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Little Woman Act

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Georgette Heyer’s advice for novelists, from Jennifer Kloester’s forthcoming biography:

1. Induce your publisher to hand over at once a sum of money grossly in excess of what the book is likely to be worth to him. This gives one a certain amount of incentive to write the thing, and may be achieved by various methods, the most highly recommended being what may be termed as The Little Woman Act.

2. Think out a snappy title. This deceives the publisher into thinking (a) that he is getting the Book of the Year; and (b) that you have the whole plot already mapped out. The only drawback lies in the fact that having announced a title you will be slightly handicapped when it comes to hanging some kind of story on to it.

3. Brood for several weeks, achieving, if not a Plot, depression, despair and hysteria in yourself, and a strong desire to leave home in your entourage. This condition will induce you to believe yourself to be the victim of Artistic Temperament, and may even mislead you into thinking that you really are a Creative Artist.

4. While under this delusion, jab a sheet of paper into your typewriter, and hurl on to it Chapter I. This may give you an idea, not perhaps for the whole book, but for Chapter II.

5. Introduce several characters who might conceivably be useful later on. You never know: they may take matters into their own hands.

6. Assuming that he has been properly trained, read over what you have done to your husband. His extravagant enthusiasm may lead you to think you’ve perpetrated something good and this will inspire you to churn out a bit more.

7. Think out a grand final scene, with the maximum number of incongruous characters massed together in some improbable place. Allow your sense of farce full play. This will, with any luck at all, make the reader forget what the rest of the book was like.

8. Try and work out how and why these characters got together, remembering that it is better to ‘gloss over’, by technique (which if you haven’t learnt in thirty years you ought to have learnt), than to put your head in the gas oven.

9. Book a room in a good mental home.

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