Planning a new novel

When I was half-way through A Patient Man, the third in the Inspector James Given series, I decided I’d kill him off. I’d had enough of him and wanted to move on to pastures new. I’d a long-term project I wanted to finish and an outline for the first in a possible new series I thought I’d get on with.

Spoiler Alert: I didn’t kill James!

James Given didn’t want to die despite my best efforts. Instead, he niggled away at me whilst I tried to work on the other projects and when a situation arose which gave me an idea for a plot he pushed his way to the front of the queue to be involved. So Where Every Man was born.

This new novel is creating its own challenges and I sometimes wonder why authors do this to themselves, making life as difficult as possible. In addition to being set in the 1930s, so lots of research to be done, this is also set outside England, adding another layer of complexity. This novel, like the others, is in first person so there’s wrestling with how to tell the tale where every event has to be seen by, or reported to, our hero. Without giving anything away, James has an extra barrier to solving the crime this time, which is already causing me headaches.

What I’ve discovered in planning this novel is I’ve learnt a lot about the process since embarking on the first, A Shadowed Livery, which is what might be expected. Instead of a random development of plot and characters, and chapters written in any order I fancied writing them, the second novel, A Pretty Folly, began with me working out the basic plot, then the writing of a synopsis for each scene. This time, I’ve an outline in my head and I’m working on the storyline for each of the main suspects.

The one I’m stuck on, though it’s always the most difficult, is the villain. So far, I know who he/she is and, more or less, why they did what they did. But I’m far from clear about many aspects – and it will be fun finding out how James Given catches him/her. One way I’ll develop the ideas will be to write a journal for the villain, hopefully telling me, the author, everything I need to know.

Here’s fingers crossed and I’ll blog an update when I’m further forward.

It’s all in the imagination

I was just away in south Warwickshire for a couple of days and whilst driving I spotted a sign for the village I’d used as the basis for Priors Allenford in my first novel A Shadowed Livery. It was particularly coincidental because I’d just heard the novel had just been re-released (on pre-order) through my new publisher, Sapere Books.

I’d never been before, simply identified it on a map as being roughly the right area and explored a little through Google StreetView. Mostly, I’d made it up and as the novel was set in 1938 it would, inevitably, be much different today. However, I decided to make a small detour to take a look. What a delight. At the centre of the village was a pub. The pub I’d used as my imagined ‘The Victory’ where James Given stayed. On the outside, it looked much as I thought it would, as it almost certainly looked 80 years ago – more or less.

On the inside, though, it was very different. Now a plush modern eatery with a smart restaurant, shabby chic furnishings and young bar staff in black uniforms, it was a million miles from the one I’d written.

But this is the joy of writing. Pulling an image from somewhere then stretching and expanding it to fit the world we’re trying to create. It doesn’t matter if it’s real in the details – except in our readers’ heads.

Sometimes, of course, it does matter, for example when we’re writing about real events occurring in a real place but even then, unless everyone is aware of how a place looks, liberties can be taken.

I enjoyed my time in ‘The Victory’, partly due to the sunshine in its beer garden and partly due to the excellent meal we returned for later, but mainly because I could still see James Given sipping his Vimto in front of the fire, chatting to Cudlip, and climbing the rickety stairs to his bedroom.

Moving home

A year ago today ‘The Beast from The East’ had blown through and we were able to move home from Ireland to England – and traumatic it was too.

This weekend I’ve been moving my web site from one host to another. It was also traumatic but the nice people at FastComet did everything they could to help. Now all I have to do is learn their systems and layout to work on the site.

Wish me luck.

Editing – Now the real work begins

Back in June 2018 I received a contract for a third novel in the Inspector James Given series (it didn’t start out as a series but has just grown that way) and, despite my slackness until I agreed a deadline, I completed the first draft by the last week in November. Hurrah!

I even got as far as devising a working title – it’s been James Given #3 for the last 5 months but now is called A Patient Man for the time being.

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Newsflash – exciting

Today I have received an offer of contract from a publisher, Sapere Books, and am so excited. Sapere Books has offered to publish the new novel, A Rose by Any, alongside a relaunch of A Shadowed Livery and possibly a third in the Inspector James Given series which is currently at an early stage.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware I’ve been looking for some time to place my second novel, following the decision of Holland House to stop commissioning new work for its Grey Cells Press imprint. It was a shame, because I have nothing but admiration for the dedication and editorial insight of Robert Peett and his team at Holland House, but independent publishing is a difficult game and I fully understand his decision.

