Original Autograph Manuscript: How to Be a Novelist

BRAINE, John

THIS IS HOW I WROTE ROOM AT THE TOP

BRAINE, John Original Autograph Manuscript: How to Be a Novelist

1959.

Twenty pages of lined notebook paper, stapled and sewn save the cover sheet. Approximately 1,200 words, written in Braine's hand, with amendments and proof markings to the text in his hand and another's, presumably his agent's. Addressed on the cover sheet to Braine's agent Miss Jean LeRoy at David Higham Associates. Some rust staining to the corners with a central fold to the papers.

John Braine's illuminating and often comic manuscript draft for an essay titled 'How To be A Novelist', part of which was later incorporated into Writing A Novel (1970). The essay was written just in advance of the publication of his second novel The Vodi (1959). It is split into two sections; the introductory section demystifies the figure of the novelist and underlines the importance of consistent writing; the second section, the bulk of the essay, explains in full the process of writing his first novel Room At The Top.
Braine sets out by addressing those who see him as "a glamourous figure... [with] no boss but himself, no time-clock to punch, no office to attend" and promises to "shatter some of your illusions", at least because "if my face were my fortune, I'd be bankrupt". Braine notes the most common illusion as "something called Inspiration... I no more wait for the inspiration to write than anyone else waits for the inspiration to go out to work on a wet Monday morning." Braine's main point here is that to be a novelist you must "write whether you feel like it or not". In illustration of this he tells an anecdote about how Sinclair Lewis, giving lecture on the practical side of writing asked the audience " 'Hands up, all of you who want to write.' Everyone put up their hands. 'Well then, why the hell aren't you at home writing' Lewis said, and walked off."
The second portion of the essay explains the process of writing Room At The Top, from conception to publication. It began in 1951 once he had acquired a literary agent "on the strength of an article of mine in the New Statesman." In his initial meeting with the agent, Braine says how he had not thought of writing a novel until it was suggested to him because "I believed in waiting for inspiration, and I hadn't been visited with even the ghost of a plot for a novel."
After three months of filling notebooks with plot ideas "none of [which] came out alive", Braine recounts the moment where the character of Joe Lampton manifest itself to him. He was walking past a car parked in "a patch of waste ground. There was a man sitting there at the wheel... A week later, when sitting in a Hampstead cafe, I suddenly noticed the face of a woman at another table... she looked rather haggard. But her face was beautiful because the bone structure was beautiful." Seeing this face of tragedy and recalling the man sat desolately in his car, Braine asked "why was he unhappy? Obviously because of a woman. And everything fell into place." "That night" Braine continues "I wrote the last chapter of Room At The Top in one sitting."
After this start, Braine cites Ernest Hemingway in arguing the importance of producing "a first draft as quickly as possible. The quality of the writing at this stage doesn't matter... what matters is to have a narrative to work on, a huge lump of stone to chisel into shape." Working on the second draft he stresses the importance of having to make sure the novel had "a definite plot... each chapter had to leave the reader wanting to know what happened next. Any novel which doesn't make the reader ask this question is a failure, no matter how beautiful its prose or how subtle its psychology." Braine then notes some other rules he observed during the second draft, including an attempt to "set out the dialogue like a play" and to "vary the beginning of each chapter and... each paragraph." The last stage of Braine's process for writing the novel was to go "through the novel and cut out every unnecessary word. I even cut out several unnecessary chapters. They were good enough in themselves, but the story could do without them." Braine boldly concludes "This is how I wrote Room At The Top. I've told you my working rules. I didn't change them when I wrote my second novel The Vodi. That's why it's taken me over two years to finish."
Though it is evident that Braine sent the manuscript to his agent and that amendments were made, it is not clear that the essay ever saw publication in the form presented here. Thoughts expressed in the first half of the essay later appear in his opening three chapters of Writing A Novel (1974), often verbatim, and it is clear that his ideas about writing novels are largely unchanged. The second section, in which the creative and manual processes for writing Room At The Top are analysed forensically, has apparently never been published and offers, therefore, a unique insight into the making of the novel that realised Braine's literary reputation.

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