Places and Ideas

I’ve been away a lot this winter. Unable to face the combination of long dark evenings and long dark mornings I’ve only been ‘at home’ four weeks in the past three months (a luxury allowed by not having a cat (not good) and the day job seriously winding down (good)).
We escaped much of the cold, damp and dark but I can never escape the books that are in my head.
I am still re-vamping The Iniquities Trilogy so, as we drove through Spain, I could not avoid thinking ‘this is where Wellington’s armies marched and fought and Carl followed in his summer of 1967 in The Last Dance’ and ‘this is where Pat lives and Fergal and Skye came to visit in 2016 in Second Strand’.
Most of my books are firmly placed in areas I know; The Wirral (The Iniquities Trilogy, Highly Unsuitable Girl), various parts of Kent (Highly Unsuitable Girl, Walking Alone, Runaways), the Isle of Wight (A Set of Lies, Her Parents’ Daughter, Second Strand), Dartmouth (Second Strand and now Empty Boxes), Barbados (Highly Unsuitable Girl) and various parts of Spain (The Last Dance, A Set of Lies, Second Strand) – I’m sure I’ve missed a few. I need to be able to see my characters and I find it easier if they are in real places I know.
My next book (currently under the working title Empty Boxes) is in the planning stage so as we travelled I have been on the lookout for locations, almost as if already making the film, so as we sat in the (hot) sun gazing out over a smart marina I was thinking ‘is this big enough for Ryan to berth Peabody III late in 2017?’ and, as we sat in a beach bar watching the sun going down I was wondering whether the cove in the distance could be where Arjun will abandon Diane.
Places give me ideas (inspiration?) and through the past four weeks in Spain ideas have crystallised. I now know (more or less) who does what to whom, when and where. I know (something of) the characters of my characters. I know which historical events will form the crux of the story. I know how the thread of the story begins and ends.
All I have to do now is write the book.

Publication Date

img_1197Second Strand is published, officially, on 28 January 2017.
This date was set June 2016 when it was not clear how long it would be before the text was finalised, the cover designed and the books printed.
Troubador (and I) have been very efficient and my copies were delivered a week ago, fully four months before publication date.
I do understand that there are processes that cannot be started until the book physically exists: notably marketing and the sales repping cycle – almost for the first time since the idea for the book first formed things are out of my hands. No amount of nagging by me can make anything go faster.
The Press Releases go out this week, hopefully (complimentary?) reviews will be written and interviews arranged in the fullness of time.
Sales reps will be working on my behalf to get Second Strand in front of High Street bookshop buyers (though cynically I suspect those buyers are more interested in cookery books, celebrity ‘auto’biographies and television tie-ins).
And the supply chain (about which I know next to nothing) takes a while to be put in place.
So things beyond my control are going on in the traditional world of book-selling.
BUT.
And it’s a BIG BUT.
The world has moved on.
While High Street bookshops play by old rules, set and cast in concrete before the advent of the internet, the world wide web has gone its own sweet way. Second Strand is already available on the publisher’s website www.troubador.co.uk, on my website www.carolynmccrae.com and on various on-line outlets (you can hardly call Amazon a ‘bookshop’ any more).
So there are things for me to do….
I must be a salesperson. I must do what I can to let everyone and anyone who may be interested that Second Strand is available NOW.
There is no need for you to wait until the end of January… Christmas presents have to be bought…

How long did it take you to write?

