25 June 2016 - Forecasting: Stockbroking v Laundry v Writing
A crash outside at 2am wakes me up. My mind turns to the laundry left hanging out overnight, soaking wet as the weather forecast was wrong, again. Is that the possum on the line getting its messy paws all over my clothes? Forget it and go back to sleep, you can always wash them again tomorrow.
Are you of the generation that thinks drying clothes involves only a tumble drier? People used to put their laundry outside to 'dry'. In reality in the UK, 'drying' outdoors frequently consists of turning something wet into something damp. My Mum describes the process 'to lighten', reducing the water content before putting it 'to air' or on a heating radiator or into the tumble drier.
In Australia I have a combination washing machine/drier. The great disappointment at the so called drying cycle means I hang clothes outside. Ah, you think, how lovely, a tropical environment, your clothes must smell like a bottle of fabric conditioner! Alas this is not true. My things smell of mould. Tropical life involves a lot of trees and humidity and mouldy smells! Oh, and possum paw prints and pee, with lashings of parrot poo.
When I worked in investment banking I used to make forecasts of company profits. When companies announce their results the markets react to whether they were better or worse than stockbroker expectations. Whilst there was some kudos for the individual in forecasting the exact result, getting it wrong with everyone else was no big deal.
Forecasting weather for drying laundry is a far more serious business! Getting it wrong can have dire consequences, especially in tropical environments were a clear sunny sky can cloud over at any time and rain! The internet has enabled the nerd in me to flourish in the field of laundry meteorology! I look at weather.com and the local weather bureau websites and combine their forecasts. But what does a 30% or 70% chance of rain really mean? The stars of laundry planning are the Doppler radar screens. You can see exactly where rain is coming from, pretty well live, and plan your hanging program between bands of rain or storm cells. Exciting, eh? I don't know anyone else who does this, but I do recommend the effort!
So why am I telling you this, you wonder?
Because Boring Boring Galahad (see previous blog) has to say that the above are nothing compared to the difficulty of forecasting when a manuscript will be ready! Here is a sample of my forecasts for the novel provisionally titled At Reception:
February 7, 2016 '... a first draft should be ready for editing by the end of February'
March 5, 2016 'I now expect to finish the current draft in late March'
April 30, 2016 '... once I have finished writing, which should be before the end of May'
May 27, 2016 'During June a final version should be complete'
June 19, 2016 '... it shouldn't be more than a few weeks before it is ready to go'
At the time I really believed each estimate was possible. However, something always came up and changed the goal posts (adding a deeper psychological basis, producing a novel rather than novella).
I read a couple of books on how to write novels. Whilst they were interesting in theory, and I have taken on board some of their key principles, the finer points of writing had to be largely ignored. In practice, if I had followed all their advice I would probably never finish writing! However, both were right to say it will take longer to complete a manuscript than you think, and you need plenty of time to keep improving it once you get to your word count goal.
When it comes to the forecasts for the thriller trilogy, I hope you treat them with the respect they deserve...
19 June 2016 - Boring Boring Galahad!
I wish I had started writing fiction years ago.
In 2005 I left my tropical life in Miami, and its sports bars, to concentrate on living in my house in the hills of Umbria, Italy. Unfortunately I never found a partner to share the isolation of a hill top farm, so I filled my days with sport on TV. But not just daytime. I would get up in the early hours to watch Miami Heat play basketball, or the Miami Dolphins playing American football.
If only I had used those hours writing, how much further along I would be!
I sold the Italian house and spent more time in the UK and Brisbane, Australia. I anticipated spending time watching sport. But the writing has taken over. I wake in the middle of the night thinking about the book, not whether I want to get up and watch a football game.
I am told by some friends that I have become boring as all I talk about is the progress of the book. Like a parent who constantly tells you about their child's progress, it's nice to know, but not too much of it! At least I don't have a photo album to show you! By the way, my photos of birds are more popular on Facebook than what I write! Maybe I should become a photographer...
Hopefully after the first publication I'll get a better balance. At least from next month I'll be full time in the UK, so European and a lot of global sport will be on TV at a reasonable time of the day!
