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.

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.

Libraries

In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!

Reviews

I never believe authors who say they never read reviews of their work. How can they not want to know what readers made of their efforts? I know it need only take a few hours to read a novel that has taken hundreds of hours to put together, and perhaps some views are not particularly welcome, but they should all be, at least, read. Someone has taken the trouble to describe how they got on with the fruits of all that labour.
I’ve been away for a few weeks, escaping the English Christmas which seems to go on for half the year, so I was sitting in a customs warehouse in Brooklyn (it’s a long story) suffering from the cough that just about the entire northern hemisphere seems to have when I received two emails that cheered me up no end. My publisher was telling me of two reviews of Second Strand posted on NetGalley.
A lady (I presume) named Bonnye Reed Fry (American?) wrote: This is a very interesting novel, British, sort of a combination of spy special and police procedural. Most of the characters are empathetic – Teri is all bad, and Alex is a bit of a wimp, but I really enjoyed Anne, Fergal and Skye, and hope to see more of them. I understand there are prequels out there that I will have to look for, and read. Though this is stand alone, the background characters have their own stories.
Another lady Karen Ruchalski (also American?) wrote: Second Strand is an excellent novel by Carolyn McCrae. It is part crime story, part international spy saga and a little modern day relationship drama. The characters are honestly written and their flaws are relatable and understandable. The novel is set in parts of Great Britain with which I was not personally familiar, but McCrae’s writing sets a vivid scene. The plot twists and turns and leaves the reader satisfied at the conclusion. I would recommend this book for any lovers of crime or mystery novels.
Many thanks, Bonnye and Karen, for your kind words.
The prequels to which Bonnye refers are A Set of Lies (where Fergal and Skye get together and make their fortune) and Her Parents’ Daughter (the original murder in Yarmouth). If you’re reading this I hope you find and enjoy them.
Also… Anne, Fergal and Skye may well be riding again…

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!