When I tell people I have a new book coming out people ask me ‘how long did it take to write?’, it’s not an easy question to answer.
Second Strand How longwas born (under the working title A Different Coast) in August 2014 – just after the publication of Her Parents’ Daughter. I made notes on the plot, the timeline and the cast but I was concentrating on working on A Set of Lies (which was to be published in June 2015 to coincide with the bi-centenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s surrender to the British) so nothing was done (other than thoughts in my head) for months.
I returned to Second Strand in October 2015 and the first draft was completed on December 4. It stood at 66,439 words. Looking back, I am amazed I kept at it as the day job (PS Direct) was very busy at that time and also we were looking to move away from the Isle of Wight to Devon but the story was in my head and had to be written down.
I began the first read-through the next day. This was completed on January 2 by which time it had grown to 85,906 words. Then we moved house and I didn’t look at Second Strand for six weeks, taking it up again on February 15 for the second run-through (draft three). This was completed on March 22 by which time it had grown again to 108,460 words. It was then printed out and handed over to husband Colin to read through for his thoughts. Other things were going on in our lives and it took him a month.
My third run-through (draft 4, incorporating Colin’s comments) began on April 22 and was completed on May 2 (113,242 words); the fourth run-through (draft 5) began the next day and was completed on May 23 (104,581 words). My Final run-through (draft 6) began immediately and was completed June 2 (100,681). It then went off to the editor and was returned on June 25. Resultant changes (after read-through 6) left word count at 99,722.
The ‘final manuscript’ then went back to Troubador for type-setting, returning on July 22. Read-through 7, checking every line, every word, took a week. Anomalies were identified and fixed, words were tweaked here and there, the odd error was corrected and now I await the final proof.
There will be one final read-through (number 8) and then Second Strand will be cast in concrete as it heads to the printers.
So. How long did it take to write?
From inception? Two years.
From serious writing began? Eleven months.
In terms of hours? Very difficult to say as there were days, sometimes weeks, with not a word being read or written, then other days when nine hours or more could be devoted to it.
And after all that, it will probably take the reader just a couple of days to read.
Still… I hope they will find the hours they spend reading Second Strand as interesting, thought provoking, involving and enjoyable as I found the many more hours spent writing it.
The next question people ask is ‘what’s it about?’ – a far more difficult question to answer.

Weather Forecasting

Writing fiction set in the present is always difficult if the weather is important to aspects of the plot.
If characters do something weather related, on a specific day, it will be easy for any reader to say “That was wrong! It wasn’t hot and sunny that day it was cold and miserable.” Or a day is specified that has a particularly spectacular weather event – say, a storm – but no character mentions it.
It’s far easier to write about weather inWeatherfluenced events in the past. In The Last Dance the early months of 1947 can be described as ‘horribly cold’ with confidence – because they were. In Walking Alone much of the action takes place in the context of the long hot summer we knew we had, and the climax occurs when that drought was broken. In Runaways the ‘Great Storm (NOT a ‘hurricane’) that so affected the Sevenoaks area on the night 15 – 16 October 1987 is critical to the plot.
When I started writing (the soon to be published) A Second Strand, getting on for two years ago, I set the story in the future so I had to make my own weather forecast.
Well, that future is now the present.
I wrote that Alex, the only suspect in the murder enquiry who has disappeared seemingly without trace, spent the period from 7th to 15th July 2016 making his way from the Isle of Wight to Dartmouth in Devon. I had to have the weather reasonable for him as he was sleeping rough for much of the time and arrived ‘tanned’ but unfortunately the actual weather was not quite as I had ordered.
This coming Sunday, the 24th, he is driven by Rachel, the woman who befriended him in Dartmouth, to Wingham in Kent and I have it raining – which of course it will be doing!
I had to have bad driving weather so it ties Rachel and Alex’s timeline (as they drive across Southern England) in with Skye and Fergal’s who, as they begin to track him down, are driving from the Isle of Wight to Devon at the same time. Both encounter heavy rain.
Two years ago I said it would rain on Sunday 24th July 2016 and it will.
Met Office – beat that!

Blurb

Blurb GMA Second Strand is in the editing process and there is nothing I can (or should) be doing to that manuscript at this stage. I have written, and sent off to the publisher, my Author’s questionnaire along with photographs for the cover and for the Press Release, the E-Book press release and Advanced Information sheet which I am reliably informed are all in process of being worked on. So what can I be doing?
I am loathe to start on the next book (though ideas are knocking around in my head) as I don’t want to have got into it when my time and attention should be on the production and marketing and promotion of A Second Strand. I have made that mistake in the past when I spent too much time thinking about A Set of Lies when I should have concentrated what time I had in 2012 on Highly Unsuitable Girl so I must do something related to A Second Strand.
Ah! The Blurb……
‘Blurb’ in this context is the wording that adorns the back cover of the physical book to draw a potential buyer into parting with their money. It is also the brief description written by photographs of the cover on websites and on-line bookshops.
As I spend a couple of hours every other week helping out in the Dartmouth Community Bookshop (Higher Street, Dartmouth, Devon and well worth support) I look at the covers and the blurbs of their wonderful selection of books wondering what entices readers to open, peruse and buy books. Obviously I want people to read and enjoy my efforts but fundamentally it is the initial purchase that really matters!
Blurb is important and so I have been exploring the internet for advice, some more useful than others.
One piece of advice is to answer these questions: Who is the hero? What does he/she want? Who is stopping him/her getting it and what’s at stake if he/she fails?
That’s all well and good but I’m not sure it would all fit on the jacket of a paperback.
I don’t really have one hero. There is Alex, but there are also Skye and Fergal. I wouldn’t call Gordon a hero and certainly neither Anne nor Teri qualify.
What does ‘the hero’ want? Alex wants to find out who he is and prove his innocence of a possible murder charge. Skye and Fergal want to find Alex – or do they? Teri wants to find Alex – or does she? Anne wants to find Alex to save her career while no one is quite sure what Gordon wants.
Who is stopping them all achieving their goals? Well they all seem to be stopping themselves from achieving what they want by allowing themselves to be diverted.
What’s at stake if they fail? The wrong person being accused of a murder? A failed business venture? A broken relationship? The truth not being discovered and understood?
I think the best advice was that Blurb should be short and to the point so I’m not sure I can get that all in.
Other snippets of guidance include:
Blurb shouldn’t lie it should blow the author’s trumpet if there is one to blow – and I am a prize winning author! (David St John Thomas Prize for Fiction 2007). Blurb should not be too long, it should not give the end away, it should not summarise the entire plot, it should mention no more than two characters and should ask no more than two questions. Finally, it should contain no typos, no lies.
So I am currently spending time writing, re-writing, honing, checking on advice on how to write blurb, re-re-writing, re-honing the words which I hope, along with the cover photo (which I really like) will persuade hundreds, if not thousands of readers to buy A Second Strand.

