Why am I putting my time and effort into this when things keep going wrong?
The above quote from Tendai’s talk is something that plenty of writers ask themselves in the process of writing, and Tendai himself is an example of why we should stick with it. At the Scottish Writers’ Centre to discuss his most recent novel The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician, Tendai points out that while this is his second novel, it was actually his eighth; the other six survive as unpublished manuscripts. His point that he has probably failed more than he has succeeded resonates with the audience as a reminder that all writers live with the fear of not being able to be successful.
Tendai talks about how important it is to work hard to perfect the craft, and how vital it is to edit your own work. He tells a story about the first manuscript he submitted which was completely unedited and, needless to say, never published. He managed to write his first published novel in a single two week stretch, and while he thought he would be able to achieve this with his next novel it actually took him three years to finish the manuscript for The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician. He talks about the craft of writing in terms of his favourite British saying, “how long is a piece of string.” Writing a book takes as long as it takes, a writer should just focus on making the most succinct version of an idea rather than worrying about how long it takes them to get there.
After discussing how he wrote the novel, Tendai moves on to talk about the novel itself, and how the form of the book is used to reflect the story and the characters themselves. The novel deals with three individual characters, the titular maestro, magistrate and mathematician, and was made up of three novellas cobbled together into a novel, as Tendai put it. The style in each of the individual characters’ stories is influenced by how the characters themselves act; the mathematician (a young postgraduate student) narrates in shorter sentences and heavy dialogue, speeding up the pace for the reader as they follow the story. Conversely, the chapters from the maestro’s perspective contain no paragraph breaks and much longer sentences, forcing the reader to slow down and concentrate on every word.
Tendai closes the event with some advice for aspiring writers to consider. He stresses the importance of trying to write short stories, and sending them into literary magazines to get published, so that writers can further learn the importance of editing as well as getting their name out there in the literary world. He also suggests that all writers should try their hand at writing science fiction, which develops skills in world building to create the universe your characters live in. Finally, Tendai advises that writers should ask themselves “what can I learn from a text?,” be it their own work, or something read as research, and apply that knowledge to their own writing.
Buy Tendai’s work here
Words by Andrew Smith.