Work in progress

It’s now been a couple of weeks since I put the finishing touches to my latest work in progress. I say ‘finishing touches’ but the process never ends, to be honest, and at some point it will be time to stop fiddling and tweaking and pick-pick-picking. Too many strokes spoil the painting, and all that. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be a comma (misplaced or otherwise) that decides its fate.

This one is quite different to anything else I’ve written in the last few years, being a fantasy story about Scottish clans and past lives. Like many ideas, it was born of two separate half-ideas (one of which first came to me many years ago) clashing and fusing into a whole. And like many ideas, that creative nuclear fusion happened whilst I was sitting on a commuter train trundling through Essex. I don’t do that any more, but fortunately it’s not had a detrimental effect on the flow of fresh ideas so far.

Though this isn’t the first time I’ve headed a blog entry with ‘Work in progress’. Just under a year ago I wrote about finishing another project I felt very happy with. I’m still very happy with it today, but it will never be published. I submitted it to a handful of literary agents and several asked to read it, but ultimately each had a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why they didn’t think it would sell. I couldn’t disagree with the last one, actually, and so didn’t submit it to anyone else afterwards.

So Papercut, the story of the aftermath of a stabbing from the perspective of a teenage boy, becomes the one that got away. But it’s not the only one that did that. Other books (non-fiction about pirates, a general maritime history for kids, and a disgusting food cookbook) have all fallen by the wayside at one stage or another. Yet my page on Amazon makes it look like I write one book a year, and have no trouble getting published, whereas the truth is it’s always an uphill slog, and I have to start from the bottom each time.

It does make me wonder about other authors’ ones-that-got-away, though. And whether the rise in digital self-publishing will change that in future. And whether that would actually be a good thing, anyway.

Work in progress

The last three months have been the most prolific of mine in the last seven and a bit years. In the meantime I’ve often used working full-time as an excuse as to why I don’t manage to write over 100,000 words a year any more. Apart from the last week, I have been working full-time for all of 2013, but I decided to take advantage of the Easter bank holidays to get 10 days’ holiday for the price of 4.

Because I wanted to finish my latest work in progress. I only started it just after Christmas, but it completely took over. I arrived at the end on Friday morning, reaching the quarter-way mark of a sixth WHSmith exercise book (a sort I have used so long I can reasonably estimate the story is pretty much exactly 63,000 words long in its unedited form). Of course, quality is more important than quantity, but it does go to show working full-time never was a good excuse.

Post-It plotting

Whether anything comes of this story or not, it will always be something special to me. In a way it is a culmination of something I have been trying to write for about 14 years now. Perhaps that is why it was fit to burst out so rapidly; it’s been waiting all this time. I won’t go into specifics at this stage – perhaps it is already tempting fate to even mention it – except to say it is a teen novel, one about ‘issues’, but one which I was always conscious to make an awkward and funny story about growing up. As such it’s an entirely different barrel of chipolatas to The Thieves of Pudding Lane, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing. Writing it involved raking over a lot of old coals, but in a cathartic way.

I wrote this slightly differently to how I’ve written things before. I gave up using a computer to write first drafts in 2011. I can type faster than I can think, which ultimately proved counter-productive. I spent more time fiddling (not to be confused with editing, though that’s what I often convinced myself it was) than writing. Writing long-hand, thinking faster than I can loop my Gs and Ys, proved successful for The Thieves of Pudding Lane. And it did so again here. However, whilst I have always written from a plan (however flexible), with this story I eschewed anything of the sort – beyond the Post-It notes in the photo above. This story was more complicated, with a lot more characters to handle, and these notes were not so much points on a map as mile markers by the roadside. As I passed each one, it got consigned to the recycling.

If anything comes of the story, I will obviously be writing a lot more about it here. Otherwise, this may be the only post I will write about it. Whatever happens, the characters and the themes will invariably make themselves known in other things I write. It’s just that kind of story.