THE ORIGIN OF MY FIRST NOVEL’S TITLE & THE STORY BEHIND IT’S WRITING
In the beginning, “The Hawthorn’s Souls” were three words, that appeared in a kind of french poem I wrote when I was about 16 or 17 years old, called “Origin”…
I take the risk, I accept these writings from my teenage years, my inexperience, my first lines of poetry.
Pris entre lune et œil,
L’âme aubépine fleurit,
Irascible et obscène.
Le fleuve de vie
Une main tendue derrière une porte de verre.
Les exilés regardent,
Masqués de mort et voilés de cendre,
Fouillant la chair vagabonde pour en vêtir les songes ;
Témoins d’une union immaculée.Solenne Le Goff
I can’t say where these words came from (it was automatic writing), or how I came to put “soul” and “hawthorn” together. In any case, I liked the idea of the “hawthorn soul” very much, and years later it would give me the idea for my story.
In 2008, I was writing something that was too ambitious for me, as I was still a beginner. And I said to myself, “You will do something for practice, for learning, to mature your thinking and your writing. You’ll do something simple and short.” Ha ha ha! What a joke! 4 books in all. A story I’ve been trying to perfect for over 10 years. That’s short and simple!
Let’s start again. I’ve always wanted to READ a story about angels and demons, an impossible love between two Opposites that everything attracts. (I had even started a comic book about it.) I wanted an epic story, and I remember spending hours looking for this book in the Gilbert Joseph bookstore, in the fantasy section. (Childish and stupid of me.) I was looking for the book I’d imagined, without success of course. I hadn’t even thought about writing it. And here we are at the end of 2008, and I needed a theme for my “short and simple” book, so I came up with this: Angels and Demons. But those two words “hawthorn souls” side by side were still very much on my mind, I felt they were important – so much so that I had made them the title of this book – but they didn’t really make sense at that stage. So I wanted to give them one. I wrote a tale. In short, it was about a fragile white flower, a leaf that wanted to protect it, to hide it, and a thorn that wanted only one thing: to protect the flower from people’s fingers that would harvest it.
And that’s how “The Hawthorn’s Souls” was born.
That’s how, naively, at the end of December 2008, I began to write the first lines of this “short” story about angels and demons “in my own way”, and there was this tale that illustrated and built up my narrative in a very graphic way. I wrote the whole “The Hawthorn’s Souls”, book 1 and 2 (with a total of 394 pages for volume 1) in 10 months, mostly at night and on weekends. In only 10 months, you can imagine that all this had to be revised. But the first version was finished.
In early December 2010, during a trip to Paris for the convention “Salon du Livre de Montreuil”, I did my first approach to publishers. On the Saturday of the convention, I met an editor from “Hachette”, and I had no idea who this person was at the time. On Monday, we were (re)introduced by a third party (an author I can’t thank enough), and it’s this exchange that counts (a lot in my eyes). That’s when the editor asked me for my manuscript. So I gave her the little bound booklet (I had printed for the convention) with two chapters of my book. I got a very quick first response from this editor. It was neither negative nor positive, but rather encouraging. So I followed her indirect advice, which was a little vague (I have to admit), but I think her aim was not to guide me, but to let me make my own book, and in the end I think that’s okay.
So I did what I thought was best and revised that first draft as best I could. But I lacked direction and confidence. The tale inside my story became very decorative. And because I’d met this “great” editor, I put a lot of pressure on myself, which I managed very badly, if at all. As a result, I was stressed about self-imposed deadlines that I couldn’t meet, and the fear of disappointing, of doing things wrong, of taking too long, of missing my chance, paralyzed me. In those moments, I couldn’t get anything done. I constantly needed outside advice to reassure me. I needed to know that someone understood what I was trying to say with my writing. And I listened to too many opinions.
On that note, for those of you who are just beginning to write, I’m going to give you (in my own words) a piece of advice that was passed on to me by someone who is wise and in the business:
You can get advice on errors in vocabulary, structure, syntax, story construction, temporality, capillary character changes, and so on. But not about what “you” think you’re reading between the lines. People see clues, winks, where there aren’t necessarily any. Because we all have different cultures, different experiences, we all see something personal, we draw conclusions (which can be wrong), we make assumptions (and that’s normal). So don’t change your story just because “someone” doesn’t have the same vision as you. Don’t try to get everyone to agree. As Doris Lessing (Nobel laureate in literature) rightly said: “It is childish for an author to want his readers to see what he sees, to understand the form and purpose of a novel as he himself conceives them.”
So after the editor’s initial feedback, I tried to satisfy all the opinions.
The following year, at the end of November 2011, version 2 of “The Hawthorn’s Souls” was half finished. Nevertheless, the publisher agreed to let this “half book” go to their reading committee. On February 1st, 2012, I received the most difficult feedback, the one that called everything into question (I talk about it a bit here.) I spent 14 days thinking (very carefully) before making a (perhaps radical) decision: stop writing or continue? During those 14 days I went back to all my notebooks and notes, reread my entire “literary bible”, and the story was good, the universe was good, I believed in it like hell. Finally, I found some old essays (chapters from book 1 as seen by other characters) and it was a revelation! I understood where the error was. I did a test on three chapters and the result convinced one of my toughest critics and wonderful friends, Julie. So I made the totally insane decision to rewrite the whole thing, to switch from past simple to present tense, from a single point of view narrative to a triple point of view narrative. In other words, to redo EVERYTHING a third time. Then I announced my decision to the editor, making it clear that I was going ahead despite what I’d been told. I also thanked her, saying that my eyes had been opened, that my story was good, but that I hadn’t chosen the right way to tell it. And I described in a few lines the stylistic changes I was making. I sent it without any real expectations. I went for a walk to take my mind off things. And to my great surprise, 10 minutes after I sent my email, I received a reply: encouragement, congratulations on my open-mindedness, and an invitation to represent my work. The doors were always open!
Since then, I’ve been listening to myself. I’ve stopped being afraid of time. Deadlines went to hell. I did things for myself, with pleasure, and so I reworked for a 3rd and final draft (the current one.)
And I went back to the basics. I went back to the tale inside “The Hawthorn’s Souls”. It was the origin of my story, so I put it back where it belongs, in the center of my book. And I went even further (further than the flower, the leaf and the thorn in love), I made it the original story of my fantasy universe, a founding myth. I made it a legend and a mythology!
So, in “The Hawthorn’s Souls” version 2015, there’s no hell, no heaven, no angels or demons as you know them or call them. I’m revisiting the theme in a VERY free and totally original way. (You can find an overview on the “Novel” page of this web site, and you can also read the first excerpt of my book on Calaméo). Finally, today, the title of my book, these words “The Hawthorn’s Souls” have a very great and beautiful meaning for me, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
So much for the story behind the title “The Hawthorn’s Souls”.
PS: This legend, as I like to call it, I also illustrated a bit. I should point out here that my novel is not a graphic novel (in the sense that there are only 8 illustrations). And here’s a study I did for one of the illustrations.