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.

Politicians and Spooks

Bee HiveNow that election is all over I can mention politicians, a group of people who play important, if sometimes secondary, roles in my books. From Arnold Donaldson in The Last Dance to Sir Arthur Lacey in A Set of Lies via Tim Johnstone in Her Parents’ Daughter none of them are particularly likeable characters. No, delete ‘particularly’, there is little to be said for any of them other than that they were ambitious and hungry for political power (especially Sir Arthur).

My spooks tend to be much more sympathetic.

Sir Bernard Lacey (A Set of Lies), Richard Mackenzie (Her Parents’ Daughter) and David Redhead (Walking Alone and Runaways) are particularly nice (if ambiguously painted) people – well, at least, I like them.

And the ones you cannot be sure of (could what they did be called espionage?) are people whose motives are generally good. Elizabeth and Jane (Her Parents’ Daughter) may just have been caught up in the lives of those close to them; Max Fischer, the central character in all three volumes of The Iniquities Trilogy, may just have been a man of his time (the 1930s) in his place (middle Europe).

I have lived with some of these characters for getting on for fifteen years and have got to know them well. Carl Witherby, for example (he is an academic neither a politician nor a spook – though he influences other characters who are) spans my books from almost the first chapters of The Last Dance to the last page of A Set of Lies and I think of him every day. There is so much to these people I write about that cannot be included in a book, however long it may be, and much of their personality and character must lie in the imagination of you, the reader.

I wonder whether you see them the same way as I do?