps the pages turning through 29 installments, knowing there will be painful revelations, wondering how they will pan out. We feel Sean’s impotence – there can be no confrontation, no opportunity to challenge or rage or explain or put things right. Catherine has gone. Sean must resolve the issues for himself and find a way to move on. I confess I wasn’t drawn in initially, the style was too staccato, the dialogue too banal.  But as the characters were rounded out I started to care what Catherine would reveal and how Sean would deal with it. It’s a design and technique that works.

PS. There are other novels with the same title. Not sure why people do this. 

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