A Job in Retail

Dartmouth Community BookshopToday I have done something I have never done before.
In my time I have had various jobs and a long career in self-employment.
I have folded sheets in a laundry (three summers), been a ‘lady wot does’ (a few weeks), packed boxes of biscuits in a chocolate factory (two summers), worked as an accounts clerk in a paper mill (one summer), taught in both the public and the private sector (three and two years respectively), operated a Wang machine for a firm of Chartered Surveyors (eighteen months), worked in customer support for a word-processing manufacturer (two years), run the word-processing department of an insurance broker in the City of London (eighteen months), run a word-processing bureau (three years) and, for the past thirty-three years, run my own office based business but today, for the first time in my umpteen years, I have been involved in selling something directly to members of the public.
I really can’t count the one hour I was paid to stand behind the bar in a pub on Christmas Eve because it snowed and, since there was not one customer, we ‘bar-staff’ were all sent home early. Nor can I count the few occasions on which I helped out in a picture gallery as I can’t honestly remember ever selling anything.
Today, after writing books for more than ten years (can that be called a job?) and spending quite a few hours in various bookshops around the country doing signings, selling books it is true, but never actually taking the money, I have spent two hours working in a bookshop.
Today, for the first time, I talked to customers (and browsers), scanned bar codes, inserted cards into the hand held card reading device thingy and operated a till.
Thank you, Dartmouth Community Bookshop, for giving me the opportunity to learn something new, thank you Andrea and Hilary for showing me something of the ropes and, most of all, thank you customers for being patient and understanding!
I really am looking forward to the next time.

 

The birth of Empty Boxes

Ten BobCurrently I feel a tad over-whelmed with projects and the last thing I wanted was to start another before the ones under way are a little further down the line.
After my recent completion of the fourth draft A Second Strand is currently being read through by my most honest critic (husband Colin) so I can do nothing with that until he’s finished. But I must begin to think about the cover illustration, the blurb, the press release, the marketing plan and timescale. Writing the book in the first place is, in some ways, the easiest part. Certainly it is the most enjoyable. I write because I like writing, and I have stories to tell, not because I want to be a salesperson.
Then there is the Tenth Anniversary edition of The IniFiverquities Trilogy. This was completed last Autumn but has not been looked at while I have been concentrating on moving house, the “day job” and A Second Strand. I really want to get that out into the world with the best chance possible of reaching a wide audience but because it is so long (currently over 350,000 words) it will probably have to be an e-book only – no one would be able to hold the physical book. Decisions have to be made (is it a project worth pursuing? If it is what will the cover be? The blurb? The marketing plan, etc. etc….) It, too, is unfinished business.
And then, sitting having a quiet Easter Sunday drink in the Dartmouth Arms (Dartmouth, Devon not the one in West London) I was talking about my mother’s charm bracelet (no, me neither) and I mentioned the fact that she had raided the charm that had contained a tightly folded five pound note and the one containing an equally tightly folded ten shilling note and I had no idea why. The seeds of the next book were planted and now, when I have nothing else to think about, the plot is beginning to form.
So after A Second Strand and Iniquities will come Empty Boxes.
And maybe by this coming Autumn I will be back to the part of being a writer that is fun – the putting together of a plot, the creation of the characters …. the writing.