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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Ged Melia shares what inspired him to write his new book, Liverpool, and his creative writing process.
Written by Ged Melia
As with many authors, I have occasionally been asked about my motivation for writing. For me the answer is relatively straightforward: it stemmed from the feeling that I have something to say; perhaps something I want to share. ‘Liverpool’ is my third novel, albeit it is my fourth book. My first was actually a management text, a technical book a world away from the more creative narrative of my novels.
‘Liverpool’, along with ‘A Lancashire Story and ‘Family Business’ can now be seen as a multi-generational, century long family saga. That was not what was in my mind when I started writing my first novel, but it’s clearly where I have ended up. Had I tried to create something of this magnitude at the outset, it might well have felt overwhelming; perhaps too ambitious. In this case it was probably fortunate in that the process, or planning, was a little more random.
All three of my novels had a rather strange common genesis. I got involved in researching my family tree around 30 years ago, a handful of years prior to the internet turbo-charging interest in the field. It felt like a puzzle to solve, appealing to the detective part of my character. But what do you do when you have that tree? It is after all just a list of names, events and dates. Well, I wanted to know a bit more about their lives, the kind of work they were involved in, how they lived, and any scandals and skeletons in cupboards.
I found documents, photographs, newspaper reports; I made notes on the stories and anecdotes gleaned from the older generations, and started to undertake research on the eras within which they lived, including the events of note, both local and national. A kind of moving picture began to form in my mind. The collage of detail I had assembled allowed me to form a view of the character and personalities of people I had never met, and the urge to render this material into a coherent story appeared. It felt like I had to get it down on paper.
Another part of the inspiration for my first two novels, ‘Family Business’ and ‘A Lancashire Story’ arose through wanting to address a specific question. My great great grandfather was an illiterate coal miner; my daughter is a biology scientist working at Oxford University. How did this happen? What kind of generational journey facilitated this sort of life opportunity? These two novels, covering the sixty years between 1890 and 1950, starts to explain how this happened. Not through a dry historical record of important enablers, but through storytelling.
The characters are real people, often flawed, and products of their time. Austin is a steam engineer in a time when steam power was still at its zenith. His sons, Thomas and Edward, were pioneers in the road haulage industry. Thomas a slightly staid religious type individual, while Edward, ‘Ted’, was a bit of a philandering rogue who, ostensibly, spent some time in a Wakefield Prison with Klaus Fuchs, the internationally famous atomic spy of the early 1950s.
‘Liverpool’ came from broadly the same starting point, although I had far less to work with. Armed with perhaps half a dozen facts, I had to create character profiles based on general historical evidence of how people lived. What I had managed to establish was that the 1840s generation were effectively refugees from County Mayo in Ireland, likely forced off their land through the greed of wealthy English landowners. They arrived in Liverpool not long before the ‘Great Famine’, and settled in what the history books say were the worst slums in Europe. To some extent the migrant theme resonates today, although that was not really how I wanted to tell this story.
When I tried to locate other Liverpool based novels covering the 1840s and 1850s, I failed to find anything. The Irish migrant story of that era seemed to have been forgotten about, perhaps too difficult to address in anything other than in a non-fiction record. But I felt it was a story that needed telling, not from an anodyne middle class vantage point, but from the perspective of the, largely unwelcome, Irish migrant.
I enjoy history and the process of researching the past. My sense is that if you are going to write historical fiction then you need to punctuate your novel with as much factual detail as you are able. In my view it makes the narrative far more credible, fully allowing the reader to transport themselves into a living past. I tell people that I like to walk the streets (of the past) before putting pen to paper.
My novels are a mix of historical fact and fiction. ‘Family Business’, set during the inter-war period, and is heavily populated with fact; not least of which the court case chapter which drew from newspaper reports and court records. ‘Liverpool’ is almost entirely fictional, and allowed a far deeper excursion into my imagination. However, though apocryphal, it is probably not too far away from the Irish experience of the time. It just might be true…
Writing A Book
I think everyone has a book in them, although I know from experience there is quite a chasm between having that idea and wanting to write, and actually sitting down and writing. It is tough. You need to create the time, and the devote energy to transferring those thoughts from mind to paper. And you need to finish what you have started. Chapter three is certainly better than a blank screen, but it won’t get you published.
The large publishers will not accept a manuscript from anyone other than a literary agent, although finding the right agent is not without its challenges. Large publishers are generally reluctant to take on new authors unless they have a large social media following, and/or are some sort of celebrity. But don’t let that put you off.
Traditional publishing is slowly dying as the new world of self-publishing, print on demand, and digital marketing ascends to preeminence. Don’t write with the expectation that you will make a lot of money, write because you enjoy it, or like me, write because you have a story to tell, or something to say.
Find more from Ged Melia now:
My novels are available on Amazon and Waterstones.
A Lancashire Story
A link to the novels section of my website: https://dmscollectables.co.uk/novels/
You can also find me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GEDMEL
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