We would have died that night, if it hadn’t been for the dog.

I’ve come the end of the first phase of editing. Reduced the manuscript from 104,381 to 93,924 losing over 10k words.

Not bad – unfortunately I celebrated by putting some words back. I had removed a scene which I didn’t think mattered. I decided it did matter, so back it went, suitably edited. I then had to get rid of the rubbish I had written to plug the gap. I now have a spare 746 words floating around looking for a home – I wonder if anyone would notice if I deleted them?

I didn’t much like the final chapter. I tried rewriting using a different Point of View, but it was worse.

I’m still not happy with the first chapter, even after the edit, but the first line isn’t bad. That’s it at the top of this post. Do you like it? Does it drag you in? Do you want to read the rest of the book? Don’t worry, it will probably change!

I have put it aside for a while, am having a rest, discovering that another life is happening out there. After several beautiful summer days of refusing to stir from the computer because “I just want to finish this edit.” I was lured out with the promise of a garden visit. A nice drive in the sun down the Fosse Way to Hidcote Manor Gardens. There was no way I would be tempted to think about anything Anglo-Saxon. Would Byrhtnoth have strolled round, inspecting the herbaceous borders or admiring the subtle blends of colour?

Hidcote Gardens, The Red Border

Hidcote Gardens, Fuchsia Garden

Which got me thinking – if he was alive today, what would my protagonist be doing? Probably not a gardener. A soldier seems the obvious choice, but I don’t know. Our heroes nowadays tend to be actors, singers, sportsmen. Some writers have a certain actor in mind – the person to play the character in the film. Chris Hemsworth as Thor has the right look for Byrhtnoth, but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, he’s not tall enough.

Then one day, when I watching some Rugby, I saw him. Richie Gray plays for Scotland (but I won’t hold that against him). He’s the right height 6ft 9in, blond hair, and a Rugby scrum is probably the closest you can come to a shield wall.

One of the known facts about the real Byrhtnoth is that he married a relative of the king. Wasn’t there a Rugby player who married a member of the royal family? And no, my Byrhtnoth doesn’t look like Mike Tindall!

I think I will end the comparison there, because I don’t like to think what the modern equivalent of the Battle of Maldon might be!

Brexit?

(Isn’t it amazing the number of different subjects you can cram in when you’ve got a blog post to fill?)

I don’t like August

Most people have a a favourite month. I quite like May with it’s promise of summer, and October; a month of autumn colour and fruits, December brings Christmas, then there is the relief of January and new year. Other months I tolerate, except they pass too quickly nowadays. But I don’t like August. I should – after all, it is the time of heat, holidays and nothing much to do. I’m sure I must have enjoyed it when I was young, that long school holiday, all that time to read!

Somehow I have come to dislike it. People die (see last two posts – sorry about those!) then a few days ago I was reminded, by the excellent Captain Thomas Bowrey blog that it was on the 12th of August, in 1704, that the ship Worcester was seized in Scotland. I have an interest in John Madder, although he died in April, but this was the event that led to it. Come to think of it – I’m not too keen on April.

We don’t often take holidays in August – too expensive, too crowded and we have found, too wet. Every time we have tried to go away in that month, it has rained.

But this year I am enjoying August. If it rains, I am glad. I shut myself away and edit. Enjoy editing? I can hear the shocked gasps! Perhaps I should say that I enjoy this stage of editing. I have written my first draft and I know my writing is bad (Please don’t shout in agreement!). When the words flow, I am not concentrating on perfect prose, I just need to get it down. That is why I enjoy the editing. I now know what is wrong, and I can put it right.

I know my spelling is erratic. I know I have a tendency to use the passive voice and my verbs are progressive rather than simple (see that “am not concentrating” above? – it should be “do not concentrate”). As for my punctuation, we will ignore that for now – as I usually do!

Just for fun, here is something, picked at random and how I dealt with it.

