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The Art of Writing by Xav Leret

When I set out to write The Romeo And Juliet Killers I had no idea how to write a
novel. I had written numerous theatre scripts and a couple of movies, but a
script is a script, it is the foundation upon which to build a show, it is not
the end product. I would write with this in mind and I had a very clear process.
Write a draft, then refine it with actors whilst also developing the action and
mis-en-scene. Film is not that dissimilar except most of the re-writing happens
with the producers. I would have liked to have done more of it on set but we
were always in a rush to stay on schedule. For my second movie I often didn’t
know where I was filming the next day and once or twice I got the location half
way through the night before.

Writing a novel is a solitary business. Even with the help of an editor you are
largely on your own. I quite like this. I especially like the silence. There
were always too many voices in the rehearsal room, all great ideas, all fighting
to be heard. You can’t beat the silence.

Working with actors taught me to think about the physical as well as the mental
creation of character. It is through physical action that the journey of a
character through a play or film is revealed. An audience watches the characters
at play. Internal life might be revealed through dialogue or montage, but its
revelation is observed. This is not so with a novel which is revealed within the
reader. The reader is the co-creator with the writer. For the period of the
novel the author becomes the reader’s best friend because the author can equip
the reader to do the impossible and to feel extraordinary things.

Strangely I never really worried about the reader as I was writing, my
relationship was with the characters as they were growing. Often I would find
that my voice would be mimicking theirs. Like an actor I would rehearse speaking
like them. Like a director I took a series of photographs from all over Bristol.
I would imagine my characters within the images. I found them places to live. I
hung about in those places on the off chance that they might turn up. I
choreographed the novel through these images, though there were some places that
I had used from my childhood which no longer existed. Most of these I got rid of
but one or two have remained. The ghosts of my past haunting the contemporary
architecture of the narrative. Of course if I was to be authentic in my
Stanislavskian approach to character building, then I would have stuck to
Bristol as it currently is, yet my journey to writing the novel seemed as
necessary to the dramatic structure as the contemporaneity of the city in which
it is set. But then time is a fluid thing.

I recognise myself in all my characters. I know their voices. I can feel their
physicality within my own. I might not be able to pull off a performance of them
and I certainly wouldn’t cast myself to play any of them in a movie, but I feel
them within me. And like my actors in the rehearsal room they fought to get
their voices heard. One character in particular wouldn’t leave me alone. She
made me carry on, she wanted her story to be heard. Another character started
out as a bit part and became the character who changes the most throughout the

When making theatre I had a clear process. I knew where the production would be
at any point during the rehearsal period. That’s not to say things didn’t go
wrong, because they did, but, generally speaking, a rehearsal process follows a
pattern. As my first novel is about to emerge I can safely say that I am now no
more knowledgable about the genesis of a novel than when I started. The Romeo
And Juliet Killers came about by accident with one character telling me a story.
Then I stumbled around in the dark. There were times I thought I had it, only to
discover that I hadn’t. And now that finally I think that I might have completed
it, I still live with the nagging doubt that perhaps the end is not the end at
all, though I am sure that it will never make a beginning.

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