A Writer’s Block

I haven’t written anything for this section of my website for a long time as I have found it very difficult to string three typed words together following the combination of various events.
Firstly the anti-climax of the publication of Hostage to Fortune. This took something less than a year to write and publish. It has had some good reviews (mainly on-line) and some media coverage (thank you Fitz at BBC Radio Devon) but, although it has no doubt sold more than some titles (even by well known ‘personalities’) it hasn’t ‘taken off’. Every book I publish I hope that it will be the one that catches someone’s eye and that that ‘someone’ decides that it and others of my books are worthy of mention even of adaptation to film or even a television mini-series. (That was a joke – possibly.)
Secondly another anti-climax. Since 2012 I have been working on revising my first three books (The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways which made up The Iniquities Trilogy) into one. Starting at over a quarter of a million words I have worked through it eight times(tightening the narrative, erasing red-herrings, reducing examples of three adjectives/adverbs to two) and almost halved its length. I finished, what I promised myself would be the last ‘read-through’ the week Hostage was published.
What then? I had no idea. I literally had no idea.
Thirdly, I finally retired from my day job, ended my company’s trading (after 35 years). What should have been liberating was, in the event, disturbing. I instantly felt old. There was nothing I ‘had’ to do, no need to make a ‘to do’ list, no need to prioritise tasks, no one depending on me to get something done better than anyone else could.
So I didn’t post anything onto my website for fear that whatever I wrote would be too depressing.
So what has changed? Why am I back at my keyboard?
Firstly, I received a royalties payment from Troubador. It wasn’t large but it existed. People (apart from friends and those in the local pub) were buying (and from the emails and reviews enjoying) my books.
Then I decided to read through Iniquities (yet again) to further reduce the size so it can be published as a proper paper book (not just e-book).
And the weather improved so some of those empty hours (no longer filled by sitting at my computer) could be spent in the garden and trying to persuade our two rescue cats (now with us over 6 months) to be more friendly.
And finally, a chance conversation gave me an idea for my next book.
This will go back to the ideas I first explored in Highly Unsuitable Girl: a woman of mature years learning to accept who she is. The working title Triumph of Hope. Note: Nothing autobiographical!
So perhaps the long winter of 2017-18 is finally over and the bright sunlit uplands of the summer of 2018 lie ahead.
And I can again post these random thoughts on the website for you, my loyal fan, to read.

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.

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…

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.

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…

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.

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.