We raced along the hard sand, close to the waves. The wind had picked up and the waves were larger. We laughed as we tried to dodge their attack upon the shore. Then the torrent of rain hit us. The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. We slowed slightly; there was no point in breaking a horse’s leg, or our own necks on some hidden obstacle. (64 words)

The first thing is that Spellcheck didn’t like “Bebbenburgh”. I’m not sure about it myself! About half the book takes place at Bamburgh. I am still undecided on which version to use – the modern or contemporary to the story. The text is scattered with alternate versions. This is something I will sort out later – decide which to use, and the spelling, and do a mass correction.

The next thing – is this scene actually needed? Does it progress the plot, or can I delete it? It follows a rather static scene; a conversation where characters exchange pieces of back story. A bit too much telling instead of showing. There has to be some “telling”,  but with this scene I can “show” what the characters feel about it.

How this scene is edited depends on the situation. For example, if they were being chased by rampaging Vikings, I would choose short sentences, get rid of surplus detail. It might end up something like:
We raced along the beach, dodging spears. The rain hit. Vision narrowed. We rode faster.
Down from 64 words to 15 and much more exciting, you feel your heart beat faster in response.

But there are no Vikings, they are riding for pleasure, they have enjoyed their conversation. They are excited, not terrified. Are there any words we can get rid of?

In the first sentence, would “across” be better than “along”? More suggestive of speed?

I mention the waves twice. Everyone knows that the hard sand is close to the waves, we can delete that phrase.

I have previously mentioned the wind, so no problem with it picking up, but that “had” is clumsy and the linking “and”. Merge the two events into one.

The torrent of rain is OK, but is that “us” really needed? Why not an example of how heavy the rain is, how it affects them?

The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. They are riding along the beach towards it, of course they can see it to start with (and not just the shape of it!). The rain comes, so heavy that it disappears , but it isn’t the only thing that disappears, the beach, sea, sky also disappear.  Just say “Everything”? (I’m not sure about this, I must think of a different word.)

How do you slow “slightly”? Another word gone.

Then that final sentence: again two clumsy phrases connected in this case by “or”. Can I amalgamate them, anyway isn’t breaking your neck more important than the horse’s leg?

Finally, what about that hidden obstacle? If it wasn’t hidden they would see and avoid it. It isn’t needed.

So, final version:

We raced across the hard sand. Wind drove the waves higher and we laughed as we dodged their attack upon the shore. A torrent of rain hit, drenching us to the skin, and everything disappeared. We slowed, no point breaking our necks or a horse’s leg. (46 words)

I think it reads better, the action is sharper, the emotion clearer, and I have avoided the Bebbenburgh question.

This fragment has reduced from 64 to 46 words. Then it’s on to the next sentence – that’s editing for you.

I started editing a manuscript of 104,542 words. With about 15k to go, I’m at 95,174. Not sure if I’ll get down to 90k, but I’m a lot closer!

And in case you wondered, “we” were not on the beach in August, it was the end of October! If you want to find out what they were doing there, and why they were laughing, I’ll be looking for Beta readers, as soon as I’ve finished this round of editing!!

Bamburgh beach in August 2005

 

and in August 2016!

Where are my characters going?

When we talk about a character’s “journey” we are usually talking about his (or her) emotional or spiritual journey, But what about the physical, boots on the ground, journey? There are the obstacles, the bumps in the road. There is the weather and where to seek shelter. Why is the journey necessary? But also, there is the decision on which way to go, especially with historical fiction.

Recently, by compete coincidence, I was following the same route that my protagonist was taking, in book two. Of course I was in a comfortable car and he was walking, but we were both following the same road to the north. I started a bit further south, but the section I am thinking of is from York northwards, nowadays the A68, in his day perhaps Dere Street. One of the great Roman roads that continued to be the main travel routes in Anglo-Saxon times and still serve today.

I have been thinking a lot about why roads are where they are. Rivers came first and it is difficult to move a river, so roads had to go where rivers permitted. Most rivers, close to the sea, are difficult to cross. The road must cross where the river was narrow enough to ford, or someone has built a bridge. Ships can sail up rivers – usually to roughly the same point as the road crosses. That is where a town is built. Nowadays roads can go anywhere, across rivers, under hills, even under the sea, but look at a map and you can see the same arrangement of roads laid down by the Romans, often following more ancient prehistoric track ways.

