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.

Getting towards the end – but where is it?

I’ve had a good week. At first I didn’t think I had, as I only managed to write on five days – the rest of the time was taken up with writing last weeks blog post. Every writer needs reviews, but I find them difficult, especially if I have problems with the book, even more when I seem to be in a minority with that view. Good books are easy to review.

But back to this post. Last week I wrote (pause for dramatic drum roll) 7,822 words, comfortably over the 7k  have set myself each week. In addition to that, the total for book 2 (1st draft) is just over 97k (out of 90k!) and I hope to finish this week. Or have I already finished? I think I have mentioned this before here – if you have read it, that ending did change, slightly.  Anyway, last week I wrote a scene, then sat back and thought “That would make a very good ending. Pity it’s not actually The End.”

Why isn’t it the end? Well there is that big dramatic (romantic?) scene I have been thinking about for months. I’m really looking forward to writing it – you nearly didn’t get a post this week because I’m so desperate to get on with it. But perhaps I am too keen on it; should I kill my darling? After all, I am writing a series, perhaps I could leave it until the beginning of book 3.

There is something else to think about. I recently read a post by Alison Morton on the Neetsmarketing blog about Marketing a Book Series Among a lot of helpful advice, one of the things she said was:

“Firstly, ensure your books can be read as standalones, i.e. that each story is properly resolved and does not end on a cliffhanger.”

If I abandon that final scene, I will be leaving a major character at death’s door, not knowing whether they are alive or dead. I couldn’t do that.

But. When I was talking to someone about that, they reminded me of “Star Wars” – the original films. At the end of “The Empire Strikes Back”, Han Solo is left frozen in carbonite. You have to wait for the next film, “Return of the Jedi” to find out if he survives. It was released three years later – a long time to wait.

Han Solo – waiting

Are films different? How much of a “cliffhanger” do you need to encourage readers to buy the next book, but not frustrate someone who has bought one book.

Any ideas?

Finally, did I tell you I wrote more than 7k words last week?

Back to work, but is it too late?

With a sigh of relief, I am writing again. When I returned to Byrhtnoth 2 (first draft) I realised that I had abandoned it for four weeks.

There was no problem, it was planned. There was editing to do, a blurb to be written (still a work in progress!), chocolate eggs to be eaten, and a lot of thinking to do. Too much thinking – I am beginning to get ideas for book three, but I must resist the muse’s call and get book two finished first. At least I had left my protagonist in a comfortable position – too comfortable, but I have thrown a bucket of cold water over him and got him going again.

I warmed up on Thursday, with the first writing class of this term. Well, not actually at the class – when given an exercise, my mind went blank. But later, when I got home. I wrote about 600 words on the subject of foreshadowing. I cheated – I started book 3! I’m not sure what I was foreshadowing, because I don’t yet know what is going to happen, but it’s not looking good for a major character. I wonder who it will be?

The best type of foreshadowing is quite unintentional. Sometimes I write something, some minor detail, something to fill the gap between one scene and the next. Later, it might be a few pages further on, or half the book, something happens and you say “Oh, that’s why I wrote that bit earlier.” Is it my brain being particularly clever or is someone else in control? Perhaps I’ll write more on that another time.

Having got my hand in, I managed 1175 words on Friday and 1318 on Saturday. I am back on schedule. I have Sunday under my belt and so long as on-one drags me out to “Do something because it’s a bank holiday today” I will write more this afternoon.

It’s May Day – let’s go dancing!

The enforced break has made me think about why I write. I have heard all about these writers who started scribbling in the pram; they always keep a note-book handy to write down ideas and have a cupboard full of half completed manuscripts. That’s not me. I started four years ago and I could stop tomorrow – couldn’t I?

I found myself saying something strange, last week at the self-publishing conference (report here). “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t started writing.” Sacrilege at an event like that, but what did I mean? I have got into the habit of writing regularly. When I stopped I felt ill for a couple of days; sick, shivery, unable to settle, almost as if I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. It was probably a coincidence, a passing cold.

I remember, back in the days when I helped run a Family History class, one of the first things we taught our students was: Be very careful, researching your ancestors can be addictive. I know, I have experienced that addiction for many years, I never thought I could  escape it. But now? Yes, I still get that thrill, when I am on the trail of some long-lost ancestor, but sometimes, just occasionally, when trawling through some list of names or ancient document, I pause, this is boring, what is Byrhtnoth, or some other character doing?

Have I exchanged one addiction for another?

Am I beyond help? I recently woke in the middle of the night and scrabbled round for a piece of paper, to write down a few words. Soon I’ll be doing it in broad daylight!

Help me! My name is Christine and I am a writer-holic.

 

 

 

Belated Memories of a Pirate – and other deaths.

Every year I remember the Eleventh of April. This year I forgot – well I remembered late in the day – too late to blog about it.

It is the anniversary of the death of John Madder, in 1705. He was a real person, but not a real pirate, that was the excuse they gave to kill him.

I remember him because of his name, which I used to share.
I remember him because of his tragic death, with its connections to the Union, or not, between England and Scotland.
And now I remember him as the person who started me writing. Read about that in a previous post. I could so easily have written my novel about him – perhaps, sometime, I will.

The reason I forgot to remember was because I was too busy remembering.

In another life, I am responsible for running a website remembering men who died in the First World War. We publish a biography of each man from our local war memorial on the centenary of his death (there are over four hundred). I don’t do it all myself, we have volunteers, although not as many as I’d like. But I am the coordinator. I read them through, checking for mistakes then publish them on the blog. Last weekend was the centenary of the Battle of Arras – the anniversary was in the news, mainly about the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. But from our town, in the centre of England, six men died on Sunday 9th April 1917, two more on Monday and another two yesterday. Those last two were in the same regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. I have been reading the war diaries – they are not named, just included in the anonymous list of casualties.

