When I was eight, I had scrambled eggs for breakfast every single day for two weeks straight. By the end of that time, I was so sick of them I didn’t eat an egg of any kind again for more than twenty years.
That’s a little bit what it’s like to write a book. There comes a point in the writing process where the author just gets sick of her story and, no matter how much she once adored it, they fall out of love.
I thought about The Smallest Thing for years before I started writing it, trying to figure out how best to tell the story that was in my heart. Should it be a historical retelling (been done) or should I tell the love story of Em and Ro, but with a modern twist (great, except the real ending isn’t very happily-ever-after). It wasn’t until I started writing scenes in my notebook, exploring Em and her world, that the book solidified in my mind.
Once I committed to that idea, it took me three years to draft, revise, and finish the book ready for publication. During that time I read the book dozens of times. There are scenes I’ve probably read into triple digits. The twists in the story were no longer surprises, and there were parts I grew to loathe. At some point I was so familiar with every word in the story I was sick of it.
Falling in Love Again
But the process of producing the audiobook version of The Smallest Thing has made me fall in love with Em’s story all over again.
The audio files for the book were delivered last week. (Yes!) My job since then has been to listen to them and read along with the book to make sure everything is how I want it before the files go off for the final stages of production.
It is a very strange process to listen to someone else read the words I wrote. Even though I have read this book dozens of times, hearing the narrator Charlie Sanderson, read it, breathed new life into it.
As I mentioned in this post, Charlie is from the same part of England as me and grew up not too far from Eyam. She knowsthe characters in this book and she brought them to life in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
Take Mrs. Glover, for example. She plays a small but important role in the story. Charlie brought the perfect personality to her so that she lends a bit of comic relief, much needed as the story gets darker. I’m finding myself laughing every time Mrs. G opens her mouth.
Listen to an excerpt from Chapter One of The Smallest Thing here
I’ve also been crying, which is quite unexpected, given how well I know the story and that I have a reputation for being a bit stoic. But Charlie has found poignant scenes that touched me unexpectedly.
There’s a scene where Em walks by a small memorial for her dad’s sister, a woman Em never got to meet. Auntie Sandra disappeared on a backpacking trip as a young woman and was never found. It’s a tiny moment in the story, a bit of backstory I wrote to help explain why Em’s dad keeps such a tight rein on her … because he knows firsthand that bad things happen to good people. He’s strict, not because he’s mean, but because he’s afraid for Em. My own dad was strict in a similar way (although I didn’t appreciate that as a teen) so hearing this little moment touched me deeply and quite unexpectedly.
Writing to be Heard
I’m learning a lot about my writing from listening to it read by someone else. I’m learning that text acronyms, like IMHO and LOL, work fine of paper but do not translate to the spoken word. I’m hearing how dialogue can light up a scene—a reminder that I need to get out of my character’s head and get her talking to others.
And I’m solidifying something I’ve learned from reading books I love: that minor supporting characters, like Mrs. Glover, can be like chocolate chips in a cake—delicious, even though small, and something you look forward to encountering often.
Assuming I don’t encounter any major problems in the files (and I don’t expect to) the audiobook will be available across all outlets in mid-August.
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