The Lining of the Shell – the birth of a novel

Novel by Scottish-Jamaican writer, Jeda Pearl. Jeda is based in Edinburgh, Scotland and is working on her first novel.
11 min |

In The Lining of the Shell, Dessie’s life feels constantly poisoned by her older half-sister, high-functioning sociopath, Delphine, until she meets Jake. But Dessie and Jake have secrets of their own – secrets that could destroy them.

Simultaneously, in 1842, young Sohal is enslaved to Maestro Jones, performing in his Menagerie Review & Parade of Exotic Curiosities. Are Dessie and Sohal’s stories intertwined…? Will they ever escape the clutches of their oppressors?

My first novel {a work-in-progress} explores destructive secrets and hidden histories. 

Here’s how it all began…

In 2008 I started writing as a therapy to get me through my diagnosis of breast cancer and a bad recovery from surgery. It quickly turned into writing fiction as a way to escape reality. In fact, we were grieving my partner M’s brother’s recent death and I was still partly dealing with the emotional fallout of the circumstances of my son’s arrival eighteen months earlier, so I wrote about those too.

With my son, I’d had an incredibly rare placental abruption and there was no explanation at all – I was young, healthy, and, other than some rather painful SPD {symphysis pubis dysfunction} that’d slowed me down, there was no reason for my son’s premature arrival 9 weeks early. I’d even had a pretty good experience with my first pregnancy.

Talk about mother’s guilt!

As I write this, I’ve got two healthy almost-grown kids {12 and 16}. We know we’re so lucky, even my son had practically no health issues. But the birth of my novel – and my return to creative writing – started during some of the most difficult years of my life.

And writing got me through.

It felt new and exciting, yet like I was finally coming home.

Though, when I think about it, my love for writing and making up stories was always there. I remember making my first book in primary school, aged nine or thereabouts. A writer worked with our class and we all created our own stories – not just the words, the pictures and we stitched and glued our very own books together. This was what I wanted to do someday. It was magical.

Until I was thirteen.

My English teacher made fun of a short story I was very proud of. It wasn’t just harsh criticism. He’d laughed at it and said it was ridiculous. Like all thirteen-year-olds everywhere, I was a delicate bud trying to open to the world and I took it far too personally. After that, I decided I wasn’t a writer.

But I found other ways to write. Secret love stories and songs, essays, diaries and letters – oh I loved to write letters! I poured hours into hoards of penpals and, later, I wrote to friends and at least three times a week to M when we were five hours apart. Even at art school, I still found ways to write.

As my daughter grew, so did my first business and, again, I loved writing all the content – the press releases, newsletters, even product descriptions!

I’ll never forget one time on the bus, I was making up stories, as usual, for my daughter. As we stood up to ring the bell, the lady behind begged us to stay on as she wanted to hear the rest of the story. The sparks and whispers were there all along. 


Coming out as a writer

2008 to 2010 was filled with hospital appointments… Breast cancer. Surgery. Sleepless nights. Motherhood. Grief. Pain – emotional and physical. It was all getting on top of me, so naturally, I turned towards the way I always sorted out my head and heart: writing.

For those two years, all this writing was in secret – for my eyes only.

I was still attempting to run my first business, but, in 2010, I decided to close it and “come out” as a writer.

It was SO hard! I had so much anxiety wrapped up with this whole writing thing. Even now, I still have days when I feel a lack of self-confidence about claiming I’m a writer.

But I’m glad I did it. I’d also made it into the finals of my first short story competition. It was the sign I needed and time for a major change.

Plus, you know, life… I wasn’t recovering very well from my preventative bilateral mastectomies and LD-flap {back flap} reconstruction. I’d only had a year’s respite of feeling almost “normal” when my chronic pain condition started in 2010 {that’s a whole other series of blog posts}.

I also felt responsible for all the designers whose work I was promoting and selling and I just couldn’t do them justice anymore. It was a tough decision, though somewhat liberating eventually.

And so, I began my career as a writer, helping small businesses with their content and marketing.


The beginnings of the novel…

The Lining of the Shell started out with a different name and as a completely different story. It still involved deceit and some of the main characters, but the original storyline was filled with too much OTT drama. As I delved back into it at the start of this year {after a break of about 3 years, though I started it in 2008}, I realised it wasn’t the kind of book I wanted to write anymore.

That doesn’t mean I know exactly what book I want to write! I’m still figuring it out as I go.

After such a long break, I was worried the original story wouldn’t excite me anymore. But it turns out there were still some gems – even some chapters I could still use. Which is great. In fact, the essence of the book was already there.

Originally most of it was going to be set on a train. I’d spent a lot of my adult life on trains and had a very vivid and violent end scene for the antagonist.

But I’ve let that one go…

Ten years later, I’ve kept those characters:

  • Dessie (our protagonist)
  • Delphine (our antagonist)
  • Rhona (Dessie’s best friend)
  • Frank (Rhona’s dad)

And I’ve added some new ones:

  • Sohal
  • Umeko
  • Maeve
  • Maestro

In 2012, Sohal first spoke to me. Or, rather, the girl he was watching – Umeko who performs with flying squid. A secret love.

It was a short story which grew arms and legs and tentacles.

At first I imagined two lovers telling Sohal’s story to one another. Then, at my novel writing class {Skriva}, the teacher Sophie Cooke, suggested it would work better as a direct narrative. Each time I wrote Sohal’s story, I went back in time a few years and, what I thought was going to be magical realism, turned out to be a historical story set very much in the real world of the 1840s. Which actually surprised me.

I also struggled with how to connect Sohal’s and Dessie’s narratives and Sophie suggested that it could be something simple, small, only known to the reader. And so I thought of the shell that Umeko paints and gives to Sohal and how a shell could survive for decades, centuries. And how Dessie contains so many secrets under her mask – as do we all. So, The Lining of the Shell made so much sense as a title.

Dessie and Sohal’s stories are continuing to evolve side by side as I work on my final first draft. I know where I’m heading right now – I’ve had to write synopses for submissions. But I also know that can completely change. Part of me wants to go down a weird magical/surreal rabbit hole because I love those dark fairytales and realms of fantasy… Part of me wonders, is Delphine really a sociopath? We’re not supposed to even use that term anymore.

We’ll just have to see what the characters want and where they lead me.

As I go along I’ll share my progress and I’ll share excerpts in The Vault. Plus any lessons, tips and tools for writers that I uncover. I know there are so many amazing writers who are hiding in the shadows, with little-to-no self-esteem {as I was once}.

The birth of my novel goes hand-in-hand with the birth and growth of my writing career. And I am grateful for all the deviances from creative writing – my art school degree helps me craft strong visuals in my writing, my life and business experience gives me so many insights and my clients give me so much more than an income – I genuinely love helping people with their writing.

I think I’ll leave this here for now. Thanks for reading this rather rambling post. If you’re writing a novel tell me more in the comments. Or share your all-time favourite book with me below. Or come hang out on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

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