Reflections on my writing journey: from journalist to aspiring novelist

When I first began this blog in late 2019/early 2020, I was coming from a place of some 25+ years as a professional freelance/full-time journalist. Being wired as a journalist means I have an in-built sense of urgency and nose for news, well as a plethora of ideas for feature-length articles and interviews, etc, such as those listed in my recent blog post (Questions for my readers).

However, I also began this blog with a desire to find my true direction and voice as a writer; I knowingly called it “a journey through the bigger picture” for that reason. I initially carried on in my journalist vein writing about many of the big issues – eg climate change, sustainability, the devastation of nature through ill-conceived projects like HS2, etc – in addition to writing about my other passions, eg art, travel, salsa.

During this time, I’ve been gradually evolving from a full-time freelance journalist to a full-time, aspiring novelist (more on that below). I may well continue to take freelance commissions as and when they come, as well as add other articles, etc to this blog, but because my work in progress (WIP) is increasingly taking the majority of my writing time, I wish to inform my readers (whether new to this blog or a long-term subscriber) about this direction, as it will likely affect the content I post here.*  

An exciting journey

It is interesting and exciting to see where this particular journey is leading me. Although I have been writing creatively all of my life – my first loves were poetry (some published) and short stories; I also wrote a full-length fantasy novella for my English Literature and Creative Writing degree from Bard College, New York as an additional Narnia chronicle, since I took CS Lewis’s Narnia characters and transplanted them to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as a children’s story; and there’s probably at least 200 notebooks and scraps of paper filled with multiple scribbled ‘Ideas for Novels’ during the course of my life – it was thanks to Covid that I finally decided to take one of those ideas and sit down daily to bash it out.

As I always do, I’ll shout the praises of the London Writers’ Salon, as well as its Weekend Writers’ offshoot, for not only providing a daily set writing space(s)/time(s) for writing and a tremendous global writing community, but for the many fantastic interviews with other writers across different genres and styles. I am still feeling deeply inspired by a recent interview with ‘brave new writing voice’ Jonathan Escoffery, author of stellar debut breakthrough If I Survive You, particularly his comments about the different types of “propulsive energy” (eg the energy and dynamic that propels a story) of short stories versus novels, as well as a stirring interview with Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Escoffery’s comments have also made me reflect on how the requirements for a journalist in conveying news differs from those a novelist uses in telling a story, whichever length or form that may take.

While a journalist’s job in reporting the news is to ensure the main questions (who? what? when? where? how? why?) are answered in the first few paragraphs, a novelist or storyteller must ensure the key elements that make for satisfying and dynamic story-telling are all there: interesting, well-rounded yet humanly flawed (and therefore relatable) characters; gripping plot twists, filled with high-stakes drama; an authentic, credible voice for each character/point of view (POV), which is also linguistically true to its geographic and temporal locations; lively dialogue; evocative, painterly settings and details; rich, sensorial and occasionally startling language, littered with literary devices such as simile, metaphor and allusion, etc; and lastly a very well-defined story arc and compelling conclusion that neatly ties up every plot line while delivering that all-important punch.

The business of writing

In addition to making these mental transitions, I’ve also been learning loads (specifically about historical fiction, as that is the genre I am currently writing in), through the recent Historical Fiction 2023 convention run by History Quill. This has been not only about the actual craft of writing – for example, where and how to research effectively; polishing your dialogue so that it is both relevant to the period and yet comprehensible to a contemporary audience, yet without any anachronistic ‘wokeness’; or perhaps by analysing the prose styles of other masters of this genre, such as prize-winning Wolf Hall trilogy author Hilary Mantel – but also the (at times even more daunting) business side of writing.

While it is true I was not taught some of this business stuff at university, even if I had been, the publishing landscape – like the journalism landscape of the past 15–20 years, particularly – has changed dramatically, and will only continue to do so. The advent of new technologies and practices such as artificial intelligence (AI), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and self-publishing (now generally referred to as the ‘indie’ or independent route, as opposed to the traditional or ‘trad’ publishing route) has shaken up the publishing industry as least as much as the work from home (WFH) revolution is shaking up the world of work.

Where will it all end up? And which route will I end up taking? That’s very hard to say at this point – for the moment, I am just focusing on getting the actual writing of the first draft done. What started out as one book has now migrated to being a three-part story (tentatively titled ‘Netsuke: A Novel in Three Parts’), and may well end up as a three-book trilogy. Who knows where this journey will ultimately lead?

I’ve already completed Part I (working title: ‘The Journey Out’), with 12 chapters at just under 70,000 words; I am 2.5 chapters away from the end of Part II (working title: ‘In Japan’), which is already 15 chapters at around 95,000 words; and I have yet to write Part III (‘The Return’), which will likely be another 10–12 chapters/80,000 words. It’s a lot of work, and specifically – since it is historical fiction, a new genre for me – an endless amount of research.

After I’ve finished writing the basic story in first-draft form, I’ll then have to go back to cut and revise mercilessly; polish and sharpen my characters (specifically, intensifying their internal conflicts and honing their POV voice); and add nuance, subtlety and refinement to the language. Then I’ll need to have it fact-, language- and regional sensitivity-checked, and likely passed to an external editor (developmental and/or structural, as even editors need editors) while searching for a literary agent who can hopefully land me a book (+ potential film and/or Netflix series) deal.

Since it has already been just over two years in the works, I’m sure this process will take me at least another full year, possibly more – so, watch this space!! (For further information on my WIP and processes, see also the next two blog posts.)

Jane, aka Small Writer at Large

*Note: As I have also been recovering from total knee replacement (TKR) surgery in recent months, this has affected my ability to dance and/or travel (sustainably or not), however I am looking forward to resuming both in the not-too-distant future (for example, I am travelling soon to Dublin to see Christian, artist and fellow writer friends). Also, there is quite a lot happening with HS2 currently, and I do plan to join Extinction Rebellion’s (XR’s) ‘Big One’ event in London in April, so will likely write about these.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on my writing journey: from journalist to aspiring novelist

    1. Thanks! I sometimes struggle with it, particularly being at that midpoint in the novel/trilogy now – I have had some good feedback from a few early readers so doing my best to keep going!


  1. Dear Ms Cahane, would dearly like to write to you about a true story. Sorry if I appear to be tugging the journalism cord but this may also have a book angle to it. Perhaps you can email me?


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