How many drafts?

I began writing The Last Dance over 15 years ago, it was published in 2006. It was followed by Walking Alone in 2007 and Runaways in 2009. Together they made The Iniquities Trilogy.
When I began The Last Dance I knew only in the broadest terms how it was all going to end and I also tried to make each book stand alone as an independent story, so I left too few clues, too few teasers towards the final denouement, in those first two volumes.
In retrospect, I believe that was a mistake so, since mid-May 2015, I have been working them into one.
When I first put the three manuscripts together into a single volume there were 372,165 words in 914 pages. That first complete read through and few odd changes took to the end of July. Instead of reducing in size (which had been my intention) the document had grown to 376,508 words over 917 pages.
The second run through was more of an edit. I began to cut out words, sometimes quite ruthlessly. I cut out incidents and descriptions that really didn’t add to the story – but I began to add in the teasers. When that draft finished a year later (well – I had written another book, Second Strand, and moved house, and worked on the day-job in the meantime) the manuscript was reduced to 342,798 words over 840 pages.
I began the third re-draft in July 2016 and, with no other book, no house move and being almost retired, I completed it in two months. Now at 324,949 words over 792 pages it was still long, but a more reasonable length. It was also a better, tighter and more flowing read.
The fourth run through began in mid-September and there were still sections I wanted to improve and events I wanted to change. By the end of November this draft was completed. (306,352 words over 744 pages).
I am now 30% through the fifth run through with a further 7,088 words and 28 pages having been lost. And I am still changing things. So there will have to be a sixth… and then a seventh… and then…
I suspect this is my Sisyphean task. I will still be working through it, changing it, hopefully improving it for years to come.
Maybe, one day, someone else will read it.

Anomalies and Black Sacks

black-plastic-bin-linerMy resolve to give up writing (see last blog) lasted all of three weeks; well not even that really as I have continued with reworking the first three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into one.
While doing this I have found a number of anomalies and inconsistencies which I have been correcting – some of my readers have been very kind in letting me know of errors such as Charles sending Ted that postcard from Spain when it should, of course, have been Carl.
One anomaly no one has pointed out to me is that I have Holly using black bin bags to clear up after a party held in Oxford at the end of June 1976.
As I re-read that passage I wondered whether black bin liners would have been around then. I tried to remember what I did with the rubbish forty years ago and, unsurprisingly, could remember nothing – so I resorted to the internet.
It appears that plastic bin bags were invented in the 1950s (green, in Canada, for commercial use only) but they weren’t black and widely used in UK homes until well into the 1980s though when I wrote Walking Alone (in 2008) it seemed like they’d been around forever. The people behind the TV programme Mad Men had the same misconception as one is reported to have been used in an episode set in 1963!
I’m now well into the consolidation of The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways into one book and no doubt will find more anomalies to correct; that (being really picky about things), and doing the research to check it all out, is so much part of the fun of writing.
It’s great having another chance at those first three books of mine – no wonder so many artists painted the same subject many times and so many recording artists re-record their music.

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!

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. 

 

Being (or not being) a Local Author

Local AuthorIs there any advantage to being known as a ‘local author’?
On the one hand the description implies that this is not a well-known author of national or international renown. There is something quaintly parochial, patronizing and possibly even pathetic about having to try to appeal to potential purchasers because you all happen to live in the same vicinity.
On the other hand, for whatever reason, it is certainly easier to get bookshops, newsagents, corner shops and pubs (thank you Holdings, The Wheatsheaf and The King’s Head in Yarmouth) to stock books and to give you the opportunity to do signings (thank you Waterstones and The County Press Shop in Newport) if you have some kind of local connection.
But what is the attraction of reading books by an author who is ‘local’? Is it to support someone you may pass in the street, or sit next to in a pub, or queue up with in the Post Office? Or is it perhaps because if the author is ‘local’ then the subject matter may well be locally relevant too? Or is it that the places referred to(and, heaven forefend, people) will recognizable?
When I was writing my first book, The Last Dance, I lived near Sandwich in East Kent. That area didn’t feature at all in the book, instead it was based in The Wirral, Cheshire, where I was born and lived for the first twenty or so years of my life. I lived in Shropshire when I was writing the second which, although also based in the Wirral ventured as far afield as Cambridgeshire. I was still living in Shropshire when the third book Runaways was published. Also based on The Wirral large sections were located in Kent and Mumbai. My fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, was also written whilst I lived in (a different part of) Shropshire and failed to feature anything to do with that county.
It was only when I became ‘local’ to The Isle of Wight that my books became primarily based in the area in which I lived. Her Parents’ Daughter, written in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, is the story of a murder in Yarmouth (as is A Second Strand – also written in Yarmouth).
The difficult book was A Set of Lies. The early drafts of this were written when I lived near Ludlow, Shropshire and the main characters lived, and the main settings were located, there. I then moved to the Isle of Wight and it was suggested by various people that the book should be based on the island. So the fourth, fifth and sixth drafts effected that change.
Since I started writing books that have been published I have moved house five times, lived in five different counties and so even when I have been ‘local’ it has only ever been for a short time.
I have now been ‘local’ on The Isle of Wight for three and a half years. This is a record. Perhaps it’s getting near time to think about moving on again.

A Different Coast

IoW4I’ve finally settled on the title for the follow up to Her Parents’ Daughter.
As well as writing this I am currently re-vamping the three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into a single volume to be published in 2016. In the second section, Walking Alone, Charles Donaldson, an ornithologist, is writing a series of articles whilst temporarily living in Polperro, Cornwall. He named the series of articles he wrote whilst away from his home in Hoylake, on the Wirral peninsula, A Different Coast.
Much of the action in Her Parents’ Daughter takes place in Yarmouth, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. Much of the action in the sequel (to be published late 2016) will take place, not only in Yarmouth, but also elsewhere …… but still by the sea.
A quick check on a regularly used internet search engine revealed no book with that title.
So thank you Charles, whatever anyone says about you I think you’re quite a nice chap.

 

31st August

san sebastianSan Sebastian nowOn 22nd August 1813 the second siege of the highly fortified port of San Sebastian began. In a week of attacks repulsed by the French garrison 3,770 British and Portuguese and 850 French soldiers were killed or wounded. The final assault, on the 31st August, succeeded. Wellington’s forces had taken the town but it was not an honourable victory.
Fuelled by looted drink a week long rampage of the town began. British officers did nothing to stop the orgy of rape and massacre, nor did they prevent the town being completely destroyed by fire.
On 31st August 1967, 21 year old Carl Witherby (at the beginning of his career as an historian) ended the summer he had spent hitch-hiking around the battlefields of the Peninsular wars on the beach of San Sebastian.
His thoughts were of those who had fought so hard and died so horribly 154 years before. But they were also of Susannah. It was her 21st birthday. He loved her but they could never be together. He had been told she was his sister.
31st August, in various years, is an important date in The Last Dance, in Walking Alone and in Runaways, the three books which make up The Iniquities Trilogy.
Professor Carl Witherby (in 2014) features again in A Set of Lies.