Punctuation!

Hostage to Fortune is now in its final stages before publication.
The copy edit came back with some well spotted errors marked (A company called FP became FM for some reason best known to my fingers and Berry Head (near Dartmouth) became Barry Head – I blame my fingers for that one too!). The most frequent changes/corrections were in punctuation. I wonder if this is what other writers find.
I have learned, in the ten years I have been writing and publishing my books, that speech ends with a comma if the following text indicates ‘XXX said’ or ‘XXX replied’ but with a full stop if the speech stands as its own paragraph or if the text that follows is, indeed, a new sentence. This is something I now try to do to save the copy editor (or the editor’s software) an incredibly large number of changes.
Another change that seems to have occurred in those ten years is the proliferation in the use of the semicolon.
When I was at school, admittedly over fifty years ago, this item of punctuation was frowned upon. My English teacher taught that, if a comma did not serve, the second clause should form a new sentence. Perhaps that was her personal preference rather than the prescribed wisdom of the day.
Looking at Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, the use of the semicolon in English texts since 1500 showed remarkable swings in popularity for the first 150 years, reaching a peak in the 1660s before declining sharply. Recovery through the Eighteenth century saw another peak being reached in the early 1800s before a steady and continuous decline through that century and the last, reaching a low point not seen since the 1650s in 2001.
Since then the trend has been reversed.
My (completely unscientifically researched) theory is that this is the influence of the Americans and American software designers – particularly in Microsoft – where Word seems to frequently indicate a grammatical error when a comma is used mid-sentence.
And don’t get me on split infinitives!
Or the use of the exclamation mark (point?)!
Or whether a question mark should be used after rhetorical questions?
Or when dashes are acceptable – or not.
Anyway, I do hope that people who read Hostage to Fortune (and my other books, of course) will find the story(ies) so gripping that they do not notice the punctuation at all!

Deadlines

July 1 had been my self-imposed deadline to send the pretty-much-final-draft of Hostage to Fortune to an old friend to read through and comment on. I’m afraid I missed it.
I began the third re-read/re-write run through on June 11 planning to do at least a chapter a day but it hasn’t quite worked out like that.
At first I made some progress but I was nowhere near meeting my schedule and of the 24 days since I began I have managed to concentrate on Hostage to Fortune for only ten – and then only for a couple of hours in any one day. In that period I reached only page 72 (of 299) in Chapter 7 of (currently) 34.
My reason (excuse?) is that my husband and I have, yet again, been moving house.
In the fifteen years since I first decided to try to write seriously for publication we have moved six times and at least one book has seen the light of day in each house: Woodnesborough, Kent (The Last Dance); Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire (Walking Alone); Ludlow, central Shropshire (Runaways); Maesbrook, north Shropshire (Highly Unsuitable Girl); Yarmouth, Isle of Wight (A Set of Lies and Her Parents’ Daughter); Dartmouth, Devon (Second Strand) and now Worth, Kent less than three miles from where we left just over ten years ago, where Hostage to Fortune – and others – will see the light of day.
But now the packing and unpacking has been done (we ought to be good at it by now) and we are settled Hostage to Fortune will return to the top of my to-do list and be the focus of my attention once again.
My new deadline is to get Hostage to Fortune to Jane by the end of this month and I WILL make it.
If the weather is hot I’ll just have to start early. If the cricket is enthralling I’ll just have to listen to TMS on the radio rather than watch the TV. If the garden needs attention then it will just have to wait.
I will finish this by the end of the month.
Really.
I will.

Knowledge and Experience – or Imagination?

Well known, and in many ways brilliant, writer Anthony Horowitz has been warned off including black characters in a new book because an (American?) editor said it was inappropriate for a ‘white’ writer to create a ‘black’ character. He made the rejoinder that if you followed that train of thought he could only write about ‘62 year old, white, Jewish men living in North London’
What was that editor thinking?
A writer’s job is:
To tell a story by creating characters and leading the reader through the development of the plot by showing interactions between those characters.
I suggest that stories, characters and interactions would be incredibly feeble and tedious if all characters were a reflection of the writer.
That editor does not appear to allow for the one critical factor – imagination. Why is it artificial or condescending or patronising to include characters of different ages, genders, races and even sexual proclivities just because the writer has not had that personal experience? And in any case, are people so defined by their colour, as this editor implies, that empathy and understanding are impossible between different ‘categories’ (my quotes) of people?
For the past few months I have been writing my next murder mystery novel – Hostage to Fortune (hopefully out early 2018).
The story involves murder and abduction but I am neither a murderer nor an abductor so I presume to be able to put myself in the place of one who is.
Instead of knowledge and direct experience I have imagined; I have put myself in the position of someone in a certain situation and imagined what they would do and how they would act. This is what writers (good, bad and indifferent) do.
How many people did Agatha Christie poison, stab, shoot or otherwise do away with? How could she, as a well off, middle-aged, English woman possibly write about a pedantic Belgian male detective, an ex-policeman, refugee from war-torn Belgium, possible spy for the British, lover of steam trains, unlucky in love. Could it have been that she had imagination?
I could not have written any of my books including only white, thoroughly middle class, university educated, four times married, women in their sixties.
My characters are first and foremost individuals.
Ryan, Guy, Arjun, Luis, Barford, Pat, Diane, Skye and Fergal each acts and reacts in his or her own individual way, they have characteristics of their own, they have taken on lives of their own with individual motives and back-stories.
Ryan is immature, Guy is manipulative, Arjun is vulnerable, both Luis and Barford make mistakes though both survive them, both Pat and Diane keep too many secrets to themselves, and neither Skye nor Fergal can keep to their remit; but, when it comes down to it, their gender, sexuality, colour and age are probably immaterial to the plot but their differences make it, to my mind, far more credible.
In these days of inclusivity and diversity a book that contains characters who are uniform in gender, sexuality, colour and age would be completely improbable so, should that editor’s approach be accepted widely, every work of fiction would have to have multiple writers, each concentrating on their own insular and insulated little world, limited by their experience.
As a certain, brilliant, scientist (Albert Einstein) is quoted as saying “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Progress?

The first draft of the book I would like to call Hostage to Fortune is finished! (Time for a celebratory glass of wine?)
Begun on 15 March this, the follow on to Her Parents’ Daughter and Second Strand, is the quickest I have ever completed the first draft of a book.
Of the thirty-four days, only eight were without progress. I achieved an average 1,793 words per day which isn’t bad, with a maximum number in a day 6,427! One or two days were pretty much failures with only one hundred odd words, but there were always extenuating circumstances.
This incredible rate of progress was only possible because I spent three weeks plotting out the chapters in advance, (memories of teachers telling me to plan out essays before putting pen to paper – thank you Miss Nicholson, Mr Sant and Miss Honeyball!) so I knew where I was going and who was going to do what to whom and when before I started.
It was only in the last but one chapter that my characters strayed off message. One, Guy, was supposed to do one thing but as the words spewed from my fingers on the keyboard he decided to do something completely different.
I can only say that this turned out to be his mistake.
Unfortunately, the title Hostage to Fortune has been used before. Sometimes A Hostage to Fortune, sometimes Hostages to Fortune, sometimes with a subtitle sometimes not.
Shall I go with it anyway, since the other books date from 1931, and the fifties?
I don’t know.
I can’t think of any better for this book; it works on so many levels.
Mind you, since I’ve only just finished the first draft, I have lots of time to think about it.

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.

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.