First novels have the strangest, longest gestations of any book, culminations as they are of a life’s experience, emotion and symptoms of that unique mental deficiency so many thousands of us suffer: that we want to write fiction.
The first version of what would eventually become my novel The Ottoman Motel I began in 2001, and was my first attempt at writing a novel-length narrative. After many changes, many rewrites, and many times when I simply threw it away, I got a publishing contract in 2009. And then, two years and three complete rewrites later, it was published in Australia. Skip forward to March 2012, and my book is set to be released in the UK by Sandstone Press. Lesson one in publishing: everything takes a long time.
Working with a professional editor was the most frustrating, difficult and absolutely wonderful experience I’ve had in my short writing career. My background in short fiction meant the early version of The Ottoman Motel was crammed with eight POV characters, a sprawling and undirected narrative—in short, too many set-ups with too few solutions. I was overly enamoured of short fiction’s ethereal nature (so much so that I once wrote one a day for a whole year), which was great in short bursts, but didn’t hold up over a novel-length narrative. So my editor and I stripped down the story to its essentials and the rewrites began.
A boy arrives in a small town with his parents. His parents go missing. No one in the town seems to want to find them. The boy must find out why.
Eight POVs became three. The structure was overhauled. The story was turned on its head. But most importantly of all, I came to understand that I was writing a mystery novel. As plot became just as important to me as my characters (who, honestly, could take care of themselves after being in my head for ten years) I realised that even a single tiny change to a scene in chapter 20 could impact another tiny detail in chapter one. Writing a mystery novel, I learnt, was not like building a wall. It was like building a wall made of dominoes.
Which is not to say The Ottoman Motel is a paint-by-numbers thriller. I’ve long been obsessed with the integral narrative paradox of mystery fiction: how can you balance a central premise that is enticing and compellig with an ending that is inevitable yet surprising? Very few have done it well. In this way, my book maintains the central thread of a classic whodunnit, while at the same time exploring more closely the impact a disappearance can have on a tiny Australian coastal town whose entire existence owes itself to the unasked questions of a handful of residents, each with their own reason for keeping quiet.
I hope the reader will have as much fun unravelling the mystery at the heart of The Ottoman Motel as they will discovering the other questions the mystery creates.
The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie is published by Sandstone Press