Sunday, 23 June 2013

Is my book REALLY getting published?

I'm in the middle of one the weird phases when I can't believe my book will get published. When I'm working on it, it seems real. Then it goes off to the publisher for its next round of polishing or editing or whatever mysterious transformations it undergoes, and it starts to seem unreal again. The book deal happened so long ago, October is a long way away. My new writing seems more real to me.

I have a deal for book 2, and that's off with the editor to look at and give me notes on to knock it into shape. It was hard to write, I felt as if someone was looking over my shoulder. Book 3, on the other hand, isn't sold so it's sort of mine. The only people I'm writing it for are my agent and my family, so I can relax a bit. I don't have a deadline, either, so there's no anxiety there. Bizarrely, this makes me write quicker! I've got up to 30k and am taking a few days break to work on the plot twists and turns, one of which made me realise I would have to reorganise the whole first thirty thousand words - but it ties all three books together. I love it when a plot bomb explodes in a 'what if...?' moment. In my case, I had a character 1 and a character 2 and was worrying about them being a bit similar...BAM! They are the same person... 

So now the chapters and scenes are all being rearranged and they tie together better and flow better. I don't want to make it too complicated to read, but I don't want to dumb it down too much, either. Now, in the middle of what is going to be a very busy week, I just need time to sort it all out and that will provide me with springboards to jump back into the plot strands. In theory.

On another subject, I've been offered an opportunity to attend an all day poetry workshop with Ruth O'Callaghan, a terrifying prospect as I haven't written more than a few lines of poetry since last year. Scary stuff, being the least experienced writer at a workshop! I'm hoping to do some teaching too, perhaps on Short Stories. It would be good for me to get my head back into the succinct forms of writing again rather than all this rambling novel stuff.

Monday, 17 June 2013

A quarter of a book

I've realised something about writing. I can type up thousands of words a day, I suppose, if I really tried. But most of them would be scrapped because they were rubbish shortly afterwards. At the moment I'm writing 2000 words a day and they are scrappy, scruffy but mostly good. I've been planning this book in my head for about a year, and that takes way longer than just writing it. Looking at my notes, post-its, conversations I've had over the last year, I realise that's what really takes the time. The typing is another creative process, but once there's plot threads to hang it on - the warp as it were - the weft slides on fairly comfortably.

I just need to ensure I have enough threads to weave a whole book with. I think I'm fairly sorted with the historical strand - my characters are on a  journey and that's always interesting to write, if filled with very time consuming research. What was Brindisi like in 1587? What was Greece like under Ottoman rule? Crete, under Venetian? That's what takes up all the time, constant stopping to hit the Internet or my pile of research books (increasing almost daily). I think I take maybe a year to plan a book and about three months to write it, followed by months of intermittent editing.

I also creeped myself out in the contemporary strand, enough to stop me writing in the evening and wait to finish the scene in the light of day. I would love to claim that's just how clever I am as a writer but sadly, I think it's more the case that I'm easily scared. I'm scared of the dark. I suppose my own fear ends up on the page, which makes it more vivid, but it's still frightening to type those scenes!

What else is frightening, is my editor has asked for a short synopsis of book 2. I think rewriting book 2 would be easier. I'm terrible at writing synopses. Awful. I'm scared again... 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Five hundred posts later...

I tend to look back at my journey when I hit milestones like the hundreds. I don't post every day, sometimes I post just once a week, and they are largely about how the writing is going. I'm beginning to repeat myself, in some cases several times, but I have noticed a change over the last few years and books.

I'm more confident in what I'm doing. I'm better at recognising the good writing, less bothered about the scale of writing a book or editing one. I have more confidence in the fantasy side. I'm seeing writing in a more pragmatic way, rather than the process of exposing my skills/lack of to the world or even a single reader. I know that in four months, my book will be out there for people I have never met and probably never will to like or not like and there's nothing I can do about it. I know I'll have the odd day when I just want to apologise for the mistake on page 114 or whatever, but it will be out of my hands, book 2 will already be a done deal at the publisher's and book 3 will probably be finished as well. I've changed enormously and the process has been journalled in this blog.

But I'm wondering where it goes next. Do I want a 'warts and all' blog documenting my fears and failings out there? I've also blogged about my mental health problems, my lost daughter, sister and husband, all deeply personal stuff and it's all mixed up with the writing stuff. I'm not sure if being exposed through my books might be enough and it might be time to pull the plug on the writing blog. After all, I did call it 'A Writer's Journey to Publication.' What do I do when I arrive?

The thing is, years ago I was completely inspired by a number of bloggers who were further along that journey than I was. Candy Gourlay, for example, shared every step of the way. Sarah Salway's old blog was also constantly encouraging, as well as beautifully written (check out her new blog here). Dean Crawford too...and Cally Taylor, the list is actually way too long to put here. So, if my strange journey can help anyone else, I'm happy to tidy it up and continue but part of me thinks I need to focus on a 'proper' website/blog about the books. I don't know what to do. Any ideas?   

