Inside the Writing Life of Steve Hartnell

For over 15 years Steve Hartnell has harboured the desire to write and publish a book. Whilst the first novel he wrote languishes (for the moment) in the infamous writer’s ‘bottom drawer’, his latest novel ‘Beltane’s Child’ is currently with the publisher undergoing copy-editing and proofreading processes and is due out later this year.

In and amongst making edits and responding to publisher’s queries, Steve is now busy at work on the second novel in his Arthurian Trilogy. Steve speaks to challenges of writing a novel and advises writing on a subject that you’re passionate about to help navigate the distance between the two shores – from the initial idea to the closing ‘The End’ on your manuscript…

Like so many people, COVID dramatically changed my life. In fact, it retired me early. I was a GP Practice Manager for a small Bristol Inner City Practice and I had worked there for fifteen years. My last day working for the Practice was the day before the first lockdown and it ended all my plans to work in Health Consultancy. Before that, I worked in an Educational Support Organisation for two years and for over twenty years in finance.

Life-long ambition to write a book

Despite being born in Taunton, Somerset I have lived all but two years of my life in and around Bristol. My father was English and a Railway Locomotive Driver, my mother was Italian and worked for Boots the Chemist.

One of my life’s ambitions has always been to write a book but there was always something that got in the way, whether real or imagined. Ironically, the first time I tried to write a book was during a time of unemployment but it quickly became obsolete when my new employment consumed too many hours of my time. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to resurrect the project but its appeal and my enthusiasm dissipated too quickly and put paid to that project. Nonetheless, that dream of writing a book remained with me.

From Political Thriller…

That first attempt of writing a book was a political thriller. The reason for the subject matter was that I had been an elected councillor in what is now South Gloucestershire and I was a political and current affairs addict. I used my experiences of being a Councillor for eight years to develop a storyline which tipped a hat towards the “House of Cards” book by Michael Dodds and the John Grisham novel, “The Partner.” It is probably a book still worth writing but my interests have changed and thus it may never see the light of day.

So it has taken fifteen years to fulfil my dream of writing a book. But to enable me to start writing it was necessary to generate enthusiasm and the happy coincidence of having free time and having the passion to move away from daydreaming to actually putting pen to paper. I think it is worth mentioning, at this point, that you have to have a real passion for the subject you want to write about because the process of writing any book is long, and yes, at times tedious particularly during the editing stage. Thus, maintaining a high level of enthusiasm is vital to help the writer complete the work.

…to the Court of King Arthur

I had developed a real fascination for the stories of King Arthur, not the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the rather fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), but the many books written by Historians and so-called Pseudo Historians. My first thought was to write a “history” book but there had been so many attempts by others that I quickly decided on writing a historical novel, after all there was plenty of scope to develop a story and I had, from my research, worked one out in my mind.

“you have to have a real passion for the subject you want to write about because the process of writing any book is long, and yes, at times tedious”

The question that still needed resolving however was, was I capable; not just whether I had the ability to write a book, but did I have the discipline? I believed I could write, I had written numerous documents for work and had received many compliments for them but I recognised an irritating weakness of being a poor “completer finisher.” That’s when my wife told me about Rebecca (and thank goodness) because I am absolutely certain that without Rebecca’s guidance and support, I would not have completed the novel and probably would never have even started it as I enjoyed the research too much!

Via Project Management Skills!

Rebecca made me accountable; she helped me make a plan, tapping into my project management skills; she questioned my plot and what I was seeking to achieve and the story I wanted to tell; she helped with character development along with deciding who would be the primary figures in the story and how they might be developed. We had monthly meetings and she advised me to keep a diary; she edited the first three chapters and made really useful suggestions about tightening up the plot; she also supported me to develop the book summary, a bio, a query letter; and, most importantly, guided me through the process of editing, giving me encouragement and finding a publisher.

“Rebecca made me accountable…she questioned my plot and what I was seeking to achieve, the story I wanted to tell”

I am truly delighted that the book appears to have found traction with three publishers so, at the time of writing, I am going through the process of book cover design and editing/proofreading. I am hopeful that “Beltane’s Child” will hit the streets during the autumn but, in the meantime, I am currently writing a second book which will be the second of three books about Arthur; again with Rebecca’s invaluable support and guidance.

Don’t make things a chore

Whilst working with Rebecca, I have learned to pace myself and write on a daily basis but for no more than an hour and to not beat myself up if I miss a day or two. I acknowledge that I have the time and flexibility in my day to write although I consciously chose a specific time period to write every day. The choosing of specific time slots is absolutely imperative if you have to balance writing with working, at least you know, and everyone knows, that that time is your time and it is part of your working day. By the same token do not make things a chore, don’t give up all your spare time because you will soon fall out of love with your project and if you’re anything like me you’ll simply give up the writing. Enthusiasm might get you a long way but writing is a long process so you have to look after yourself and as I have already mentioned, don’t beat yourself up if you hit problems. Better still, however, pick up the telephone to Rebecca Megson-Smith, she is a wonderful resource and support, every burgeoning writer needs a writing coach!

Steve’s location recce tour to Scotland

One of the (many) brilliant things that Steve did whilst working on his novel, was to take a trip to the location within which he was setting his version of the Arthurian story – which may come as a surprise to those of us who have had key south-westerly locations in mind whenever we think of that legendary golden age with its round table of chivalrous knights. Here are a few of the glorious shots Steve took whilst there.


What about your writing?

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