2014: The year everything changed

Except, of course, not much has changed after all.

After starting with the buzz of a 2-book deal the year’s been a strange never-quite-stepping-across-that-threshold affair as my publishers were put up for sale by their holding group. They’ve risen phoenix-like from the ashes ready to resume publication in 2015 with The Waterborne Blade rescheduled for release in May.

On the writing front, I’ve discovered the massive dose of validation from a publishing deal doesn’t do much to counter the self-doubt – if anything, it provides a near-inexhaustible supply of new food sources for the self-doubt. At this point I can vouch for the wisdom of advice to bash on with the next book once the previous one is out of the door. Maybe next time I’ll try that. As it is, the sequel has had the benefit of a long gestation period before drafting began in earnest in mid October. I’ve compiled a list of tweaks for the first novel to accommodate developments in the sequel and been mulling over the editor’s notes which arrived just before Christmas, ready to start work post-festivities.

Drafting the sequel has been an interesting writing exercise in itself, working to get the most from the elements already in place – they say creativity thrives within constraints, after all. I’ve learned more about my writing process, too, and to trust my instincts. Since I have a grown-up author contract I set out to plot like a grown-up author. The very first scene I drafted was what I anticipated would be the final one of the novel. So far, so good. With the overall shape in mind I outlined the early stages, but the further I planned, the more hazy things became. Outlines are sterile things, and I find better details arise organically while drafting. The upshot of this is I’ve stopped trying to plan too far ahead, but now aim to work in chunks of 25-30k at a time with a pause to take stock between each chunk. anticipation

On the reading front I’ve been reading more in other genres this year. Standout reads for me have been The Three by Sarah Lotz, and Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. There was a load more stuff I’d thought to include here, but 2014 is almost done and there’s a lot of work ahead in 2015 so I’m closing now with a suitably festive pic of our dog (the household’s chief wrapping-shredder).

Wishing all the best to everyone for 2015, especially those for whom 2014 has been a particularly tough year.

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The Next Big Thing

Many thanks to that versatile spinner-of-plates, Scott Harrison, for tagging me last week in this writers’ blog chain thingy. Basically there are ten questions to answer about the current project, five more writers to tag for answers this time next week. That’s the theory, anyway.

What is the working title of your next book?
The working title of my current project is Bitter Legacy. At present I’m (re)drafting the final chapters.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The story started out as an image prompted by a writing exercise.* A small boat was crossing a squally stretch of sea. On the boat sat a woman. She was less than chuffed with her situation. I had no idea where she’d travelled from, why, or what lay in store for her.

What genre does your book fall under?
Epic fantasy.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
This one’s tricky as I don’t envisage characters in precise physical detail. Given it’s hypothetical, I’ll assume access to a time machine. For the displaced Alwenna I’d choose someone who could bring that sense of otherness Uma Thurman or Sissy Spacek (in Carrie) bring to their roles. For the soldier-made-good think Viggo Mortensen (as Aragorn) blended with Clive Owen (moody and secretive as Parks in Gosford Park) and a dash of Liam Cunningham’s Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones (but younger).

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
In civil war a king sends his wife to safety in the protection of the only man he trusts; with loyalty stretched to breaking point she is betrayed and must draw on dark powers to protect the closely-guarded secret she carries, only to discover her husband kept secrets of his own.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Once the novel’s complete, revised and polished I’ll be seeking representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’m aiming to complete this draft by the end of this year. It’s had a couple of lengthy spells on the back burner while I was finishing my degree or busy with other projects, but at a rough estimate I’d say the time spent actively working on it totals six or seven months so far.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Until I’ve had time to step back from this story any answer risks being wildly misleading, so I’ll suggest Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, or Kristen Britain’s Green Rider as two favourites and leave it at that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Other than the years spent exploring worlds created by authors like John Wyndham, Marion Bradley, Raymond E. Feist, and Robin Hobb? Well, one item on the notional Unfinished Business list – after ‘Get that degree’ – has always been ‘Write those books’. Add to that a conversation long ago when my mother asserted nothing – but nothing – changes your life like having children;** and throw in a few random thoughts that have percolated down through the intervening years.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Think Roman Holiday meets Carrie. With swords.

I’d like to tag two talented writers I first met while studying with the Open University:  Anouska Huggins (who has a story in Issue 8 of The Yellow Room) and Graeme K. Talboys (whose latest novel Stealing Into Winter is published by Roundfire Books).

* For the curious, the exercise was 13.5 from Bill Greenwell’s chapter ‘Rhetoric and Style’ in A Creative Writing Handbook (2009, ed. D. Kneale, A&C Black Publishers Ltd). Students of the Open University course A363 may well remember it.

** This was a masterly piece of understatement.