Total casualties for the period 9th to 21st Incl.
Killed: 2 Officers,  43 Other Ranks (includes 10 died of wounds since)
Wounded and missing: 1 Officer, 0 Other Ranks
Wounded:  5 Officers,  173 Other Ranks
Missing: 0 Officers, 33 Other Ranks
Missing believed wounded: 0 Officers, 1 Other Ranks.

Most casualties were from enemy shelling as they assembled before the attack.

So many men, so many stories. Perhaps I should be writing about that period, I have learned so much about it. Many writers, better than me, have done just that.

I started thinking about Byrhtnoth. What would he think about the four year battle that was the First World War? The idea would excite him – he loves to fight. But the reality would shock him. For him, war is man to man, fighting in the shield wall. Not sheltering in a trench from overhead bombardment. We tend to think that the Dark Ages (or Early Middle Ages, as they are now called.) was a violent time. If you read some authors it was all battles! But the battles were short, afterwards the survivors went home, harvested their crops, had feasts and told stories round the hearth.

Our job, as writers, particularly of Historical Fiction, is an act of remembrance. We remember the men and woman, famous or invisible. We bring them alive, tell their stories, so they will be remembered.

So I will not say that this week I have done no writing. I have been writing biographies, in my own act of remembrance.

If you do not know the man (or woman), how can you remember him?

The Book now Standing…

I’m not saying that the book is at a standstill – it is waiting, billowing steam everywhere, eager to go, but, at the moment, waiting.

This is not a problem, it is a planned stop. As mentioned last week I was expecting Book 1 back from my editor. It was delayed for a few days so I managed 4,860 words (of book 2) this week. This included a scene I had been dreading writing from the start. I managed to write it, although I’m not sure I’ll ever let anyone read it. At least I got the words out! I have now reached a total 82,711, the end is in sight, downhill all the way. I just hope I don’t hit the buffers. But enough of these train metaphors – I can’t use them in my books, so it’s good to get them off my chest!

A train, going nowhere – yet.

I am now editing, not writing. It’s going OK so far. Most of the red ink is to do with my mistakes over the punctuation of dialogue – I promise I’ll get it right from now on. Then there is my unfortunate compulsion for the passive tense, all nicely sorted. It has been a bit of a shock to hear my characters speaking with someone else’s voice when extra text is needed, but that is something I must accept – most of the time.

There was one comment. It concerns a character that is introduced early in the book, and never again. Could there be more about her later?  I spent a lot of time thinking about this and came up with something – she enters and disappears again. Should she appear again? It this point I received another editorial communication. Could she be connected to another character?

My first thought was No. Then I got one of those flashes of inspiration. Perhaps she isn’t a separate character, perhaps she is a character that is already there! It kept me up half the night. It couldn’t be her, because of the age difference. If I change that, then something later isn’t right. Alter this and that becomes impossible. I don’t know if I can sort it out. If I do, it will mean some re-writing, but the book will be better.

It is a good job that I was not planning to rush into print (or the digital equivalent.) For a few moments I was tempted. I discovered that Conn Iggulden (one of the big beasts in Historical Fiction) publishes a new book next month – 4th May – not that you’re interested. The title is Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England. It is about Dunstan (later St Dunstan). Dunstan is a character in my book (minor but important). It starts in the year 937 – so does mine.

After screaming, rolling on the floor and tearing out my hair, my first thought was “Should I give up now?” Everyone will assume that I was copying him. What if I published first? Apart from the fact that no-one would notice, I’m not sure if I could manage that in a month. Anyway, why rush? I’m not ready yet.

My second thought was: If his book is a success, then it shows that there is a market of this period. Just as there is room for Bernard Cornwall and… everyone else who writes about King Alfred, or other personalities of the Anglo-Saxon period. I can live with it.

Just please, please, no-one write a book about Byrhtnoth – at least not until I’m famous and they can be accused of copying me!

 

Every Character has a Mother.

I was at a loss at what to write about this week, when I realised it was Mother’s Day (in the UK – somewhere else it is held on a different day.)

I have done my duty, delivering a bunch of daffodils, fresh from the garden, and a card to my own mother. I have received, in my turn, the dutiful visits and phone calls from my own offspring – someone must have reminded them! Honour has been satisfied.

The occasion got me thinking about my characters. They must all have had mothers. What were they like and did they have any influence on their children? Are any of them mothers themselves?

To answer the second question first, no major characters are mothers, although I am sure this will change in later books. There are a couple of motherly woman.There is one who helps one son murder the other, Anglo-Saxon history is full of that sort of thing.

On the other hand, my characters have mothers. In fact I could almost say that my protagonist’s mother is the inciting incident. She doesn’t appear at all, but by dying, when Byrhtnoth is only seven, she sets the plot into action. When I started the first book I thought it was about the search for a sword. Then I realised that the sword belonged to his missing father, it must be a search for that father. So why did the memory of his mother keep intruding into the action? It all became clear when… but I mustn’t give that away. You will have to read the book.

Other character’s mothers disappeared long ago. One in particular, I still have to learn about (sorry – I’m an author – aren’t I supposed to make it up?). There is another who I sometimes wonder about what she did to her son to make him the way he is.

This has set off several chains of thought. It certainly adds more back story to my writing, which can only help in making memorable characters. Everyone had a mother. They must have had an influence on their child, even if only by their absence.

Good news on the writing front. I managed 8,003 words last week. This takes the total for the first draft of Book 2 past 77k. The end is in sight.

But progress may pause for a while. The edit on Book 1 is due back. Wish me luck.

A view of the garden on a sunny Mothering Sunday.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, everywhere.