The Portgate on Hadrian’s Wall. What would it have looked like when Byrhtnoth passed this way?

I can look out of the car window and see the same hills and rivers, my character saw, over a thousand years ago. Although the architecture and vegetation may have changed, the bones of the country are the same. Stand on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and you can see Bamburgh Castle (or you can if it’s not raining, as when I was there recently!)

Have you ever looked at a map and noticed a cluster of those little crossed sword symbols that mark a battle site? Close to York we passed Fulford and Stamford Bridge (1066) and Towton (1461). I’m not sure about Towton, but the other two demonstrate the ford/bridge connection. Battle sites are usually close to one of those road/river pinch points.

Heading North – was that the right junction?

I hope you don’t think that these thoughts were distracting me from driving. I was the passenger, or perhaps I should say, performing the more important job of navigator. I find these long journeys are good for thinking, and thinking nowadays means thinking about my writing. When you are on a motorway and the next instruction is 20+ junctions away, you have nothing to do. Normally, when I have the unusual experience of “nothing to do”, I read – difficult in a car – although there are times when I have been desperate enough! We could listen to the radio, but that is difficult with the noise of a motorway. So I sit, looking out the window. Sometimes there are things to look at. Everything passes quickly but sometimes, something will catch your eye; a certain arrangement of clouds, a house in an unusual place, a group of people or just one person. You have no time to study it but you continue thinking about it, you weave a story around it, it might be the start of a new book, or just a brief scene in what you are writing now.

If the journey is boring, as motorways often are, I drift off into my book, enjoyable scenes or something that is causing problems. On our recent trip I started thinking about book three. With book one with the publisher and book two in the midst of editing, I allowed myself to catch the individual strands that had started to float around my brain; in which order should they be placed? How do I connect them together? The main characters are easy – I have a rough idea about their future, although that may change (I have already killed someone off and resurrected them!) It is the minor characters, the ones that pop in and out, how can I re-use them – recycle rather than invent new ones?

I started getting confused, it was difficult remembering what happened in which book. I was horrified to find myself thinking: I really could do with a notebook, to write things down.  Now anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am not a planner. Am I changing? I can’t imagine doing anything as drastic as actually dividing the book into chapters – before I’d written a word!

Perhaps a timeline, or a few brief biographies, even a family tree. And of course I’ll need a map, to track where people are and how long they take to get there.

But definitely not post-it notes!

Finally, with all this travelling about, I have lost track of where I had got to with recording my editing progress. So I will give a general overview. I have divided book two into four sections, well three sections and a bit on the end. With this edit I have got through the first two (roughly half way). 47,448 words have been reduced to 44,460, a loss of around three thousand words. There is a scene that I have decided to cut, perhaps another. I have hopes I will get under 100,00, perhaps closer to the planned 90k.

So – I’d better get back to it. I have been told I will be getting the book one proofs “sometime”.

A Collection of Cousins

Apologies for the delay in this week’s post, but I had to go to a funeral.

At least it gave me a subject to write about, not about the funeral as such, but some insights into families.

I also had plenty of time to think. It was a long journey, about 180 miles each way, including part of the M25. It took over four hours and we were one minute late, creeping in during the first verse of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. Others were later! Then it was back to the house to chat with relatives who we only manage to meet up with at funerals (and weddings – except no-one seems to bother getting married these days!)

My father was one of a family of five, three boys and two girls. Only one is still with us; the funeral was for another. It is now up to the next generation, the cousins, to keep the different branches of the family in touch, we send Christmas cards, and Facebook is bringing us closer.

This is a photograph, taken yesterday.

Ignoring the man, here are four women. Each is a daughter of one of those five brothers and sisters; the fifth sibling produced only boys – none was there for the funeral, probably coincidence, or do the women in a family make more of an effort?

