Guest post: Hannah Fielding on building the foundations of a novel

  • Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Today I am happy to host an author who has drawn from her love of travel to write richly descriptive romances such as Burning Embers which is set in exotic Kenya. Whether you're an author or a reader, storyteller or lover of stories, I am sure you'll enjoy her insights on how a novel takes shape. Welcome, Hannah!

Burning Embers by Hannah Fielding
Building the foundations of a novel by Hannah Fielding

People often ask me, when it comes to the novels I write, are you a planner or a chancer? Do I write carefully according to a pre-designed framework, or do I sit back and let the muse guide me wherever she sees fit to travel?

The second option I find decidedly unsettling – if I let my imagination reign free, I think it would take me a very, very long time to edit the final manuscript into a cohesive, logically flowing book. Each writer is different, and I know that some writers create wonderful books without having a plan in place before, or during, the writing (the British crime writer Colin Dexter springs to mind). But I am one of those people who has the book entirely broken down before writing commences, and the process I began years ago, when I wrote my debut novel Burning Embers, is still working for me today as I write my sixth book.

For me, building solid foundations for a book before commencing the writing allows me to really relax into the writing, happy that I know where the story is going and that I can ground it in my research and the sense of the story and characters that I have built up over time. I very much enjoy the writing stage of creating a book, but in fact I also love the planning stage, and so I am never in a rush to put pen to paper when I have an idea for a new novel.

Here are some of the activities I carry out to lay down those foundations:

1. Travel. I love to set my writing in vibrant, beautiful countries. Burning Embers is set in Kenya, and I have since written books set Spain, Italy and Greece. I am lucky enough to have travelled extensively over the years, and I infuse my books with my memories of places. But where possible, I do try to visit the setting of the book I’m currently writing. Last year, for example, I spent some time in Venice, Italy, and drank in the sights and sounds and smells and the very feel of the place.

2. Read books. What writer doesn’t love to read? I read widely about the culture and setting in which my book is set. I always learn so much more about a place than I could ever weave into a book, and I find the experience immensely enriching. I’ve also been known to read the thesaurus, because I love to find the perfect word to capture the exact nuance of meaning I’m seeking to convey.

3. Browse the Internet. Such a wonderful resource – images, recipes, legends, histories, quotations: there is much to explore on your given subject. I find quotations especially inspirational, which is why I tweet them daily via @FieldingHannah.

4. Experience the culture. I do what I can to put myself in the setting and time in which I’m writing. So, for example, for my books set in Spain I cooked local dishes, listened to Spanish music and watched classic Spanish movies.

5. Daydream. Essential, and quite the best part of the pre-writing stage! As Gloria Steinem put it, “Dreaming after all is a form of planning.” I take long, leisurely walks in the woods around my home in Kent and along the beach near my home in France, and I let my mind fly free. Sometimes a detail as tiny as a singing cicada or the light catching on the azure Mediterranean will fire up an idea; other times, if the muse is elusive, I’ll take a trip to a local village and sit in a café to people-watch.

6. Plan, plan, plan. Once I have the overall plot in my mind, I sit down with pen and paper and create a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book. Only after I’ve tied together all the threads on paper do I feel ready to start the journey – armed with a map that will ensure I reach my destination successfully.
I will leave you with a quote from the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” So it is for me that planning to write is the act that makes my long-held wish of being a writer come true.

About Hannah Fielding

Hannah Fielding is a novelist, a dreamer, a traveller, a mother, a wife and an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: she writes full time, splitting her time between her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.

Burning Embers by Hannah Fielding

Synopsis: Burning Embers is a contemporary historical romance novel set in 1970s Kenya. It tells the story of the developing love and passion between Coral, a naive, young English girl returning to the place of her birth, and Rafe, the handsome but tortured womanizer to whom Coral is inextricably drawn. It's a story of long, hot African days and sultry nights; of slumbering beasts and awakening desires; of intrigue and darkness; of journeys beginning and ending; of growing up and letting go; of falling in love, and following your heart.

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