Brick walls & Retirement

retiredOne way or another I have been writing fiction for at least thirty years.
I have files of hand written jottings outlining short stories that remain unwritten but which were the seeds of episodes in longer novels.
I have sheets and sheets of notes, with the sprocket hole edges still intact, with passages of writing which, as I re-read them after so many years, are actually quite good.
I have notes printed out from floppy disks as it became evident that floppy disk drives were no longer de rigueur.
I have CDs containing the back ups (backs up?) of early drafts of all my final published novels.
I have a shelf of external disk drives going back over years of drafts, re-writes, re-re-writes and final off-to-the-publisher writes.
What I haven’t, any longer, is the will to carry on.
My electronic pencil has reached its stub end.
I started writing seriously in 2002 when the plot for The Iniquities Trilogy began to form and now, more than fourteen years later, I am re-writing that as one book Iniquities Revisited. Once that is done … no brick-wallmore.
There is only so much beating one’s head against brick walls one can take.
Brick walls?
Well, trying to get people to notice one book amongst tens of thousands; trying to get reviewers to review, booksellers to stock, readers to buy; putting up with the fact that best-seller lists are full of ghost written celebrity ‘autobiographies’, television tie-ins and cookery books that no one will ever use; watching television mini-series where the plots are thin and the plot holes are so large as to be only describable as sink holes.
‘Dispiriting’ doesn’t come close.
So that’s it. After The Last Dance, Walking Alone, Runaways, Highly Unsuitable Girl, Her Parents’ Daughter, A Set of Lies, Second Strand and Iniquities Reworked no more.
No more exploring the lives of my imaginary friends.
No more wondering how I can bring Susanna back into my world.
No more doubting whether Skye and Fergal’s marriage will survive their investigatory adventures.
No more worrying about how I can finally kill off Carl Witherby (who has been with me since the very beginning).
No more thinking what to put in a blog on the website.
No more being bothered to tweet and post on Facebook.
No more of any of that.
That’s it.
When people now ask me what I do I will no longer say ‘I write’ I will say I am retired.
With the emphasis on ‘tired’.

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…

Genre? What Genre?

Fiction Genres MainGenreThe genre allocated to a book seems to be important. I hadn’t realised just how important until I began to write.
As a book buyer/reader I have never worried about what category a book fitted into and if anyone asked me what kind of novels I enjoy reading I would probably answer ‘most if they’re well written’.
One on-line bookseller, which I will not name, lists 33 different categories of books and, just within the general heading ‘Fiction’, there are 30 different genres.
How a book is defined determines so much about how it is treated by wholesalers and bookshops (on-line and ‘High Street’) and therefore also how easily they are found by potential buyers. But what happens when a book is ill-defined by any of the organisations who deal with a book from the publisher onwards?
My first three books which made up The Iniquities Trilogy, would probably be categorised as ‘Family Saga’ but that might lead people to believe they are for women readers. (Preconceived ideas about what constitutes ‘female’ and ‘male’ reading is a subject for another blog). But all three of those books involve crime (including rape, murder and psychological destruction), an unfolding slow-burning mystery, war-time exploits, spying and the odd love story… so many things that ‘Family Saga’ does not cover.
Highly Unsuitable Girl was a sort of ‘coming of age’ story about a woman getting to know herself and her limitations by the age of 60 odd. Funnily enough ‘Coming of Age’ is not a category used by many. Her Parents’ Daughter was a murder mystery with relationship and spy overtones and then A Set of Lies was a complete change – a political, family history, alternate historical novel. Second Strand is another murder mystery with overtones of the world of spies.
The point has been made that I am doing myself no favours by writing books which do not readily fit into the straight-jacket of any particular genre. It would certainly make it a little easier to find my books on-line or in High Street bookshops if I just wrote ‘Crime, Thrillers and Mystery’.
Perhaps it is easier to build up a following if people know what my books are going to be like – it is certainly true that many authors have made an excellent living by writing the same book over and over again – I will not mention names but I bet you can think of a few.
But with my books being so different from each other how can I build up a fan base unless buyers/readers just happen to find my non-predictable, intricately plotted stories set firmly in their time and place, with well-drawn (if not always likeable) characters.

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.

To Do List

Me and the World Wide WebI looked at my website (www.carolynmccrae.com if you’re not already on it) this morning, for the first time in over a month. Not good.
My tweets have been more about the oak tree and hops growing on my balcony than my writing.
It’s more than six weeks since I published a blog and a lot longer than that since I updated the text with news about my books.
I really must get down to it.
I’ve so much to change…
And I really have no excuse. Except…
A Second Strand has taken up a lot of time and I can’t concentrate on anything until that is done.
I’m now a third of the way through the third ‘final’ read-through before it heads off to the editor. I’m spending far too long agonizing over whether a particular sentence conveys the meaning I want it to someone reading the book for the first (not the umpteenth) time.
Are there any plot holes? Is every character in the right place at the right time? Does any character know something before they are seen actually finding it out? Do conversations flow – or does someone answer their own question?
But, no. No more read-throughs. This is the last one.
If it’s not right now it never will be.
So on Tuesday the manuscript (well the Word document) will be winging its way to Troubador.
And then I can get on with doing all the other things connected with getting a book out into the wide, wide world (www):
Writing my Author Information document. Well editing it really, it’s only a year since the last one (for A Set of Lies)
Thinking what should be in the Press release.
Focusing on ideas for the cover image and blurb
Working out how to contact all those nice people who bought and read and let me know they enjoyed Her Parents’ Daughter (A Second Strand is another murder in Yarmouth) – and, of course, all my other titles.
Working out how to change my Facebook pages
And. Most importantly. Updating my website…….