On writing

Jennifer McVeigh's 5 writing tips

Jennifer McVeigh, author of The Fever Tree, shares her 5 tips for aspiring writers

1. Keep going – don’t look back

In the early stages of a novel you have to resist the temptation to look over your shoulder. Like Orpheus, that backward glance might kill the thing you are trying to conjure out of the darkness. I try to have at least 25,000 words under my belt before I allow myself to read over what I have written. Any sooner and the voice of doubt sets in, and before you know it you will have been drawn into the fateful trap of wanting to begin again; to write it better. As Anna Deavere Smith said, "It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself."

 

2. Be wary of showing your work too early

It’s tempting to look to other writers and readers for support in the early stages, but pick your readers carefully. A book in its infancy is a delicate thing and strong advice from the wrong quarter can easily throw it off track. Better to wait until what you have written has real substance, so that what you are trying to achieve can be more easily understood and appreciated by others.

 

3. When you are ready, join a writing group or class

The structure of producing words every few weeks for a group can be hugely beneficial, and besides – your fellow writers will keep you sane, and remind you that there are other people in the world crazy enough to be battling all day with words on paper. I wrote the first half of The Fever Tree for an MA in Creative Writing, and my second novel – Leopard at the Door – really began to flow when I was producing a few thousand words every week for a writing class.

 

4. Don’t obsess over the perfection of other novels

Read them, learn from them, but don’t let them cast your own into shadow. A book is like a child – it does not know yet what it will be, and too much pressure and early expectation will crush it. Only at the end will you see that it can stand alone, original and just as dynamic as the books you admire.

 

5. When a rejection letter arrives on your desk, don’t let it crush you

More than likely your manuscript fell into the hands of a young intern, desperately trying to reduce the size of the slush pile. Wait a few months, and send it in again. I was offered representation by an agent, who must have afterwards let my submission fall into the slush pile. A month later I received a letter from the agency: “Dear Miss McVeigh, many thanks for sending in your manuscript. I’m very sorry to inform you that…”

More about the author

Leopard at the Door

Jennifer McVeigh

*The perfect summer read, the novel that Dinah Jefferies has called 'A simply stunning novel that will stay with me: magnificent'*

Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.

But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.

Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

Related features

.