Rebecca Lloyd won the inaugural Bristol Short Story Prize in 2008. Here she shares her thoughts on the writing and publishing of her debut children’s novel, Halfling, which was published last month by Walker Books.
HALFLING – THE JOURNEY FROM BLANK PAGE TO PUBLISHED NOVEL.
The most wonderful thing about writing fiction that I know is when the story you are telling seems to flow, silk-like, onto the page with hardly any effort as though it had been in your thinking as a complete entity. This has happened to me once or twice when writing short stories, but I suspect it is a rare experience for any writer. Writing fiction is usually hard and concentrated work requiring patience, self-belief, sometimes a kind of bravery that can be mistaken for foolishness, and always a real commitment to the piece. The writing of my first children’s novel, Halfling, did flow silk-like onto the page. I’d given my main character, Danny Broadaxe, certain obstacles to overcome and a big chore to do, but it felt as if I was merely following him around and writing what I could see happening to him on his journey of discovery. This is probably what writers mean when they suggest that their characters ‘took them over.’ [That is not to say, mind, that I didn’t think hard about the structure of the novel].
Halfling evolved from a short story I’d written called The Bath, which can be found in the December 2007 issue of Semaphore Magazine. I was, initially, surprised that I was able to create a full-length novel on the strength of the story. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been because when a short story works, it presents a highly concentrated world in which there is as much unspoken as spoken on the page, so logically it should be entirely possible to fashion a much longer form of fiction from it.
So if I were to liken getting Halfling published to a journey, the first part of that journey, the writing of it, was easy and hugely pleasurable. Then, by chance, the process of getting the book published was also easy; it was stress free and straightforward, [but I’m aware that many writers have a very different experience of the publishing world, and so have I in the past and will again]. I had to agree to one or two changes with my editor at Walker Books, but they weren’t changes that interfered with the story’s integrity, and so I was happy to comply. There comes a certain point in the creation of a novel when the project is no longer yours alone, and it can feel as if the publishing house ‘owns’ it more than you do, but it’s important to welcome the input and not to struggle against it because it’s part of the process of letting go. I remember my publishers asking what Halfling was about and I couldn’t immediately answer the question. What can they mean, what’s it about? I thought. It isn’t about just one thing. So they answered it for me, and I was happy with their enthusiasms. Again, that was part of the process of the parting of the ways between Danny and me.
The other aspect of my writing life that I love is teaching creative writing. When The River won the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2008, what pleased me most about it was being able to show that I was personally competent in the craft I was teaching in Bristol. [After all, writing students have put their faith in their tutors often with no real evidence that they really should]. As my course covers both short story and novel writing, to have Halfling, a full-length novel, published, pleases me for the exact same reason. But the real journey for any writer is getting on with the next project, rather than talking for too long or too loudly about the project just gone, I would think.