Thursday, 30 January 2014

Good news and more good news

I'm writing again. That's good therapy for me, and for my husband, whose future remains a bit uncertain. But two other things have really cheered us both up this week apart from coming to terms with the uncertainty.

First, we have received a copy of the paperback, complete with highly tactile cover. It's bright and fiery and I love the lettering - and hopefully, it will be enticing on the bookshelf. That's the plan, anyway.

And second, my agent and editor have put their heads together, and swapped A Baby's Bones (a mystery) with book 3 of the trilogy, thus ensuring that books 1, 2 and 3 are all with the right editor and imprint, and releasing ABB to find another publisher if it can. It has a different feel to it, more of a romance with a fantasy-light edge rather than the full on urban/historical fantasy style of the trilogy. I love writing both, so it's not a problem for me. But since I am finishing book 3 at the moment, I am looking forward to getting back to a different type of writing for a change. 

I'm off to Winchester to give a talk on Tuesday night, at the university where I studied my MA. Hopefully, it will be nice to tell them what I heard from the Publishing Project - keep going, keep writing, it's possible, it isn't a pipe dream at all. Then, hopefully, off to see friends and family before talking to some 'A' level students on the way home. Then it will he head down and on with finishing book 3 in order to send it off to my agent, who will hopefully give me tips and guidance on where it needs to be taken. That's the thing about an agent, you start to write for them, and I love that. It's like I have an audience of one person to please, and one (my son Kez) to criticise. With my husband to help me plot - it all works.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Thousand by thousand, we build a book.

It's slow going sometimes, although a thousand words a day is a bit of a triumph after the last few weeks. Yesterday I hit three and a half thousand words in one go, partly because I had raw material to draw on. My Kelley strand is at 16k, not bad since 1 January. But I still don't know where it's going and I think Alexandria is too ambitious. I wonder is Kirkira in Corfu will be enough. Actually, I don't think it will. Alexandria was such a powerful centre of commerce, I think we'll end up there anyway.

My problem has been backstory. Kelley had a whole adventure a couple of months before this story starts, and that is the springboard for this whole book. What I didn't want to write is: the story so far... In fact, those are the bits that are mostly getting taken out. It's so much harder to weave them into the story, and I still found I had a big chunk to tell, so I made Kelley stand up and tell it by firelight, to a bunch of sceptical, semi-mutinous sailors. But I still need a few bits. I need to tell the story of what Dee did while Kelley was gallivanting all over Venice in book 2. Hm. More weaving needed, which means going back (again) and putting more little clues in. How do people do it? How on earth can someone plan all this out ahead of time? For those of you who plot - I salute you. I wish I could do it.

Meanwhile, cancer-cat is recovering really well from her surgery while cancer-man is almost back to normal after his (much more extensive) operation. It's nice not to have to worry about him moving a chair or putting a log on the fire in case he pulls something. The cat will hopefully gain a good summer or so from the surgery. Then we will be down to one cat - hard to believe we started last hear with four healthy if elderly kitties. We're starting to get past the painful numbness and crushing terror of the diagnosis now and to plan some fun things. Like a trip to Rosemoor to see the winter garden. A drive down to Hampshire to see friends and family and give a talk in Winchester.

I also spoke to my editor about book 1. Book sales are low. Hardbacks sell very few and mine is in the doldrums. It's early days and we all have more hope for the paperback. I'm not surprised - they will always tell you good news but everyone goes quiet about bad news. My focus is more on book 2 and 3, we'll see. As always, I am kept afloat by Ian Rankin's remarkable story of how long he waited for a commercial success with his books.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Finding the joy

Today, having put it off all day, I sat down to write. And stood up an hour and half and two thousand words later. The story, the need of the characters to get from A to B (Prague to Crete, actually) dragged me in as it used to do. After ten weeks (blimey, has it really been that long!?!) I am finding the words again. I've managed to put down eight thousand odd words in eleven days - not exactly my usual output and it feels slow, but it's coming.

This week was all about results. Once the tests are in, the  surgery done, then all the extracted tissues go up to a lab to be tested and analysed and explored. The best possible news would be that there was a clear margin of healthy cells, no other organs were affected, and it hasn't spread to the lymph glands. We didn't get the best news. As the week went on, the results were slowly shared with us and a plan evolved for radiotherapy, a year of hormone treatment and still, our bubbly oncologist predicts, a reasonable chance of a cure. We didn't brood. Something much more immediate came up that we could deal with. Our fifteen year old tortoiseshell, rule-the-world cat Harry Wooggo aka Bumface had developed a small soft lump under the skin on her chest. Yesterday, she had it removed at the cost of three hundred quid and is now bumbling about with various bald patches, a plastic collar which she is just refusing to see and hopefully, her cancer removed. We refused to have pathology - we wouldn't put her through the treatments my husband is facing at her advanced age, and anyway, she's spectacularly healthy as she is. As, interestingly, is he. I have faith in them both.

