Meeting talented storytellers from around the globe is especially fascinating to me because of the natural kinship that’s always there among writers. We are solitary in our work, but our struggles are universal—finding authenticity in our characters and our words, stretching constantly toward that finish line that often feels so far away.
When I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Angel as he was traveling through the United States doing authenticity research on an upcoming novel, I not only appreciated his cultural thoughtfulness but also his clear dedication to his craft.
Nick Angel, 38, grew up in rural Australia. He previously worked as a lawyer in Paris, Sydney, Cambodia and Myanmar. For several years, he was an environmental lawyer. His first novel, Drown them in the Sea (Allen & Unwin, 2005) received popular and critical acclaim and was a winner of the Australian Vogel Literary Award, Australia’s most prestigious award for authors under the age of 35. He was also the recipient of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Novelist of the Year Award.
For the past four and half years, he has lived abroad in South East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe (presently in Berlin). He is a French speaker and translator.
He has a new novel Temple & Dean, which will shortly be on submission with Australian/European literary agency Zeitgeist Media. Temple & Dean is set in a fictional town in the United States.
Q & A with Australian Vogel Literary Award-winning Author Nicholas Angel
Kris: What does the word “editing” mean to you?
Nick: Editing is about improving my work. I need several drafts to get the best out of a story. Partly, this involves preparing each draft for a reader, which means I’m looking at it from a reader’s point of view. A big part of this is begging someone to read my work. If someone takes the time to do so, there’s a lot to be thankful for. It takes ages to read a book, and if someone reads mine, they’ve probably missed out on a lot of good things to do it, like reading other, already published books. Then there are all their ideas and feedback (usually provided free of charge). It’s easy to forget all that in the blind quest for admiration. I always try to be grateful as most feedback is good feedback for me. I consider all of my reader’s comments and test them. Some I implement and others I don’t. No one knows my story better than I do, so ultimately editing is my responsibility.
Kris: I love your point about being thankful for your early readers. Writers hungry for feedback often don’t think about the other side of things. Wonderful note. Now, what was the most important lesson about revision you learned with your first book publication?
Nick: Sometimes revision feels like work or can pinch a little when an editor dismisses some carefully crafted words. But like most things, the more work you do, the better. I learned that editors made me question my own work. Not just punctuation and flow but also storytelling. Part of the process involves checking whether the devices and mechanisms you’re using are effective.
Kris: What does your editing process look like?
Nick: I do it as I go. I write several drafts of a manuscript before submitting. It’s my understanding that the manuscript needs to be as pristine as it can be before submission. I’d go so far as to hire an editor before submitting, rather than leave significant work for an editor with a publishing house.
Kris: That’s certainly a wise approach in the competitive publishing industry of today. I’d love to dig a bit deeper into different pieces of your editing process. When you are revising your characters, what specifically are you looking for? What are you trying to accomplish with them before you consider them fully fleshed out and alive on the page?
Nick: There’s a lot I could say about this, mostly about how much I’ve struggled. Succinctly, my characters’ desires and their challenges move the plot forward, so I try to make them genuine. Ultimately, I’m trying to create characters that a reader can empathize with. It takes me a long time to feel I know my characters well enough to start in on their complexities. I have to be patient.
Kris: I know that feeling. Patience with characters that are slow to reveal themselves can be hard. How important to you is knowing a setting first hand? How does this experience change your early writing?
Nick: Setting is relative to the story. I think there’s a contract between the reader and author about creating an emotional connection. A reader doesn’t have to have visited the settings of an author’s novel because the reader has an imagination, but the author must convey an authentic sense of place. For some stories—like say a story about a fictional small town—a deliberately prosaic setting might work. For others, accuracy of setting is crucial—a story set in a well-known city cannot afford to contain setting errors. My overall view is that it would be a huge shame for literature if stories had to be bound by time and place of the author’s first-hand experience. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have any sci-fi. We wouldn’t have much historical fiction, and we’d be short on a lot of literary fiction too.
Kris: What are your biggest considerations when you’re looking at the story arc of your first draft? What kind of changes do you find yourself making to strengthen your plot or pacing?
Nick: My first drafts can be a million miles from the finished story, so there’s not a whole lot that’s safe. Everything may be cut/chopped for the sake of tightening the story. I try to save dramatic turns within the story that feel correct. I try to save writing that I feel carried along with. At this point of the process, I know I’ve still got a lot of work to do, so I’m not too precious about the words I do have.
Kris: Does knowing your target audience change your revision process?
Nick: I don’t think of a particular niche audience when I’m writing. I approach the task broadly. I know I write strongly when I’m writing about something I believe in and that sense of belief is what I hope props up my writing and is transplanted into the mind of my reader. Who that reader is shifts from character to character during the process. If I’m writing a woman, I’m trying to think of how a woman reader would relate to my character. Same with a war vet, same with a truck driver. If I’m writing a truck driver, I’m trying to empathize with a truck driver as I’m writing so the resulting character is genuine. If I do all that, I hope a wider audience will find my characters credible and the story will benefit as a whole.
Kris: What do you know about writing and editing now that you wish you’d learned earlier?
Nick: I was always impatient to say, “I’m finished.” Now I like to let things settle, re-read, polish, repeat…have read, tinker… then say “what do you think of this?”
Oh, that settling time is so necessary to a project, as is the tinkering. I love ending on this note, because the editing process is never a simple once-over. It’s never a quick review. Solid revision takes a lot of work and passion (and maybe even some exhaustion), but the end result of a well-edited manuscript always shines.
Thank you for your time, Nick Angel, and happy writing, everyone!
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