Review: A Novel In A Year

Title: A Novel In A Year
Author: Louise Doughty
Pages: 320
Rating: **

A novel in a year, to a NaNo participant, seems like underachieving. I got it out of the library anyway, because how much regret can there be in a book you don’t pay for?
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Lots, it turns out.

A Novel In A Year is a compilation of a series of columns published in the Telegraph, which encouraged people, over a year, through the process of writing a novel. Well, not actually writing a novel. More laying the groundwork so that a novel could be written. It’s an absolute beginner’s guide, essentially, and guides the reader from fishing for ideas through to putting pen to paper and actually writing some scenes.

If I’d read it over a year, maybe I’d think more kindly on it. As it was a library book I didn’t have that luxury, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up after about week three anyway. As it is, the writer’s ego and prescriptivist attitude to writing shine through despite her exhortations to find what we feel most comfortable with. For the beginner it’s a good place to find one way of planning a novel, as long as they don’t fall into the trap of thinking there isn’t another way.

It’s also very genre-specific. Half the columns are spent discussing the writing sent in by participants back when it was a newspaper column, and although some of these snippets touch on alien planets, it’s generally rooted firmly in character-driven ‘write what you know’ modern day drama.

I came away from the book with just a sense of relief at being able to return it to the library. No flash of inspiration, no sudden revelations, just the sensation of a course completed that I never have to go back to. I suppose that making a book about writing feel less exciting than GCSE maths is, at least, some kind of accomplishment.

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