I’m delighted to welcome back S.D. Robertson, author of If Ever I Fall to Linda’s Book Bag. S.D. Robertson previously wrote about his journey to publication on the blog here. If Ever I Fall was published yesterday 10th February 2017 by Avon Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, and is available for purchase here.
To celebrate today’s publication of If Ever I Fall, I have a great guest post from S.D. Robertson all about how this cleverly plotted book came about. I’m reviewing If Ever I Fall too.
If Ever I Fall
Is holding on harder than letting go?
Dan’s life has fallen apart at the seams. He’s lost his house, his job is on the line, and now he’s going to lose his family too. All he’s ever wanted is to keep them together, but is everything beyond repair?
Maria is drowning in grief. She spends her days writing letters that will never be answered. Nights are spent trying to hold terrible memories at bay, to escape the pain that threatens to engulf her.
Jack wakes up confused and alone. He doesn’t know who he is, how he got there, or why he finds himself on a deserted clifftop, but will piecing together the past leave him a broken man?
In the face of real tragedy, can these three people find a way to reconcile their past with a new future? And is love enough to carry them through?
How I Developed My Novel’s Unique Structure
A Guest Post by S.D. Robertson
My new book, If Ever I Fall, has a rather unique structure. There are three interweaving plot strands, which appear one after the other as the story unfolds. I’ll call them parts A, B and C to keep things simple.
Part A is a series of letters written by a grieving woman called Maria to someone called Sam. Part B is about Jack, who awakes with amnesia in a strange derelict mansion, looked after by Miles, who says he’s a doctor. Part C tells the story of Dan, a newspaper editor whose life is in tatters.
What’s most unusual is that part C is written backwards. It starts in 2017, around the same time that part A takes place, but then over the course of the novel it gradually takes the reader back to a key event that happened two years earlier. So, for instance, the first instalment is set in May, the next in April, the one after that in March, and so on.
At the beginning it’s also not clear how the strands relate to one another, or when and where part B takes place. So as you can probably imagine, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to write. It involved a lot of detailed notes and timelines, as well as quite a bit of hair pulling and swearing at myself.
If I’m honest, at times during the writing process, I wished I’d not done it that way. For the most part, my debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, had a far more straightforward linear structure. Occasionally when I was constructing this novel, I did miss that. However, once it was finished, I knew I’d made the correct decision. It was definitely the right way to tell this particular story.
Each of the key characters in the novel is, for different reasons, feeling lost. I wanted my readers to experience a taste of this. But I also knew it was important not to make things too confusing, as writing in a simple and engaging way has always been very important to me as an author.
Essentially, my aim with this novel is for readers to be presented with a puzzle that they become actively engaged in trying to solve before the answers present themselves in the text. I want to draw them into the story, so they feel involved rather than mere observers.
The backwards idea for part C came to me during the very initial stages of developing the concept. I decided to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s fantastic film Memento, which also involves amnesia, and that convinced me to go for it; that a story told in reverse could work.
From there, once I started actually writing the novel, it was a case of thorough planning and keeping on top of things. I had a central diagram of how the three strands were set to unfold in relation to one another and an ever-expanding notebook packed with background information.
Rather than taking on each part separately and bringing them together at the end, I chose to write everything in the same order that it appears in the book. That seemed to be the most sensible way to keep on top of things – and I got there eventually.
I also decided to write each section in a different way to keep them distinct, both for me as author and for readers. So there’s the letter format of part A, while part B is first person present tense, and part C is third person past tense.
After that, the editing process was crucial for ironing out any structural kinks. My editors at Avon were massively helpful when it came to making sure that things didn’t get too confusing and that it was always clear where and when the action was taking place.
So now you know how I developed the unique structure of If Ever I Fall. I do hope you enjoy reading it.
My Review of If Ever I Fall
With Dan and Maria’s lives in free fall and the mysterious Miles looking after amnesiac Jack, the world is not all it seems.
If Ever I Fall was completely different to my expectations. I imagined I was about to read a cosy and emotional women’s fiction narrative that I would thoroughly enjoy. I certainly enjoyed If Ever I Fall and I did find it emotional, but this three stranded story exceeded my expectations, with an almost psychological thriller or mystery element too.
It’s quite hard to say too much about the plot without spoiling the story for other readers, but S.D. Robertson’s skill in weaving the plot strands is masterful. At times there’s a disjointed nature to one of the plot devises that makes it a little confusing. This is not a negative. The flashback, dreamlike, elements serve to provide the same experience for the reader as for the character. I thought this was so well done.
With such a complex plot, it surprised me just how well developed the characters are. My heart went out to them all with the exception of one – but again I don’t really want to say who as I don’t want to spoil the read! Maria’s epistolary sections that explore her fragile state of mind are so moving. S.D. Robertson shows how O.C.D can affect lives to breaking point and the themes of If Ever I Fall are intense and affecting for the reader. Grief, relationships, memory and identity all underpin both character and plot so that there really is something for every reader in this book.
I also really appreciated the title. If Ever I Fall can relate to literal actions in the story but equally to metaphorical ones as characters fall from grace, fall apart in their relationships, fall into depression and mental ill-health and so on. I think the significance of the title only becomes clear after the book is read completely.
If Ever I Fall did not live up to my expectations. It exceeded them and I will be thinking about it for a long time.
About S.D. Robertson
Former journalist S.D. Robertson quit his job as a local newspaper editor to pursue a lifelong ambition of becoming an author and to spend more time with his wife and daughter. If Ever I Fall is his second novel. A heart-rending story of family tragedy, it is published on 9 February 2017.
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