This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
There is a point in my novel, The Missing One, where my main character is lost, alone, jetlagged, at the end of her tether, with an upset toddler. She locks herself in the toilets of a Canadian service station and looks up, in despair, to find the words: ‘Smile, today could be your last day!’ graffitied on the wall. These words are not mine – they come directly from my favourite writing room. I’ll tell you how, in a moment.
I live in a Victorian terraced house in the city, with my husband, three children, dog, cat, and hamster. I can’t seem to write when my children and husband are around so this means that my novel writing only really happens between 9-2 every weekday, or if I’m away from the house.My office is in our basement. In wintertime, it gets damp down there – really damp – so damp in fact, that at one point this winter – during the Oxford floods – I was sitting at my desk with water lapping round my wellies.
To escape this toxic dampness, I go to the café at Blackwell’s bookshop. I’ve been going there for five years now; I wrote the first draft of The Missing One there, and Blackwell’s hosted my book launch in their shop downstairs, so it’s very special to me now. It is light, busy, energizing and crucially, I can’t get on the Internet – so no distractions from Twitter or email.
Which brings me back to that graffiti. The first draft of The Missing One was disastrously awful. From time to time I’d go up to the Blackwell’s toilets in despair and I’d stand there with my head in my hands, wondering what on earth I thought I was doing, trying to write a novel. I’d bemoan my total lack of talent, the inept characterization, and the plot that just wasn’t working (Killer whales? Seriously?). And after a few self-pitying moments I’d look up and read the words graffitied over the doorframe: ‘Smile, today could be your last day!’ I rarely smiled.
These words have been painted over by Blackwell’s, but they’re in The Missing One forever (on page 95, if you fancy a look). I’m working on my second novel now, and from time to time, usually when escaping children, pets or floods, I find myself in Blackwell’s café again with my laptop. Often, I’m despairing that my new book a disaster, with terrible plot, and awful characterization. And often I find myself, head in hands, back in those toilets, looking up at the blank space where the graffiti once was.
And, weirdly, that space now makes me smile. It reminds me that I can do this – that The Missing One is real – it’s downstairs, on the bookshop shelves, being bought and read by strangers. It reminds me that somehow this novel will work out, too, if I just go back down, buy myself another coffee…and refuse to give up.
The Missing One by Lucy Atkins is out now.