Monday Motivation: If you really, really, really want something…
We snuck into one of the last sessions at the Oxford Literary Festival on Sunday – an exploration of the relationship between editor and novelist. In this case, the writer was a UK barrister and now judge, Nicola Williams, and her editor, Penguin’s Hannah Chuwku. They were at once celebrating the republication of William’s 1997 book, Without Prejudice, and exploring the process of editing her next in what is projected to be a series featuring the same protagonist, a barrister called Lee Mitchell.
I’d like to share with you a number of insights that this collaborative partnership revealed – but I’m going to start with a very simple one.
When Williams had the idea for that first novel, she was a practising barrister herself, defending or prosecuting individuals accused of serious criminal offences – murder among them.
Every day between ten in the morning and seven in the evening she was more or less fully involved in either preparing for cases in her rooms, or arguing them in court. After she got home in the evenings, she spent a few hours preparing for the next day’s activities.
So the question she had to answer was: where would she find the time to satisfy her hunger to write this novel – a task that was steadily becoming an irresistible imperative?
“Well,” she told us, “if you really, really really want something, you can do it.”
And so she allocated the hours between midnight and four in the morning to writing.
At four she’d go to sleep, wake at eight, hurry to court, or her chambers, and do a full day’s work.
This was her routine week after week, month after month. The book was finished, and picked up by a publisher. But the prospect of repeating that Herculean effort was simply too daunting, so she set aside her pen and pursued her legal career.
Twenty years passed – and then, after her Booker prize victory in 2019, Bernadine Evaristo proposed to Penguin that they should republish forgotten or overlooked books by black British writers in a series called Black Britain: Writing Back, and selected Williams’ Without Prejudice as part of the first tranche of six.
Of course the honour this represented was deeply flattering – but then Evaristo urged Williams to consider writing a sequel featuring the same protagonist.
The temptation was too great to resist, and Williams, who had, after all, only reluctantly set aside her writing, rearranged her life to give her the time she needed to write a follow-up. Indeed, Penguin signed her up to write two sequels featuring Lee Mitchell.
So I’d like to leave you with that thought: If you really, really really want something, you can do it. You can find the time, you can summon the energy, you can develop the story, you can write the book. Of course it won’t be easy, and of course it’ll require sacrifices, but when was something really worth doing a walk in the park?
PS – I’d love to hear your thoughts on Without Prejudice. Trish and I are fighting over who reads it first…
‘Impressive and unique. As relevant today as it was over two decades go’ Bernardine Evaristo, from the Introduction
A gripping, propulsive courtroom thriller following barrister Lee Mitchell as she uncovers the dark secrets of London’s obscenely rich
Lee Mitchell is a thirty-year-old barrister from a working-class Caribbean background: in the cut-throat environment of the courtroom, everything is stacked against her.
After she takes on the high-profile case of notorious millionaire playboy Clive Omartian – arrested along with his father and stepbrother for eye-wateringly exorbitant fraud – the line between her personal and professional life becomes dangerously blurred.
Spiralling further into Clive’s trail of debauchery and corruption, she finds herself in alarmingly deep waters.
Can she survive her case, let alone win it?