We are a variety of sizes and shapes. Is there any resemblance between us? Possibly, but we each had another parent to dilute the family genes. We all married (some more than once), we all have children and some have grandchildren. We all get on, despite not meeting very often, or perhaps because of that. Are we any different from a random group of friends, or total strangers?

Someone (Harper Lee, I think) said “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family,” Bearing in mind the distance between us – we all live in the southern part of England, but as I found yesterday, too distant to pop in for a cup of tea – if we were friends we would have to make an effort to meet up. As it is we have to rely on the odd funeral to get together.

But they are still there, somewhere in the background, our family.

What is this to do with writing? A little while ago I wrote about mothers, how all characters must have had a mother. She must have had some influence, good or bad, that made them who they were. Cousins are different. They probably don’t have influence on you, but they are there, lurking in the background.

Several of my characters are orphans. My protagonist has no family; the book, the whole series, is about his feeling of loss, about his search for a family. Will he find them or will his friends become his family? Does he have cousins? It is something I will have to think about.

Cousins in novels are usually a device; the cousin in Australia who leaves a character a fortune that changes his life, the mysterious cousin murdering relatives because of some ancient feud.

In history, especially in a ruling family, cousins can be a problem (The Wars of the Roses has become known as “The Cousin’s War”.) or the means of continuing the dynasty, hopefully without bloodshed (James I after Elizabeth, those Germans after the Stuarts). In the Anglo-Saxon period, there was no rule that son followed father to the throne, the best person could be chosen from the “royal” family, barring Viking invasions. Did it cause problems between cousins?

But history is usually about male cousins. What about the women? They would be married off, sent to form a link with another country. Often we don’t even know her name. In more ordinary families, they would disappear, appear only as “wife of”. They would have children, boys would recognise their male cousins – they shared a name after all – but what about the girls? Did they become submerged in their “new” family or did they keep in touch? Did they meet at funerals, or communicate via whatever was the historical equivalent of the annual Christmas Card?

They are the invisible glue that keep families together.

 

And I did manage some editing last week, despite funerals, and Wimbledon. 11,884 edited, 890 lost. Think that is an improvement!

Editing, interrupted

I have started editing. I was quite enjoying it, until it was interrupted by a sudden realisation.

Book one was now in the hands of the publishers, I thought I could relax, at least for a time, before the pressure of trying to persuade people to actually buy it.

But they wanted more! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before. There is more to a book than just the story.

There are the little things, like a dedication. No problem.

Byrhtnoth at Maldon “She said I did WHAT? Death to that Author!”

There are bigger things.

If you are writing a historical novel, you need Historical Notes. All that information telling your reader that your main character was a real person, giving them the facts about that character and then explaining that, actually, you had ignored all that and written something completely different, with absolutely no proof whatsoever!

All the explanation that this event happened, but a certain character may not have been there. Various places were invented, and a lot of the characters. Some were real people and I must apologise if I had turned a perfectly innocent person into a villain.

Since I am deep into editing book two, I also had to remember who was in the book and who hadn’t appeared yet!

Then there was the really big thing – the Acknowledgements! Who to thank? Who to mention? Who to leave out? Who would be terribly offended if I left them out, give me terrible reviews and blight my literary career before it even started? So, if your name isn’t there, it was because you were too special to mention and you will receive, in due course, a large bunch of flowers/bottle of something alcoholic (delete as applicable).

Should I have included a map? Not enough time. That will have to wait until the special, limited edition, hardback that will be produced, when I’m famous, by my grateful publishers.

And where is the list of place names, with the explanation of why I used one version over another? You’ll just have to look things up on Wikipedia – like  I do.

I managed to write something and sent it off. Did I check that fact? Did I spell someone’s name wrong? Too late now.

After that excitement, it was back to the editing. It started well; in the first chapter I got rid of over 100 words – I knew that scene was rubbish – it will probably be re-written many times.

Total for the week? 14,188 words checked, 142 removed. Only 1% cut! – Must do better next week.

Perceptions of Time.