It's strange how real life pushes back the impact of the book etc. Yet the need to write is a force that has me mumbling dialogue under my breath and poetry spilling onto envelopes if I don't sit down and get on with it. Writing is how I cope with life. The life of the book out there in the world - doesn't seem as real, now. I wish it well, but my priority is its little brothers, book 2 and 3. There I still have a creative input.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Forcing the words out

I've written 926 words today, in several goes. It's uphill at the moment, I can feel all the different distractions pulling at me. Kids at home, kids going back to university, putting Solstice/Christmas back in its boxes. I feel as if being patient/understanding/kind for a few weeks has left me with a backlog of selfishness backed up. I just want to jump up and down and shout 'but what about ME?'

My husband's got cancer, which is awful and scary and hopefully well on the way to being cured. He's got six incisions and has had to go back to the hospital twice, and I'm really sorry he's weak and tired. But there's a child in me that had a very hard holiday and worked extra hard to make it as good as it could be for everyone else. And yes, I really do know what a selfish cow that makes me sound like! But I put my life on hold once before for someone who was ill and it stretched out to eight years of uncertainty, false hope and eventual devastating loss. I've got baggage. 

So that's today. By tomorrow I hope to be back on my feet and serenely Zen about the fact that we are about to get THE RESULTS. We will be told whether the cancer has probably gone or not, and whether radiotherapy will help and when he will have to start having it. Again with the uncertainty... To make matters worse he wants to move house.

Excuse me while I jump and up down shrieking for a few moments.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The strange journey of research

I've solved the problem which was blocking me over book 3's historical strand. Not enough story, not enough reason to set out on an adventure that might very well kill my protagonist. So I looked up when John Dee met Emperor Rudolf II and stumbled across the Golem of Prague. Since my story is about the nature of life and the focus of book 3 is early Jewish mysticism... what a great find! This is why I do research, I'm not just ignoring the TV or the kids, I'm working on my book...

A golem is a clay figure brought to life by various rituals and the word of God, which only a few rabbis knew how to pronounce.

These creatures don't stay obedient and they have to be deactivated by the rabbi in most of the stories. There are fairy stories of children created from soil and even the gingerbread man, all with comical or disastrous consequences. Lots of opportunity for research and room for extra plot from me. I have to say, early Jewish mysticism is a vast subject and pretty fascinating.

Apart from that, life is starting to return to normal, with the kids starting to fly back to university. It would have been easier to write today had the electricity been on all day but the storms have created problems for the last few days. More storms are forecast. Apart from yesterday when I left the computer unplugged most of the day because the current was unreliable and lightning kept knocking it out, I'm managing my word counts. 1100 today, not massive but I have rewritten the whole of the first three chapters. More research coming up... 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Moving along with book 3

Well, getting back to writing is uphill but I managed more than 1300 new or recycled words yesterday. I love one of my characters, Marinello, a sea captain from Venice and a real wheeler dealer. I have a feeling my character Kelley has a crush on him - whenever I see him through Kelley's eyes he just seems larger than life, this time dallying with a nobleman's wife until she pierces one of his ears with a bodkin and puts one of her own earrings in it (causing some jealousy with her husband). Maybe we both have a bit of a crush... we certainly linger over his occasional nakedness. Those 1300 words required eight 'facts' from research though (thank the gods for the internet), no wonder it takes so long! It does make me realise how much detail could be tucked into book 2 to help with book 3. Jane Dee is coming to life as well, after being just a memory of Kelley's. Women are only casually referred to in his-tory, but Mrs Dee seems a remarkable lady. She married a man thirty years her senior and bore him seven children (one of them probably Kelley's despite being constantly loyal to Dee - long story. Read book 5.)  She was dragged all over Europe, with her husband spending every penny he earned on books and research, and ended up pretty well bankrupted and hanging on at the court of King James I. She was accounted 'a sweet and learned lady' - I think I would have become a complete nagging nightmare after being evicted (again) in debt from one country to another. I'm keen to show her as a resourceful and intelligent woman who was a great reader in her own right.