Oh, and just to be boring, the novel provisionally titled At Reception is in its late rewrite stage, no major changes planned, and it shouldn't be more than a few weeks before it is ready to go! I can then bore people with the progress of the thriller trilogy! That could end up as 5 books if I add a prequel and Part IV. The prequel would answer the question 'I don't understand what the first three books were about'! Part IV is my wishful thinking, it is designed to set the stage for a TV series based on some of the core characters! All this could keep me from watching sport for a few more years!
Are you asleep yet?
For the uninitiated, 'Boring Boring' is a UK football fan chant...
4 June 2016 - Dealing with psychological issues unsupported and untreated
The lead character in the short novel, provisionally titled At Reception, struggles to cope with her life. Don't we all?
Finding your own way to deal with challenges that arise in your life is normally the first step. Failure to manage the issues usually means the need for help and support. If you get support maybe you can stop things getting worse. For example, someone who feels depressed could go to the doctor. By requesting psychiatric help before the doctor prescribes an anti-depressant, maybe it will be possible to find a way of dealing with problems and avoid taking the drugs.
But where a person does not seek support, for whatever reason, dealing alone with personal issues can be physically and mentally exhausting.
I like the idea, as in autism, of a spectrum, a range of degree of any attribute. To have a fear of water is one thing, to be truly terrified by it is different in degree. I prefer not to pigeonhole people into one condition, but see people as living on a matrix of spectra. When I look at myself I could think of several 'conditions' I may have eg OCD due to my love of lists. My dislike of having my routines changed by others could be Asperger's. My great sadness that my football team were (and remain) demoted for years from the big time could be depression. Put that lot together and.... you get another human being!
Each of us handles personal challenges in different ways and with varying degrees of success. I started using lists and diaries as a way of not forgetting. My tropical fish never get fed twice, probably to their annoyance!
In At Reception, which is written in first person, the lead character lives alone and works largely isolated from colleagues, but surrounded by people. You see, from her perspective, how she handles the challenges in her life and work in her own way, untreated and unsupported. I hope readers will feel a great empathy for her, identify with some of her issues and methods of dealing with them, and see her as a friend struggling to cope.
27 May 2016 - Progress update
I am pleased to announce that I have now got through the 50,000 word barrier for the novel provisionally titled At Reception! There are still some sections that need rewriting and, with the deepening of the storylines, the target of 60,000 words should be met. After that it will only require checking and tweaking. During June a final version should be complete, and sent to a few selected agents to assess. It will also go for copy editing in preparation for self-publishing should that be needed. Release is still planned for early 2017. I'll permanently leave Australia to return to the UK in July for meetings, and get on with the thriller trilogy until the marketing of At Reception starts. An update will be given at the end of June in the next edition of the Newsletter.
21 May 2016 - Homage to lists!
I love lists, and oh, spreadsheets, they take them to the next dimension!
It has been suggested I have some element of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as my list writing is extensive. But I find they bring order to my life, and at least I don't forget people's birthdays or items when shopping, well, unless they are not on the list!
For the writer, lists and their close allies the spreadsheets, are really useful. When you get an idea for a book the first thing you do is start writing. Some people just keep writing to the end. Others, like myself, set up story timeline sheets and character lists. For each book I have a spreadsheet listing characters down the left, and chapter numbers/times across the top, to ensure everything happens in the correct sequence. It shows where in the book a character does something, reducing re-reading to track down the odd paragraph! It also stops you leaving a loose end, for example if someone travels somewhere and you forget they have to travel back at some stage, losing a character is not allowed!
The trilogy novels have months as time units. An important character is pregnant, so I have to make sure things happen at the correct stage of her pregnancy. Whilst some will disagree, I would be pushing the credibility of my character if at 9 months she is climbing mountains and trekking across the desert! I do need her to give birth, and at the correct time!