Hasn’t it been hot this week? Far too hot to do anything. Since my brain shuts down when the temperature hits 25°C and dissolves and dribbles out my ears at 30°C, I have been doing very little this week. The only thing to do is find somewhere shady and read. As if I needed the excuse!

So it was lucky that I had decided it was time to read through the first draft of Book Two. I have just finished it and put it down with a contented sigh. At least the ending is good – not sure about the rest! Actually, it’s not that bad. Obviously there’s a lot of editing to do and I now know what needs tightening up, what needs more (or less) description, characters deleting or bringing to the fore.

There is one interesting thing that I have discovered and that is how the perception of time changes. Everyone knows that how you remember the past depends on how you experience it. When I was young, summers were always warm and sunny, September, and school, arrived far too quickly and Christmas took forever to arrive. I hadn’t realised it happens when you are writing.

I “knew” that when I reached the middle of the book,  I didn’t have much of the plot left. I know, I said, someone is going on a journey. I’ll pad that out with plenty of events along the way, delays because of weather, perhaps a fight, vivid descriptions of the scenery. That journey was going to take weeks, if not months. If I found plenty of plot at the end of the journey, I could just cut it out.

I ended up with 104,381 words (target 90k) so it appears there was more plot than I expected. No worries, I would cut the journey – except I couldn’t. It didn’t last nearly as long as I had thought, and every event was now vital to the plot. It seems that, because I had imagined every step of the journey, tramping through wind and rain beside my character, it had just seemed to have taken a long time. The reader was dependant just on what I had written, which was not a lot. Was it bad writing? Would the reader have become as bored as I had been and stopped reading?

I shall just have to lose words through good old editing. I know I am too wordy. There is a lot to get rid of. All those “He started to walk”s to cut to “He walked”. I spotted plenty as I read.

Perhaps one of those journey scenes; the bit where… but then that later scene doesn’t work. Too much of that and I’ll have too few words.

There’s a lot of work ahead, so I’d better get on with it. I just hope the heat doesn’t return and I’m forced into the garden again.

Just lie back and relax.

Back to work – turning a corner.

So, after all the excitement of a holiday and then the slog of sorting out photographs and posting about said holiday, it is back to writing.

Having reached the end of the first draft of Book Two, I have been worrying about how to measure my progress. Now I am editing, I cannot return to announcing my weekly word count. Should I have a minus word count? –  count how many words I have deleted from the book. When would I know how to stop?

While I was pondering this, something happened, something I never thought would happen.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my experiences at the Self-Publishing Conference. I said then that I would report my decision on how to publish. At the refreshments afterwards, my editor said “Why don’t you send your manuscript to The Book Guild, you’ve got nothing to lose.” She has such confidence in my writing!

Next day I had a look at their website. They deal with both traditional and partnership publishing , depending on whether they like your work and how much commercial potential they think it has. They publish both fiction and non-fiction and they say “We accept manuscripts direct from authors or via agents in all genres.” All they wanted was a word document – Bright Sword was sitting there, ready to go. I sent it off.

I received an acknowledgement. The website said “we…will reply within two to three weeks of submission with feedback.” I waited, time passed. I mentioned it to other writers – that’s unusual, they said, publishers usually make you wait months for a response. I was glad I had a holiday planned, I would be a nervous wreak otherwise. I returned from holiday, got on with life, started investigating self-publishing again.

Then, six weeks after my submission, I received an e-mail. I took a deep breath and opened it. Read it, read it again. They liked my book!!!

Not enough to publish it outright. They offered me a partnership publishing arrangement. I would have to contribute part of the costs. I thought about it, considered the options. Did I, a complete beginner really want to go through all the effort and stress of self-publishing? What would you do?

I accepted. I signed the contract (discovering in the process how to “sign”a pdf.) and paid the money. I have filled in an Author Promotion Questionnaire and read the Marketing and Promotion Guide.

Now I sit and wait for things to happen. It is going to be interesting and I will report my progress on this blog.

Meanwhile, I suppose I’d better get back to editing Book Two – just in case Book One is a success.