Sunday, 25 October 2009

Me and Sisyphus

OK, it’s over. Well, the first draft is done anyway. A quick recap. A friend suggested I was just the guy to rewrite a book on study skills for a different market from the one in which it was already operating very successfully. I had a meeting with the publisher in mid September and we agreed on a 145,000 word target. My impression was that it was to be delivered in the Spring.

But when I got home from London, there was an email telling me that that was when promotional work would start, which meant having it ready by December. As we exchanged more emails, one apparent bonus was that the total came down to 105,000. But it was only apparent because, as I was writing, I realised that targeting a word count makes no sense. A book will always be as long as it needs to be. As it happens, this one came in at 110,508.

I really need to think a lot more about the experience because it was strange. It’s the longest book I’ve ever written but it was written in the shortest time I’ve ever taken. I had to put everything else aside which, at first, made me resent the fact that it was taking over everything but which, in the end, was sort of comforting. As the chapters piled up it gave the impression of purpose, progress, even meaning, for God’s sake.

Oh, don’t worry, those of you who rely on me to empty the universe of any significance; my fundamental lack of belief hasn’t altered. At times I did think of Sisyphus, but in my case, when I sat down to the next session each day, the stuff I’d already done hadn’t disappeared. (While I’m at it, I need to rethink my whole Sisyphus attitude, too. I mean, I know his acceptance of the futility of what he was doing was a fine example of the indomitability of the human spirit and stuff, but surely the best response to knowing that the bloody rock was going to end up back at the bottom every time should be ‘Sod it’ and go off for a pint. That’s real humanity.)

Anyway, so I started work around 8.30-9 a.m. each day and stopped around 5.30-6. At first, as I said, I resented giving up the time but, as I got into it, it became one of those experiences where you start writing and everything (including self) disappears. In a way, you become the words. When you’re writing fiction, it’s different. Because you’re with the people in your story, interacting with them, recording what they do – but this was a book of advice. I wrote in a loose, conversational style, addressing the advice directly to the reader ‘You’ll find that …’, ‘If you start by …’, ‘Then give yourself a reward …’ – that sort of thing. But the person doing the addressing, while it was me and I was drawing on my own experience as well as the excellent material in the original book, was a sort of construct. I became a writing machine.

And now it’s done, I feel a slight sense of loss. I know I’ll have to edit it and maybe rework some bits, but the regular 8.5 hour days are over and I can start making inroads into the stuff that’s piled up while I’ve been writing it. I suppose it also helped that it was commissioned and therefore will (probably – nothing’s ever certain) be published next year. With fiction, you never know until you start getting the rejection slips.

One silly thing one can do with this sort of project is play statistics. For example – the 110,508 words were written in 29 working days, which is 3810 a day or 448 an hour. But the further you take this, the worse it gets. In the end, it means I was writing just 7 words a minute. 7 words a minute! That’s crap. It’s hardly writing at all. I just timed myself as I was writing this to prove it and, even with correcting typos, I can easily manage 70 words a minute. So in theory I should have been able to write that book in 2.9 days. See? I keep telling you I’m a lazy bugger.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Big Plug

This posting will come as a blow to those of you who come here for spiritual enlightenment or to enjoy an oasis of refinement and culture in your busy schedules. The reason? I’m plugging a book.

No, not the one I’m writing on study skills – that’s now over the 80,000 word mark and will, I hope, be finished well before the deadline. I’ll blog about it when I have time because it’s been a very interesting experience, unlike any writing I’ve done before. Even when I was writing my thesis (just after the relief of Mafeking), I remember the process being one of slow growth, occasional ‘discoveries’ and time to indulge myself with what the external examiner called ‘coups de trompette’, meaning stylistic flourishes (or maybe excrescences). This has been more like an absence. But, as I said, I’ll get back to it.

So, my plug. (Oh, before I get to that, another thing occurs. I’ve recorded three of my kids’ stories about a misanthropic fairy called Stanley and they’re now on You can hear me doing silly voices there.)

Where was I? Yes. It’s my historical crime novel, The Figurehead. It was accepted for publication by Virtual Tales in the USA. It’ll be an e-book and a paperback. I sent it to them last year and was beginning to fear it had been lost in credit crunch melt-downs or something. But no, I got a lovely email from them this afternoon to say it’s in pre-sale mode. Sure enough, there’s the cover on their website and, apparently, if you want a preview and/or a copy, all you have to do is e-mail them at:
and you’ll get information about publication dates, availability, pricing, etc. as soon as it’s available. You’ll also get to read the first four chapters for free before the general public does and a coupon for 40% off the cover price if you buy it from them. No deposits, no commitments, just access to what will be the literary sensation of … er … my house.