CRAIG BROWN: Is Huw Edwards just the chap to star in YOUR bad novel?

CRAIG BROWN: Is Huw Edwards just the chap to star in YOUR bad novel?

These are strange times and many people who are otherwise perfectly healthy have started to feel the tell-tale symptoms stirring inside them.

They experience the sudden need to get words down on paper. Medical researchers have identified this condition as novo malo, or bad novel.

Doctors estimate that bad novels can lie dormant in human beings for anything up to 50 or 60 years. These novels wait for the perfect storm of atmospheric conditions — boredom, fidgetiness, existential angst, hours of time to fill — before they begin to emerge.

Have you got a bad novel in you? At one time or another, most people suffer the onset of this sort of malady. ‘If ever I get the time, I’m going to write a really bad novel,’ they tell themselves. Their families look away in distress, hoping that the feeling will pass.

Change his name to Hugh Edwards, so no one will mistake the one for the other

During this current crisis, publishers have been worrying about how to deal with the unstoppable flow of thick buff envelopes that could appear on their desks in six to nine months’ time. Their fear is that the worldwide lockdown of spring 2020 may have given rise to a pandemic of bad novels.

How best to protect yourself from the urge to put pen to paper? As a lifelong self-isolator, here are my top tips for ways of delaying novo malo:

1: Spend at least a year struggling to think up a good title. Once a year has passed, write it down. After staring at it for a few months, admit to yourself that it is a) pretentious or b) not pretentious enough — and then cross it out.

2: Once you have come to the end of the first paragraph, ask yourself: ‘Does the rest of the story really need that sort of build-up?’ Answer ‘Yes’, then cross it out.

3: Now ask yourself what the rest of the story consists of. Draw a blank and go to the fridge.

4: Two of every three minutes spent on any book should be devoted to walking to the fridge, opening the fridge door, looking for something, then deciding for or against. This will leave only one out of every three minutes to devote to the hard work of staring at a blank screen.

5: Everyone imagines themselves to be life-long students of character, therefore suited to becoming novelists.

Before embarking on your novel, jot down everything you’ve ever noticed about other people’s little idiosyncracies, eg, ‘X always puts on a jersey when the weather turns chilly,’ ‘Y wears glasses — probably because her eyes are not what they were.’

After you have assembled a hundred or so of these aperçus, ask yourself whether you are the next Jane Austen.

6: The kettle in the far corner of the kitchen is crying out to be switched on. It is beseeching you to make a cup of coffee, even if you don’t want one. Who are you to ignore its plea?

7: You have persevered. Fair enough. But towards the end of your first sentence, you hit a block. What on earth are you going to call your main character?

Thomas Miller? Too normal. Tomasz Millanovich? Too foreign. Try again. Thomas McIntyre? Too manly. Emma McIntyre? But that’s a woman’s name, and he’s meant to be a man. What about Michael McIntyre? But it rings a faint bell — isn’t there a TV celebrity called that? Cross out the first sentence and start again.

8: Until now, you have successfully resisted the call of the kettle. But now well into your second paragraph, your main character, whom you have successfully renamed Huw Edwards, has begun to cry out for a cup of coffee.

You fantasise about telling a Radio 4 inteviewer on the eve of publication of your novel: ‘My characters have an awful habit of running away with me! I just can’t stop them doing what they want to do!’

9: Pursue this fantasy for an hour or two before suddenly remembering that Huw Edwards is the name of a newscaster. You are left with three possible actions:

a) Change his name to Hugh Edwards, so no one will mistake the one for the other.

b) Wonder if you can get away with it — after all, the real Huw Edwards is hardly likely to be remembered in a couple of decades’ time or . . .

c) Decide against, cross out your two opening paragraphs, return to the fridge, and count yourself lucky to have avoided a debilitating bout of novo malo.


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