You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic: the Story Now

As I finish the first draft of my WW2 thriller You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic, I reflect on the story I’ve written thus far and consider the re-drafting process ahead…

In case you hadn’t heard the news, the first draft of my third major work, You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic, is now completed. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered it had taken nearly three years to finish, with well over 600 pages and 220,000 words written, not to mention a lot of self-doubt and deliberations over whether to start from scratch.

It’s with all that in mind that I’m facing the upcoming re-drafting and editing process with a mixture of excitement and dread. On the one hand, it’ll be fun to read through it from start to finish. But on the other hand, if it took that long to crack out one draft… how long will it take to analyse everything, monitor character arcs and development… to do everything you used to do in GCSE English? To say nothing of the amount that’ll need to be reduced or cut completely.

Synopsis (as it stands)

Young hotelier Heinrich Oeunhausen is in charge of The Heinrichstürme, one of the last luxury hotels still standing in 1943 Berlin. While he himself remains apolitical, he serves the war effort by accommodating a number of officers in the Nazi Party’s employ, including his family friend, the Minister of Hospitality, Standartenführer Leopold Upfauer, who pressures Heinrich to join the Party when the hotel’s finances begin to dwindle. Heinrich is reluctant, not least because upstairs, he houses two secret guests. His wife Sofie, a schizophrenia sufferer, is confined to their suite on the third floor, often heavily sedated. Above her hides the temperamental Jewish pianist Itzhak Zylberman, whose music has a mysterious but calming effect on Sofie’s condition.

The arrival of Cordelia Knesebeck stirs up trouble, as she is repeatedly caught snooping around the hotel, and ultimately becomes deputy manager, with the connivance of Upfauer. Cordelia discovers Heinrich’s secret, but she has an agenda of her own. Knowing what the other knows, Heinrich and Cordelia form an uneasy alliance — Cordelia to help protect Sofie, and Heinrich not to stand in her way. The subsequent events affect staff and customers alike, including the concierge Alois Seyẞ, Heinrich’s reprobate brother Konrad, and Upfauer’s sycophantic second-in-command Hoesch.

Major characters

  • Heinrich Oeunhausen — 23-year-old hotelier, owner of The Heinrichstürme hotel.
  • Cordelia Knesebeck — arrives as a guest, but later buys half the hotel to become deputy manageress. Has a secret involving Upfauer.
  • Sofie Oeunhausen — Heinrich’s 20-year-old wife, suffers from schizophrenia.
  • Standartenführer Leopold Upfauer — Reichsminister of Hospitality, family friend of the Oeunhausens and a close confidante of Hitler. Something of a father/uncle figure to Heinrich and Konrad.
  • Itzhak Zylberman — Polish-Jewish pianist in his 80s, prone to bad temper and bitter moods. Reputed for Chopin recitals.
  • Alois Seyẞ — The Heinrichstürme’s cynical and intelligent maître d’ and concierge.
  • Konrad Oeunhausen — Heinrich’s younger brother, something of a playboy and gambler.
  • Franz Verschuer — Accountant and lawyer for the Ministry of Hospitality; also controls the purse strings of The Heinrichstürme.
  • Irene Ginze — Alois’ best friend. Works at the hotel as both housekeeper and waitress.
  • Hauptsturmführer Hoesch — Upfauer’s sycophantic, overzealous aide. Jealous of Heinrich’s close relationship with his employer.
  • Frau Belinda Elberfeld — Head housekeeper at The Heinrichstürme, and staunch supporter of the Party.

Sounds pretty okay so far, right? Next stage, however, is to deal with some potential weak spots.

1. Root out the repetitions

When you’re writing the first draft, the priority is just to get it down on paper. So, when it comes to action, I may over-repeat myself. I know there are far too many instances of my characters walking down hallways and knocking on doors, not necessarily doing anything too important. This will be one of the first things I’ll look for and whittle down.

2. Strengthen and reinforce characters

Even with a comprehensive plan, it’s easy to lose track of characters over a period of nearly three years. Traits and behaviours I may have established in the earlier chapters may be non-existent by the end of the novel, purely because I forgot. Another one of the top priorities in the re-drafting process – a study of all the main characters, ensuring nothing important gets lost or forgotten about. If it’s really important, it’ll be interesting to apply it at other points in the story, to see how it affects characters and scenes.

In addition, there are some characters whose backstories I never really decided on – including my main antagonist, Upfauer. Who, as the writing process has gone on, has become less actively antagonistic. I had him down as outright evil, but I don’t feel I’ve made a convincing case of that so far. So I’ll need to assess how to establish that early on, to make his development more striking as the story progresses. Other characters, such as Itzhak and Verschuer, start out strong but have ended up not serving much purpose later in the story. Again, I’ll look at remedying these issues in the re-draft.

3. Vary the vocabulary

At any point of the writing process, I try to give at least 80% of my attention to variety in words and phrases. I’m a language lover – sue me. But, tying back to my first point, there are a plethora of points at which I use the same word for the same thing, the same adjectives and verbs to describe the same characters and actions. I can’t have that – I need a bit more colour to the language. I always keep a list of words I’ve heard or read. And if there’s a natural place for them, I’ll make sure they find their way into the work.

4. Strongly consider – are the protagonists working?

It’s not the first time I’ve brought this up in a blog post. The more I overthink it, the more I convince myself that I may need to change my main protagonist. You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic really follows two main threads – Heinrich primarily, and Cordelia secondarily – with a few chapters dedicated to the viewpoints of Alois and Upfauer. There are plenty of reasons why this should stay the case. Heinrich and Cordelia’s own relationship, and those they have with Konrad and Upfauer… they’re the focus of some of my favourite parts of the story. But they wouldn’t get as much attention if I changed the main protagonist to Alois, which is what I’m currently thinking.

Over the read-through, I really need to consider whether Heinrich and Cordelia’s viewpoints are the more entertaining. Or could Alois’ cynical, almost satirical view of the story prove better?

With this in mind, I have actually written an alternative opening to the first chapter from Alois’ POV. A preview will be coming soon for dedicated followers.

So there it is — the current state of play for You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic. I definitely need to take some time away from it. But come 2024, let the re-drafting process begin. Let’ see if it’s recognisable by the time we’re done!

Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think. And if you want to know more about my new book, leave a comment or follow my Facebook and Instagram pages. And read further posts out more about this novel