The Chaos of Creation.


At Rochford Hall, Essex, once the home of Mary Stafford, the sister of Anne Boleyn and mother of Katherine Carey. Photo © Valerie B.

Thank you Laura Rahme for tagging me to write about my writing process.

1) What am I working on?

 I think the answer to that should be, ‘What am I not working on!’

2014 was always going to be a very, very busy year for me. Not only am I  hoping to complete my PhD by June, but I am also working on the final proofs of The Light in the Labyrinth, my young adult Tudor novel (also my PhD artefact), scheduled for publication in  2014 with Metropolis Ink/Endtable books.

 At the moment, I am keeping my eyes very closed to a very messy house, feeling like I am walled in by academic research books and worrying that I might have to get another bookcase to deal with this problem of books towers spouting up everywhere.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel! I am now working on my introduction and conclusion for my PhD. Cross fingers, my doctorate is not too far away!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I believe the answer to that ties into what we mean by the writerly identity. Gender, class and society shape my writerly identity – a writerly identity birthing fiction, but fiction also transfigured by the distance and context of history.

There is no question that I believe in thoroughly researching my novels, but I am very aware that my works filter my own life experience through the context of history. 

 3) Why do I write what I do?

Before I started my PhD I would have answered simply by saying I write what I do because of a lifetime fascination with the Tudors. Now I see the answer is far more complicated than that. Writing The Light in the Labyrinth, the artefact for my PhD, opened my eyes wide to the space I occupy as a woman.  The story of Tudor women speaks loudly to me of the reality of women’s power, and how that power is something both given and taken away by patriarchal societies.

I understand more fully now that I use historical fiction as a way to tell my own story, as a woman who has lived the experience of being shaped by her culture, who also has known oppression and – in her growing up years –  being deemed to have less value than the males in her world.  A woman who believes in writing as a space that creates and builds empathy – not only for the reader, but for the writer, too. I see writing as an important space for the empowerment of women – empowering the world by doing so.

4) How does my writing process work?

Ursula Le Guin tells us that the ideas of writers come from “imagination working on experience” (2004, p. 164). Parini tells us “Our experiences in life have shaped us, so that we react differently to the same phenomena” (1988, p.2). My life experience as a woman has shaped me as a writer who is drawn to Tudor narratives as a way to reclaim the stories of women left on the margins of history, as well as my own story.

I thought it might be useful to include here a breakdown of the writing process for my new novel, The Light in the Labyrinth.

First drafts are times for me to experiment. For example, writing the first draft of The Light in the Labyrinth I not only experimented with the twelve steps of the hero’s journey, but also by including an angel narrator, similarly to how Mark Zusak used Death as a narrator in The Book Thief. I wrote in my writing journal late in 2010:

 Would an angel narrator allow me experiment with magic realism in this work? Could it be a way to acknowledge the Dream narrator of medieval texts such as Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess and many more.

My angel narrator introduced each chapter of the first draft of my artefact. This genderless angel gave me a guiding voice, opening a space of philosophical inquiry that explored Kate’s Tudor world. It also provided a writing tool and device to return to my narrative and move it forward.

I worked through the first draft of my artefact despite a question growing in my mind about whether the narrative really needed an angel narrator. Once again confronted by the fact that a work will sometime go in a direction not anticipated by the writer, I wrote in my journal early in 2011:

 The tension between the writerly self and the self as critic is the space when writing is crafted into the bridge that will connect to the reader. But getting to this place involves writing practice and learning the skills necessary to all writers who desire to connect to readers other than themselves.

 Despite my doubts, I continued with the angel’s voice because I now found it a tool for me to re-engage with Kate’s story – a crutch I held onto as I wobbled back into a narrative flow.

Early in 2012 with my first draft close to completion, I began to be more aware that the voice of the angel narrator was now a hit or miss affair, and the artefact engaged me more deeply as a reader when it crossed over to Kate’s story.

The growing awareness that the artefact wanted to walk on its own was strengthened when I gave the first draft of my artefact to my two supervisors and other critical friends. Their feedback, added to the feedback from a mentor at Varuna, the Writers’ House, resulted in reassessment of the work and a decision to completely remove the angel voice from the narrative.

Now well into the second draft of my work, I felt pragmatic about this decision. To achieve a work that would engage the Young Adult reader meant keeping in mind my reader (Going 2008). Remembering the engaging young adult novels I read as part of my PhD study also bolstered this view.

At times, I was able to transform the angel voice into the point of view of my teenage character, at others I gritted my teeth and accepted the voice could only be erased from the text and scraped away at the palimpsest of my text to emerge with another draft.

This was the draft when I no longer felt I had a ghost of a work, but a work of true shape and substance. I saw now the main metaphor of my work: life is like the open Pandora’s box, which confronts us with so many reasons for heartache. Despite that, life gives us reason to hope.

Knowing why I was writing this work, I could direct my scraping and shaping to best tell my story, first for me as its writer, and then, through more scraping, my “reader. By this I mean, I always write the first drafts of my work for myself. It is when I arrive at later drafts I turn my thoughts to what needs to be done to ensure I engage readers other than myself.



Le Guin, U. K. 2004. The wave in the mind : talks and essays on the writer, the reader, and the imagination. Boston, New York, Shambhala; Distributed in the United States by Random House.


Great sites to do with the craft of writing:

From Ursula K. Le Guin: A Discussion of Story

How I Write: Margaret Atwood


by Barbara Kyle

Marie Macpherson