A Bit of Rough has been out for a month now, so I thought it was time I jotted down a few notes about the process of writing it along with a few ‘behind the scenes’ details. This was the first time I’ve set out to write a full length work right from the outset (Penny Meets the Neighbors grew in the telling!). Once my first ideas formed, I spent a while letting it develop in my head, working through how I wanted it to pan out, and I very quickly realized this had to be a novel, rather than a long short story.
The original idea was a small one – a story about a woman so ‘addicted’ to sex with working men – plumbers and what have you, that she would call them to her home, even when there was nothing in her house needing to be repaired. I suppose I imagined a series of encounters based on this premise, but as soon as I gave the idea even the lightest examination, it immediately became obvious that I’d reinvented one of the oldest, cheesiest porn tropes there is! Not wanting to write a series of 70s porn scenes, my thinking veered towards imagining how a woman might get to that situation in the first place – what were the series of steps that got her there?
This was a lot more satisfying as a story idea, and I essentially ‘parked’ the sex with the plumber scenes while I concentrated on developing the characters of sexually-frustrated Melissa, Danny the builder, and posh-but-dull Jeremy. The first words-on-keyboard happened in February 2017, only a day after I’d finished the first draft of Farmer’s Daughter Threesome (I remember it clearly because I’d been writing in the evenings, while away on a work trip). A lot of those early words were later deleted, or shifted about. I remember they included the first Melissa-at-work scene, but longer than it is in the final version.
I left the draft at that point, while I went back to revise Farmer’s Daughter Threesome. I was doing nothing more than tinkering with the text right through until I’d done the compiling work for Collected Stories, which was around the end of May. I returned to A Bit of Rough properly, with a sense of wanting to get on with it, in June. Once I got the opening right, the rest of Part 1 came quickly. At this point I faced a big decision. I really liked Part 1, and the sexual tension I’d created between Danny and Melissa. As I’d written it, Danny was going to leave Melissa’s life, and she’d have to search for a replacement for him over the rest of the story. I’d already made a start on Part 2, but it felt like there was another, different, story I could write – one about Danny and Melissa.
In the end, I went with my original plan, to use Danny as a catalyst, rather than an end point of the story, but it took me a while to settle on that choice, and it wasn’t easy. What decided me wasn’t the idea that the final version is ‘better’ than the alternative, but the knowledge that I can write both – I now know that I want to write the story of a young woman choosing the ‘wrong’ man, and staying loyal to him, despite the obstacles placed in front of her. I left Danny mysterious in A Bit of Rough – but in this alternative story, the reasons he can’t stay with Melissa would be fleshed out, and they’d be more complex than the ones I first imagined as I wrote the original scenes.
So, having abandoned my ‘alternative’ book, I stuck to the original plan (but I’m determined to follow my thoughts down the other fork in the road, and write both). Melissa met Carl, and learned about what she wants, but chickened out, and went with Jeremy, then retreated into a world where she did nothing as the choices overwhelmed her. Now I was in a position where I could break the impasse by introducing my original ideas – a plumber who Melissa can’t resist when he comes to fix a problem with her house. This bit was easy, and fun to write – the crisis, a spa bath developing a leak while being used, and flooding the kitchen, is an event from my own life, and it slotted into the story nicely. The real-life plumber was a ferrety little man with a rolled-up cigarette hanging out of his mouth, but that didn’t matter!
What did matter was that having put Melissa in a situation where she has sex with a visiting tradesman, it couldn’t be the beginning of it happening repeatedly, as I’d originally imagined. It was too porn-y, and wouldn’t fit the character of Melissa as I’d written her – even if she wasn’t consciously aware of it, she was searching for more than sex. The solution was to do it once more, and make it the deliberate act I’d first imagined (she calls a roofer, even though nothing is wrong with her roof), but for it to not work out as she hoped it would. The resulting scene is sexy, but scarey too – Melissa has gone too far, and she knows it.
From this point, I was into new territory. I’d developed my characters (but abandoned all of them except Melissa) and used the scenes I’d first imagined when the story was emerging in my mind. Now, finally, I was writing a love story, helping Melissa find the man who reconciled all her disparate needs in one place. Also, and helping me bring the story full circle, Melissa was making a choice, and defying her friends and family, choosing the man she knew they would disapprove of. Possibly I made it too easy for her, but the ending was satisfying to write, and I’m glad it took the path it did. At the same time, I’m curious to follow the other path now, the one where the ‘right’ man arrives early on, but my character has to fight to keep him!
All this writing took place over July and August, working a fairly brisk pace (usually a couple of thousand words in the afternoon, with the mornings revising the previous day’s work). Once I found a betareader I left the first draft alone in September until I was ready for the final push. The book came out on the 29th September. The rest is history – is there anything else left to say? If there’s something I haven’t said, feel free to ask. I’m going to add a final note – the characters are all completely fictional – I haven’t ‘borrowed’ anybody from real life, apart from in a very generic way – some of the characters (the wealthier ones especially) remind me of people I’ve met, but I’ve borrowed characteristics rather than personalities or specific physical features. Other than that, the story was motivated by the situation I’d created, and making the characters react to it, growing as they did so. It is a planned novel, but one where the plan let the characters move around within it, and one where the plan evolved as the characters did. The result is something I’m very proud of, but also a launchpad for future projects.