The short novel, provisionally titled At Reception, originally covered two working days in a hotel lobby. The timeline spreadsheet was a big help when I decided to add a third day, turning the novella into a novel. I use one hour periods so the characters comings and goings are kept in sequence. The spreadsheet helped with reworking the story lines. Some characters would stay an extra night, linking the days together, and consequently their stories have become more rounded and deeper. I could see where routine activities needed to fit in, the importance of which will become apparent when you read the novel. I've reproduced below a copy of the timeline sheet with the original notation for the addition of the third day.
Discipline when using lists and spreadsheets is crucial. You must not get lazy about updating. Most importantly, your writing should never become a prisoner to the sheets. Let the story come to you, don't let your initial ideas stop you from developing in a completely different direction. Having the timeline sheet on a computer helps as you can move things around easily. Nevertheless, the temptation not to change things is great, it's a lot of work and a real pain! However, the rewards in quality are worth it. When you read the final result you find it hard to believe you were once satisfied with the original version!
30 April 2016 - The London Book Fair and the road ahead
I am back writing after the London Book Fair. I did get a real insight into how the book industry works, and recommend any budding book writer of any genre to experience it. It allows a peek behind normally closed office doors to see what book publishing is all about. I am now much clearer about the road ahead for both the short novel and the trilogy.
In the latest newsletter and blog I said that the short novel was 'falling between the two stools' of mainstream publishers and self-publishing. It is too good a story not to give agents a chance to assess it for marketing to the bigger publishers, but at the same time too short a novel for it to have a chance of been accepted. After the London Book Fair, it is quite clear that I need to take the story from novella to novel size if I want any chance of getting it onto bookstore shelves. The story currently covers a period of 2 days. Fortunately, the third day is already written as part of the main trilogy. So by taking the third day as a basis, converting it to first-person writing, I can add 50% to the book. This will have the effect of adding over 15,000 words to the word count. Considering the original plan was for around 25,000 words. I now have a new word count target of 60,000 words, which translates to a book of over 200 pages, just long enough. I could still find agents or publishers demanding a bit more, but at least there is enough to run with for now.
I will update you again on progress once I have finished writing, which should be before the end of May.
9 April 2016 - Baubles and Publishers!
Baubles and all that!
The short novel, provisionally titled At Reception, is in its third re-write! Based on deleted scenes from the thriller trilogy, it is written in first person and set in a hotel lobby. There is one more rewrite to go then I should be close to having it ready.
The original idea was to put out a short novel to just 'get a reputation'. However the first draft looked a little dull. Like a Christmas tree with no decorations. It had structure but no personality. I decided the main character needed more depth. The result was our tree got lights, but they glowed dimly, and seemed disconnected! The storylines needed weaving together so the tree is currently getting strands of tinsel. I still feel it needs a few baubles to really bring it to life! Hence the need for another rewrite. The manuscript should be ready by the end of May.
The trilogy continues to progress, albeit slowly. Some substantial new ideas will mean that once the short novel is finished there will be no shortage of material to work on!
Which Publication Route?
A visit to a bookstore will confirm that very few short novels (novellas) get on the main fiction shelves, and those you find are usually by established authors. I had planned to forget going the agent/major publisher route as that would be unlikely to be successful, and delay publication even further.
However, two things have conspired to encourage me to at least give it a go. Firstly, as a consequence of repeated rewriting, it is getting longer. Secondly, timing.
There are two book launch periods for a new writer to avoid. The first is the spring sell in to bookstores for the summer holiday reading season. I'd be competing with bestseller authors and have no chance. The other is the autumn sell in to bookstores for the winter holiday period, where biographies of celebrities and cookbooks abound.
If I want the short novel in bookstores I need to give about 6 month notice. The book industry works that way. If I don't want my little Christmas tree left in a corner lost amongst the big shiny celebrity trees I should wait until early 2017 to launch. This buys me a couple of months to test out a few smaller publishers and selected agents.
The style of the short novel is not representative of the main trilogy, although the central characters do overlap. If an agent/publisher loves the book and it does well they will want something else in the same style.
All in all, working with a serious full service self-publisher is probably the best route. I can then get on with finishing the trilogy, and go the traditional agent route with that.
The London Book Fair should make clear the best road to take.