Monday, 10 June 2013

One tenth of a book

I've written ten thousand words since last Monday, one tenth of a book. I have no sense of whether it's actually paced to be the right words to be at this stage, I have no sense of the middle or when the ending will start. This is my biggest weakness. Ideally, I would have a bit of a plan. Maybe it's a bit too sat-around-drinking-tea, always a worrying development. I'm stretching myself in three time lines at the moment: 1578, 1612 (these are related) and the present day, which means if I'm stuck in one I can always got back and write one of the others.

On the plus side, I've run off a few new copies of book 2 for my mother and brother and the kids to read, it's important to me to have feedback in the scary times while I'm waiting for official editing notes to arrive. It's reassuring to already know where the plot sags or doesn't quite work before I have to start work again.  

The sunny weather has been lovely, drawing us all out into the garden and into another project which we are doing for fun. My husband Russell and I are writing a musical for kids, just for fun. It's not the first one I've collaborated on, and it came out of a short story I wrote some years ago. We sat in the sun, surrounded by sparrow wars (we have two rival nests at opposite ends of our roof) and wrote two songs and worked out plotlines. One thing that's becoming obvious, this is a massive project that is only going to get a small amount of our time, and yet the energy of it seems to pervade every other area of our creative lives. This is what happens if you marry a writer and a musician, apparently. Russell (who used to volunteer for a theatre) has a lot more practical experience than me, and has come up with some great staging ideas. My favourite is having the kids hunkered down with their backs to the audience, so you can only see the backs of their T-shirts, decorated to look like tombstones. Then they turn around, and the front is decorated to look like skeletons, before launching into a quasi-gospel number. It's fun doing something together, him with his guitar finding the tunes and me, with my notebook scrabbling for words. We were out there so long we both got a bit sunburned.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Started book 3

I've found my new ending for book 2 with a cliffhanger, and now it's led me straight onto a strong beginning with book 3. Hooray! It's lovely to be writing new stuff again, my favourite task. I'm still editing the middle of book 2, but writing new words is great, so I don't mind as much. It all still needs a read-out-loud editing pass, but I can do that over time. I love this bit, the new writing. I feel a bit possessed by the book, fragments keep intruding and I have to jot them down. I've had the historical strand developed for the whole time I've been writing book 2, so it's nice to finally be into the contemporary strand as well.

When I look at a book I have to write, its ghostly presence, empty ahead, I can't imagine what will be in it. I even worry that I won't be able to come up with anything for it. It will just sit there, four hundred empty pages. Then an idea comes, usually when I can't work on it, and it's like a flame, it starts to catch, creeps up one page, then starts catching more pages until I'm compelled to write. I love the feeling but it's scary, because I get 10-15k into a new book and I stall, every time. I watched a documentary about Ian Rankin and was surprised to see he does the same (no other comparisons with Ian Rankin, sadly). It's a bit disconcerting, but I trust now that my story just needs to catch up with my typing when I get to that point.

I was tallying up my completed or mostly-completed novels the other day and was surprised at how productive I have been, even through the head-banging-on-desk phases. There's the B&B book, the Georgian historical book, the stalker book, the one about the scary village, Marley and the Crow, books 1 and 2, A Baby's Bones... all in less than six years. OK, a lot of them were rubbish but I think they are the learning books, the pushing through that ten/fifteen thousand or page 65 barrier through to the middle and towards the ending. All the failed books are too short, none is over 70k. That's what I need to remind myself, they aren't really failed because they were the training ground for now when the books do just come. With a lot of sweat and tears along the way, maybe, but they do grow and into proper books.

Now all I have to do is learn to love editing.     

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Inspiration in the sunshine

Today was sunny - actually, North Devon has been sunny for a few days now. My mood has lifted, the garden has sprung into life and an ending for the book just leaped into my head while I was plodding through the edits. A real fireworks and cliffhanger style ending, complete with twists and turns. Why can't we just turn a mental knob and drop those out intentionally? Why do they leap into my head only when we're in the car or I'm in the bath or out shopping? It would be so convenient to have the 'eureka' moments when I need them! Not that I'm ungrateful, but I'd managed to get quite down waiting for idea lightning to strike. So, that's book 2. I'm so grateful it's chugging along and now all I have to do is work on all those silly mistakes and edits.

The sunshine has inspired my gardening-phobic husband into the garden, not to slash and burn (the only garden task he normally tolerates) but to prune and hedge and strim and even help empty and fill planters. The garden is looking rather lovely, still jungly and overgrown but almost as if we planned it like that. Due to my very dodgy back I've put more vegetables in pots this year - I have a whole pot full of rocket  to harvest, and we're doing well with spinach and lettuce for salads as well. Tomatoes and chillies are still waiting to be potted on - it was so cold I didn't want to stress them. Growing food, even if just a few leaves for a salad, cheers me up. The chickens are still laying, so we can have rhubarb and real custard, all from the garden.    

I feel the urge to sit in the garden and scribble in notebooks, but it's as if I'm a  different writer with a pen in my hand. Illegible, for one. I type all the time and my handwriting has gone from poorly formed and scruffy to random scribbles. Maybe I do write poetry first drafts better with a pen...I'll never know, since I can't then type it up. Maybe I should practice writing more. I find handwriting often produces better work, more literary-style writing and definitely more descriptions and settings (one of my weak points). I wonder if we access different parts of our brains when we type?