Wednesday 17 April 2013

Is writing a novel like learning a language?

I woke up at 3.30am this morning and couldn't get back to sleep for a while. I'd been having dreams about the eighteenth century plus my brain told me to write a blog post as it's been ages (due to school holidays mainly) and to put together some work for a writing course I'm going on this weekend.

The subject of this post sprang to mind when I woke early this morning. When I was living in Italy, someone told me that apparently when you start dreaming in another language, you know that you're fluent. In 1994, I studied at L'Università per Stranieri di Siena as part of my French and Italian B.A. degree and shared a flat in Siena with five other students. In July when the course ended, I got a job as an au pair and my English-speaking friends returned to the UK. When I was au pairing, I spoke Italian all of the time, except for the occasional telephone call home. I wrote letters in English to friends and family and when we went to the au pair family's holiday home in Castiglione della Pescaia, I found some Wilbur Smith novels ('When the Lion Feeds' and others in the same series) in English at the local Tabacchi. I'd buy one every time I got paid and reading them was a welcome escape during a time when I felt quite alone, despite living with a family.

The upside of working for the au pair family was that after a few weeks I started to dream in Italian. I'd reached a stage where I could chat away in Italian with confidence, using the right intonation, accompanying hand gestures and slang too. Recently I've been reading every eighteenth century novel, diary, letter, journal, non-fiction book I can get hold off, completely immersing myself in that period as research for my Book 2, 'The Painting'. Now I'm dreaming about that period, The Painting seems to be taking on a mind of its own, replacing Book 1, 'The Grandson' which dominated my thoughts for so long.

Learning another language fluently is about immersing yourself in the culture and history of the country where it's spoken, memorising vocabulary and grammar rules and reading literature in the language. Writing a novel is about immersing yourself in the world of that novel in a similar way. Hopefully The Painting is now on its way to becoming what I want it to be.

Over the next few months, I'll need to focus on The Painting in the run up to the deadline for The RNA's New Writers' Scheme ("NWS"), so I probably won't be blogging as often as usual. Best of luck to other NWS members who are working to get their manuscript ready.

Thought I'd include this photo from a sunny trip to Southwold in the Easter holidays. Spring is kind of here: I haven't got my sandals on yet, but I can hear the hum of lawnmowers as I type.