Sunday 20 January 2013

Would fantasy have been the easy option?

I've been making great progress on the novel in the last couple of weeks. This week I went over the 70,000 word milestone that I had originally set myself as my end goal. Anything over that is novel length, or so I have read. So I feel as if I am really going to finish this book now, even though it is going to be quite a bit longer than 70,000 words (which is about 200 paperback pages).
Writing is a solitary pursuit and it is easy to lose self-belief. I find the best way is to set myself goals that I can hit in a short period of time. So I try to write at least 3,000 words a week, or at least 500 words in a sitting. That kind of thing. I do sometimes feel like I am more interested in how many words I've written than what I am writing, but that is not the case. It is the case though, that a novel is not written in a day. It is made up of many small sections of writing done at different times, just as a dry stone wall  is made up of many different stones. It is the writer's job to fashion each of these stones and then fit them all together so that the wall stands on its own.
I got a new laptop for Christmas and now take it everywhere, writing whenever I have a few minutes spare between all the other things I have to do as a father, husband, singer in a band and employee of a private company. All of these eat into my time, but it is amazing how much you can get done in the downtime with a bit of discipline and perseverance. I get some strange looks from other parents while waiting to pick up my kids from clubs. The mums and dads chat and watch their children, I sit in silence, computer on my lap and try to concentrate. I probably seem rude, or a bit of a recluse (definitely not my character at all), but I feel anxious if I do not make progress on my book when I have a whole hour to myself. It feels as if I am somehow cheating if I do not write.
After a few minutes I manage to transport myself once more into the world of my book. A world that is little-known to most people today, including me. The world of Britain some 1,400 years ago. The period known as the Dark Ages is, to most people, dark in terms of the amount they know about it. I fell into that category when I started writing my story. I knew next to nothing about the seventh century, but had a vague idea for a story based around documentaries I'd seen, or novels I'd read, with very little in the way of concrete historical fact.
As I've progressed, I've accumulated more knowledge. I've bought books and read information on different websites and blogs, but I am still no historian. Almost every time I sit down to write I come across another question. What trees grew and how many were there in Northumbria? Did common people know of the Romans who had left the island nearly two hundred years before? How common was the use of money? How exactly were slaves treated? The list goes on and on.
Some of the questions have answers that can be found, others are more difficult and depend on what you read. One thing is certain though, there will be people who will read my final book and find anachronisms in it. I will never be a historical expert, and there will be people who are real historians who know of things that I am not aware of and they will quickly see beyond my thin veneer of knowledge. I hope that they will be able to get past that and enjoy the book on its merits as a story based in an often-forgotten time.
However, from time to time I do think that it would have been an easier option to have created the story in a fantasy world. A pseudo Dark Ages Britain where nobody would be able to tell me I'd got it wrong. I could even have dragons and trolls marauding through the land, and not just in the tales told in the mead hall. But I am past that point now. I settled on the genre and now the book has taken on a life of its own. All I have to do is keep picking up the stones and working out how to place them in the wall. Some of the stones may not be historically accurate, but I hope they all fit together to tell a good story.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Progress report and plan

I'm nearly 65,000 words in to the first draft. It's been a productive first week of 2013 but I still have a long way to go. I'd naively thought that the book would be about 70,000 words long (the minimum length of a novel), but I now realise that it will be longer than that. Probably somewhere around 100,000 words or a bit more. Of course, that all depends on how the story develops, and how many words it takes to write it!
Here is my tentative plan for the next few months:

  1. Complete the first draft by Easter.
  2. Put the draft on ice for a few weeks so that I can look at it with fresh eyes.
  3. Read through the draft and mark up areas that need extra work. I'm anticipating that there will be a few bits that are lacking detail (historic and otherwise), and a bit of restructuring will be required. I already know of a few sections where I have changed my mind and need to rewrite what happens to better serve the story.
  4. Add extra content and do the rewrites.
  5. Once the second draft is ready (not really sure how long that will take - part of me thinks it will take a long time - probably a few months), I plan to send the draft manuscript off to a few friends and family as test readers. With the draft I'll send a questionnaire for the test readers to fill in. The questionnaire will aim to pinpoint where readers were bored, or confused, which characters they liked or disliked, that sort of thing.
  6. Hopefully the test readers will return the questionnaires and I'll act on their comments by honing the manuscript into a third draft.
  7. At that stage, I'll find a professional editor to edit the manuscript.
  8. Do all the rewrites the editor asks for (or argue with the editor!).
  9. The final manuscript will then be ready. I'd like to think that could be sometime towards the end of 2013, or perhaps more realistically early 2014.
  10. Publish. I'll probably self-publish as an ebook, but that is a decision I'll need to take then. If I do self-publish, I'll need to work on other things like a website, formatting, a cover design etc. But that will be for another post in the future.
So, as you can see there are lots of things to occupy my time for the next year, but first thing's first - I'd better get that draft finished.