One of the effects of these changes is that the digital version of A Shadowed Livery has ceased to be available for a while, although the print version may remain available via Amazon and other online outlets, or directly from Grey Cells Press. Hopefully, they will both become available again, alongside the new Inspector James Given novel, in a few months.

I’m very much looking forward to working with Amy Durant and her colleagues at Sapere Books on this new phase.

 

Number Three

Finally. The writing of James Given number three has started. I’ve been plotting for a few weeks, and planning to start for much longer, but the actual words on the page have eluded me.

True, there have been a few changes in my life over the past few months (selling the house, moving country, etc, etc) and I’ve not quite settled in to a routine yet, but it’s not really a good excuse for not writing. I’ve still been sitting at the keyboard for a few hours every day reading those all-important Facebook posts, checking vital emails from holiday companies, and generally wasting time. I’ve told myself that if only I was still able to go into my favourite coffee shop (Mrs B’s in Killybegs, County Donegal if you’re passing) the prose would flow, though I know it isn’t the reason. The real reason is I’ve just been too lazy and easily distracted – not a good combination for a writer. I did have a traumatic experience in one new café though – I was accused by one of the locals of writing down everything that was being said. He might have been right but I wasn’t going to admit it!

So, to get a grip, I started to plot. I began with a vague notion of a body being found – there almost always is, you know – then asked ‘how did it get there?’. A chance encounter with a ‘what’s on’ guide gave me a murder weapon. Whilst thinking about who the villain might be, I wrote a ledger for the victim using some characteristics from someone in a newspaper article. The murderer came to me part way through the poor corpse’s scribblings so I wrote their journal next. Then, using a three act structure passed to me in a recent workshop, I sketched out the three main storylines.

Today, I wrote the end, then the beginning. At least it’s a start, and only 75,000 more words to join them together.

I’ll keep you posted.

It wasn’t that bad after all

A month ago I was mired in writer’s block, or to put it another way, feeling so despondent about my current novel that my mind went blank every time I opened Scrivener. I’d been like that for months. At first I thought it was the usual ‘half-way-through blues’, my demons telling me it wasn’t good enough so why bother. But after a while I felt there was something more and the block became self-fulfilling,

Then the magic happened. I found myself with an hour to waste in a town I didn’t know, so settled in a coffee shop (with a cake, naturally) and returned to pen and paper. The words flowed – no, gushed – and I was sorry to stop to meet my appointment. Since then I’ve managed to write most days, even on the laptop.

And last night I finished the first draft. No champagne nor balloons – this is where the work really starts.

I think the problem, and perhaps the solution, was that I’d changed my routine. My pattern over recent years was to go into town with my wife every Friday, then sit scribbling in my notebook while she did what she had to do. This was augmented a couple of years ago by a similar activity earlier in the week. Producing this material, typing up the longhand, and developing it in the ensuing days, meant I was in a discipline of writing regularly. Then a couple of things changed and my trips to the café stopped for a while. Even when I had the chance to go my mindset had shifted – an ‘I’m not writing so why go to the café’ kind of thing.

Until today I hadn’t realised what the problem had been, I only knew I’d got over it. Just goes to show how difficult and fragile this writing process is. So, if you’re facing the same, try changing your routine, or look at what you were doing when you were writing, and try going back to it for a while.

Another time, another place – The importance of research on the ground

Last weekend I took a trip to County Wicklow, partly to carry out some family history research, and partly to check locations for my current novel. I’ve already written around two-thirds of the first draft, imagining the street scenes and roadways, backed up by miles and miles travelled on Google StreetView.

On the ground, however, I discovered that so much needs rewriting because my understanding of the history of the places was distinctly under par. The period of the novel I was investigating covered 1847 to 1921, and, of course, much has changed in the intervening years. Houses that I thought of as old, were actually new or didn’t even exist in that time. The landscape must have been different because the trees lining the fields, or forming huge woodlands, though large, were nowhere near 150 years old. Even the rural roads would have been different, with little or no tarmac, and the town layouts have changed beyond recognition.

I’m not dismayed by this, it’s important to get it right, and the experience of getting the feel of the places; seeing the way the light fell, hearing the sound the river made over the gravel and feeling the wind blasting down the mountain, made it all worthwhile. Even if I hadn’t been researching, it would have been pleasurable.

The hard task now is to translate it all on to the page.