William Blyghton reflects on the highs and lows of writing a first novel.
It took three years to write The House by the Marsh – or perhaps a lifetime. It was triggered by the death of my wife Liz and by nursing her for the eighteen months of her dying. Cancer… It was the first time since childhood that I had been alone, and somehow it gave space for childhood memories of loss and loneliness to come to the surface. Anxiety…
The book began in a number of different guises, and in the end, it brought together into a single story two books that I had intended to write separately. But that is how it seems to go. Writing fiction is not so much a deliberate intent, but a response to something that has its own need to be heard.
Writing fiction is not so much a deliberate intent, but a response to something that has its own need to be heard.
Although I had written before, I had never thought it possible that I would be able to write a novel, an extensive work with characters and dialogue and some kind of coherence. I had to try and learn the craft: lots of hard work, writing and rewriting under the wonderful guidance of Lorna Howarth of The Write Factor. Her tough honesty was vital. You have to be thick-skinned to write, to open yourself up to be criticised, to be prepared to abandon or change large parts of something you have spent months writing. It’s a full-time struggle. I also had to find a way of setting into fiction things that had happened to me in a manner that was more than a record of events, and it wasn’t until quite a long way into the task that I realised that to do this I had to write as someone else, using another name. It was a liberation. When I was a small boy I spent a lot of time by myself being someone else, living in a world of make believe. Not only were my brother and sister older than me, they were away at boarding school and although I had a sister who was only two years younger than me, she was born mentally and physically disabled. She is Susan in The House by the Marsh. And so, I was on my own. Still am.
You have to be thick-skinned to write, to open yourself up to be criticised, to be prepared to abandon or change large parts of something you have spent months writing.
Writing as William Blyghton (not my real name) took me back into that wonderful world of imagination that I had inhabited in my childhood where anything was possible; when for days at a time I would be a cowboy or what I would then have called an Indian brave setting out on an adventure. It depended what I had last seen at the cinema or read in my comics. I loved Westerns. As a child, living in my imagination and becoming someone else was natural and wonderful.
I am a similar age to William who comes to live at the house by the marsh, who is befriended by Wendy and then loved by Mary, and although the details of all of that is just a story, the feelings to which it gives expression are my feelings, my real experience. Does that mean that I have come to understand more clearly what it is to be elderly, to understand what it is to suffer loss and find love after seventy or more years? Yes, it does. And what I see is an astonishing mixture of sadness and delight: the wonderful, anarchic entanglement and entwinement of being alive towards the ending of life.
What I see is an astonishing mixture of sadness and delight: the wonderful, anarchic entanglement and entwinement of being alive towards the ending of life.
The House by the Marsh by William Blyghton, is published by Panacea Books at £9.99 and is available to order from all good bookshops or from Amazon below: