04 December 2020
New author James Bailey describes the level of commitment it took him to write the romantic comedy novel he'd always wanted to
I grew up in the 90s - arguably the golden age of the romantic comedy - watching a cocktail of Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, and Richard Gere movies with my Mum. Fast forward to my twenties, when I realised that love wasn’t quite as simple as Richard Curtis’ movies made out, I channeled my dating fails and life anxieties onto paper.
I’d started compiling notes as early as my university days, and spent the next few years telling everyone I was going to write a novel, yet rarely getting further than the first few chapters. I found an old Christmas card recently from a friend, the message inside reading: ‘Maybe this will be the year you actually write your novel?’
After many false-starts and a variety of incarnations, I finally settled on a plot - inspired by personal experiences, stories heard, and a line in House of Cards about flipping a coin. The use of the coin tossing motif was the missing link I’d been looking for to tie together the story I wanted to write about choices.
With the barebones of the plot and approximately 15,000 words on paper, in October 2017 I applied for a place on the Curtis Brown Creative Six-Month Novel Writing Course. I decided that it was the time to take the process more seriously.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a place.
At this point, I was very close to giving up. I thought if I couldn’t even get a place on a writing course, what hope did I have in getting my novel published? I decided to give it one last chance and, not telling anyone, I reapplied to their next course.
When I got the email to say I had a place on the course, I was thrilled. And my family were very surprised!
Having committed to six months of travelling back and forth between Bristol and London on the 10.30pm National Express coach, it certainly wasn’t something I undertook lightly. It was the first time I’d shared my creative writing with anyone since being at school, and it was nerve-wracking having my fourteen course-mates read and critique my opening chapters. However, I’d now recommend a writing group to any wannabe novelist.
As well as learning how to fall asleep on the coach, I learnt many important writing lessons - such as ‘show don’t tell’. With the help of my tutor Chris Wakling and my course mates, I altered the plot, changed the tense, honed the humour, and refined my over-writing.
After the course finished, I still had to write the remainder of the novel. Trying to find both the time, in between my day-job, and often the motivation, when nothing was guaranteed even by finishing it, it was a tough slog. Sacrificing weekends spent with friends or stopping myself watching the football to craft another couple of paragraphs wasn’t fun.
However, the highlight was the research trip I took, in which I visited Paris, Rome, Munich, and Amsterdam. (Any excuse to travel!) Not only did this trip help my descriptions of these places, but it inspired me further and led to plot and character alterations. It also gave me the boost I needed to finish.
By May 2019, I had reached 80,000 words and the end of the novel. A few months later, I was fortunate enough to have found myself a superb agent, and remarkably a publisher. What I didn’t realise was this was the end of one journey, but the start of another.
The Flipside by James Bailey is published by Michael Joseph, and is available in paperback from 26th November 2020.
Interested in writing a romantic novel? Richard (RJ) Gould offers advice on creating male characters.