The Art of Letting Go is available as a paperback and an e-book here.
Now, over to Chloe...
If you gave me a lifetime to do it, I could never write a historical novel. I just know that within 48 hours of publishing the masterpiece that took a decade of painstaking research, somebody would be on Amazon telling the world that I am a buffoon for not realising a word I used on page 278 wasn’t invented until six months after the events in my book took place.
I do, however, want to write modern novels that are accurate. In The Art of Letting Go, my main character Rosemary spent the first three drafts happily running up and down steps cut into sandstone cliffs in Sussex. In draft four I checked the geology of that particular stretch of English coastline – it’s chalk not sandstone. Similarly, Rosemary regularly visited a hospice, right up until the moment my mother-in-law pointed out that I probably meant a private hospital, not a hospice. God bless in-laws who happen to be nurses.
All these minor details are one thing, whole areas of expertise are another. The Art of Letting Go might not be a historical romp or a police procedural, but it does have an abstract artist as one of the principal characters. I know nothing about art. In the first draft, I tried very hard to skirt round the subject of painting as much as possible – alluding to it, but never directly addressing it. And it was ridiculous. For something so fundamental to both character insight and theme, to avoid it would’ve made the whole novel pointless. So I set about reading.
I didn’t spend six months visiting the major European art galleries, but I did read a lot about abstract art movements. And as I researched, I found something odd. Not only was it enjoyable to be learning something new, but the story developed in ways I hadn’t imagined. Instead of using art to add a little detail to the narrative, art began to direct the narrative instead. As I read about how painters manipulated colour and shapes, I could see parallels with the way my characters manipulated people and situations. Art began to twist its way through the novel and hold it all together, creating a subtext I was barely aware existed in the first draft. I ended up having to cut the amount of art in the book, rather than add to it.
When I look back now, I wonder how I had the audacity to write a novel about something I know zilch about. And perhaps the answer is that I didn’t set out to write about art; I set out to tell the story of an artist. So while I’ll never perhaps choose to write in a genre that requires months of background reading, I now look forward to researching the ideas behind my latest projects (currently involving heart transplants, train derailments and arranged marriages). If nothing else it has the potential to make me sound more intelligent at parties. Who was the founder of neo-plasticism, you ask? Why, Piet Mondrian of course! So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read up on how to steer conversations on to the topic of 20th-century art movements. See you at the bar.
Do you enjoy research? Have you ever come across (or been responsible for!) details in a book that are just plain wrong?
Chloe Banks lives in Devon with her husband, son and an obsession with words. She started writing for a dare and forgot to stop until it was too late. She is a prize-winning short story writer and a first-time novelist, represented by The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency.