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!

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.

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!


I’m back!

The dust lies thick on every surface, the drooping house plants beg for water and the pile of unread newspapers has become a menace to aviation. The tumbleweed has rolled unchecked across the wastes of this blog.

Yes, I have been re-writing and I have finished – well nearly finished.

It was back in October, the 18th to be precise, that I debated whether to re-write the book, or not. The one thing I knew wouldn’t work was to make Byrhtnoth the narrator.

Guess what – he is!

I realised that I am the writer, I refused to be bullied. I would decide who is going to do what in my book. So I sat him down – he is considerably taller than me, twisted his arm – and told him to have a go.

It didn’t start well, that troublesome first chapter is still being re-written, but he soon got into the swing of it.

The first thing I discovered is that he is much stricter than me. Whole scenes were cut because they were holding up the story, conversations were truncated and my darlings were massacred all over the place.

Since he is telling the story, there is a bit more telling and less showing. Instead of someone, usually Wulfstan, watching how his friend reacts to something, Byrhtnoth tells us himself – and he isn’t always aware of how he appears to others. The book has lost something, but, I hope, gained in other ways.

I didn’t start writing from scratch. I took a few sentences at a time and changed “He” to “I”, “His” to “My” etc. I think it was this concentration on every word that helped me spot errors. It also made conversations easier to write. “I said this”, “He said that” meant less use of names to differentiate which “him” was talking.

Obviously I did not take part in NaNoWriMo; I had already started the re-write before November began, but used the end of the month as a target. I thought I wouldn’t make it, but at 5 pm last Wednesday, 30th November, I came to the end.

It had been hard. There was one Saturday, I don’t remember which, when I emerged and literally didn’t know what day it was!

There is still more to do. I must go through checking that I haven’t missed any of those “He”s and “Him”s. Then its off to the beta readers (more wanted, if anyone’s interested), and a professional edit. I have even set a date for publication – sometime next year, or the year after – you don’t think I’m going to tell anyone until it’s fixed?

Meanwhile, I have watered the plants, read the paper – the dust can wait. I might even post a few book reviews.

And did someone say Christmas is getting close?


Sorry for the long gap between posts, but I have been editing. Perhaps that word should be in large black letters, such has been its impact on my life.

So, I have been EDITING.

Before I started writing I didn’t realise what it would be like. You write a book, right? Then you try to publish it. OK you need to check over what you have written, that’s easy.

It’s not! I discovered that there is only a certain length of time I could continue before I would lose concentration. But then I was fit for nothing for the rest of the day – I have never felt so exhausted. I couldn’t read anything and I definitely couldn’t write anything.

Word-Loss DietThere is a lot of information on the internet about editing, but I started with a book that someone had recommended. The Word-Loss Diet: Professional Self-Editing Techniques for Authors by Rayne Hall. This takes you through certain words to look for in your manuscript that can be cut. It starts, as is logical, with “start to” and “begin to”. Instead of “She started to run” use “she ran”. The author gives detailed instructions on how to highlight the bad words and then get rid of them. You then continue with words such as “look”, “sigh”, “smile”. I was terrified at how often I used some of these words. I am sure it is something that professional writers do without thinking, but to a beginner like me it was an eye-opener. I think it has improved my writing, because I now try to avoid these errors.
(I can also recommend Writing Fight Scenes, by the same author.)

This process was quite fun, compared with the grind of going through my manuscript line by line. I started in the middle, as I had already “finished” the first half. When I got to the end, I decided to re-edit the first part. I found as many corrections as in the second part. Had I not edited the first part properly? Perhaps my editing had improved with practise. Do I have to go through it all again? And again? I know that however many times I check my work, there will be things I miss.

All this has confirmed the statement that I made in my last post – I need an editor. So I found one!

At the Self-publishing Conference, I attended two sessions with Cressida Downing. She handed out vouchers for 10% off her professional services. I had a look at her website and contacted her. After a discussion, we decided that I would send her my first three chapters and my synopsis for analysis and suggestions for improvement.

I had a sudden crisis – what exactly were my first three chapters? There was a flurry of editing and rewriting and then I sent them off. It felt like taking a child to their first day at school and leaving them, all alone. (Actually it was worse, my children were happy to go to school and I was glad to get rid of them, temporarily of course.)

Now I wait. What do I do next? Well I have turned my manuscript into an e-book and put it on my tablet. I will leave it there for a while before I pluck up the courage to read it. I have written and edited it. I have spent the last three years thinking about it and my characters, but I have never actually read it as a whole book.

After that there will no doubt be a lot more editing.  Hacking out great chunks, rearranging and perhaps some killing of darlings.

Meanwhile I have had a holiday (well, a short break), read some books and done a lot of thinking about my next book. I have had a few ideas, even some for the book after that. I have no plan, but I think I must start writing again.

Perhaps tomorrow?

The End is Nigh

In know this seems like a silly question, but how do you know when you’ve come to the end of your book?

I know there are writers out there who plan everything down to the last detail; an elegant narrative arc, what happens in each chapter and, probably, the final sentence. I understand it involves index cards and post-it notes – lots of post-it notes, in carefully chosen colours. They probably have notebooks as well which they carry everywhere and leave beside the bed at night, to catch every waking thought.

I’ve tried it – I have a lovely collection of blank notebooks and my post-it notes record only illegible phone messages.

I started my book by accident. It emerged from a writing exercise and continued at random. If my protagonist goes on a journey, do I have him leave, then arrive at his destination in the next paragraph? Let’s have him meet someone on the journey, just to add a bit of excitement. I end up with a visit to Anglo-Saxon London, an orgy and a character who may appear in a future book.

I thought I had an ending, but was encouraged to carry on.

Recently I knew I was getting towards the end. I had a big scene, violent and emotional, that I had been mulling over for some time. Could I transfer it onto the page? I managed to get something down. Only another scene and then something to tie up the loose ends. I wasn’t quite sure about the final words, but I was sure something would emerge as I wrote.

Last week was end of term at the writing class. We had to bring something to read out. I took my “big scene”. I didn’t read  out the whole scene, time was short, but quoted in passing the last few lines. Someone asked if that was the end. I said it was the end of that chapter, but there was more before the end of the book.

Afterwards this conversation nagged at me. Suddenly I realised that they were right – that was the end of the book!

The extra scenes, that I was about to write, would be the perfect start for the next book.

So there I was, the book was finished and I hadn’t even realised. I sit here now, preparing to start editing. I’m sure a lot will change. I will discover my sparkling prose is not as wonderful as I thought and my “darlings” will be bloodily massacred. Does that orgy scene progress the plot or is it only self-indulgence? As they say – Watch this Space!

And those final words? (With names removed to protect the innocent plot)

“You should have killed him.”

“I know. But he used to be our friend.”