Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A labour of love

In my very first job in publishing - ahem - years ago I worked in the production department of an academic publisher. I remember one of the first things I was told was that a book's gestation is usually around 9 months. It can of course be quicker then that, but factoring things like authors failing to deliver ms on time(guilty as charged), copyeditors/proofreaders not sticking to schedules, designers/desk editors getting snowed under and not sticking to schedules etc etc 9 months is about right.

Now I'm on the other side of the fence I'm discovering a book's gestation from the first spark of an idea to finished ms, is significantly longer then 9 months. And in the case of my latest book, The Bridesmaid Pact, the labour has been long, drawn out and rather bloody...

When I started thinking about this book, way back in 2008, I talked about the emotions driving me to write this particular story here . I knew it was going to take me into emotionally uncomfortable places (though I hasten to add, none of the dilemmas I've given my four characters are ones I've faced, but alot of the emotions they experience, resonate with me). My early attempts at writing things down seemed to flow rather nicely. For the first time since I've been published I have written in the first person, as something about the story made me feel it needed to be told from each character's perspective. This turned out to be trickier then I thought, as not only did I have to ensure my characters had four very distinctive voices, but they also seemed to dictate how the story unfolded. So for the first time I didn't have a plot to follow, which was the writerly equivalent for me of doing the highwire without a safety net. And is quite possibly why I found myself this time last year writing here about my lack of inspiration.

From that early free flowing start, nothing about this book has been easy. I procrastinated (well, that's nothing new, I am champion at that), couldn't get down to it, when I did get down to it it was like getting blood out of a stone. I felt my mind was in a total fog when it came to structuring the damned thing, as I was flipping back and forth between past and present, and on more then one occasion I wondered what on earth made me think I could produce a book like this.

On top of all this, I had more then my usual fare of domestic distractions, as at the start of the year my mother in law was ill. By the time she fortunately picked up in the spring, we were busy planning her 85th birthday party, which was wonderful and a great success, but rather took over my life and prevented any writing getting done. As the summer term crept to its end, with two children leaving to move onto other schools, my world was a whirlwind of attending leavers' events as well taking the eldest to endless rehearsals for the two shows she was in. As a result I was barely working at all, and I realised I was heading for a major FAIL in the delivery department.

By July instead of finishing the damned thing, I was only a quarter of the way through. So I resolved to take my laptop on holiday, having fond notions that I would sit by the pool in the afternoons, while my beloved family cavorted around me in the sunshine. I should have know THAT was a stupid idea. As readers of this blog may remember, I ended up in A&E the day before our hols, when I hadn't quite finished packing, and I was feeling so bloody ill when I got on the plane, any thought of taking my laptop with me was long gone from my mind.

I DID however discover that I could write a fair amount by hand, so I managed to scribble quite alot over the fortnight I was away. Coming home, I reckoned I could continue while the kids were still on hols, given that they're all a bit older now and don't need so much of my time. But that was a total disaster too, as I was having panic attacks on a near daily basis and couldn't settle to anything. And the mere thought of either sitting at a computer or putting pen to paper set me in a flat spin, which was really frustrating, as I have lots of things that make me angsty but writing isn't one of them. Thinking about it now, I think it was probably my panicky state reacting to a looming (and already missed) deadline, and also the fact that I WAS delving deep into various emotional crises I've been through making the writing experience more traumatic then normal.

Once the kids were back at school in September, I thought I'd get back into it, but no. Real life came biting me on the bum again, and my mother in law had a fall, and since then we've been on a roller coaster of time spent in care homes/hospital with the odd scary moment when she's home. None of which, is at ALL conducive to writing, I can tell you. On top of all this my lovely editor announced she was leaving. This book was her suggestion and she's been with me all the way, so I really wanted her to read it before she left. If there's ever a greater incentive to a procrastinating author to get a manuscript finished before her editor goes, I'd like to find it. Eventually I was done, even though, much to Spouse's annoyance I took my laptop on a trip to Shropshire with me, to get it finished. Because, the other insane thing I found about writing this book was, because I'd written it by hand, I ended up having to type the whole thing up later, which not only took forever, but I suddenly realised I had skimped in places because my hand was getting tired, and some of my chapters were waaaayyy tooo short.

However, I got it there. Eventually. Only three months late (sorry lovely Avon ladies).
In November I went into the Harper Collins office to say goodbye to my lovely editor and meet my lovely new editor, and we thrashed out the many many things that were wrong with the first draft. Optimistically (and idiotically - mouth, brain engage properly why don't you?) I thought I could get it done before Christmas.

But oh dear god. Whenever I sat down to look at it, I had major brain drain. I knew it needed restructuring but I couldn't for the life of me see how what or where. I sat for hours looking at the computer, conscious of my pigsty of a house, conscious of the Christmas shopping I needed to do, conscious I was completely wasting my time and still nothing came...

So come the week before Christmas, I had to admit failure and crawl to lovely new editor and promise to do better next time. I then agreed to get the ms back for the beginning of January, thinking that maybe when the kids were all playing on Wii Fit which I'd guessed Spouse had bought me, I might be able to sneak away to my study periodically. Wrong! Of course it didn't work like that, as mil came out of hospital just before Christmas and between us and bil and sil we were balancing crises on a near daily basis. So once again, much crawling was done in the New Year, and a promise to get the book in by last Thursday, completely doable I thought...

And then of course the snow happened....

In the end I had to just ignore my family and get on with it. Luckily in one of my more organised moments at Christmas I had made lots of meals and frozen them, which came in handy, I can tell you. Also due thanks go to the sterling efforts of Spouse who organised the kids in a way that I can't to get their rooms tidied, and even picked up a hoover, for probably the first time in our marriage (it's ok, he does other domestic tasks, but not normally the hoover). I sat up till 1am last Wednesday finishing it off and then reading things through, and had to stop when I had a major crisis and discovered two chapters which had saved half my changes and hadn't saved the rest. I spent last Thursday amending it, and eventually got it off by school run time.
At which point I collapsed in a little heap on the floor, and have stayed in a state of semi collapse since.

I'm delighted to say that despite all the travails in producing this latest labour of love, lovely editor seems to like it (and I am ENORMOUSLY grateful to both her and the rest of the Avon team for putting up with me over the last few months), and I now have a little break before I start thinking about the next book. Which is scheduled for delivery in ten months time, which is just about the right gestation period...

Friday, January 08, 2010

Belated New Year Greetings.

Happy New Year to you all. Sorry to be so dilatory in my greetings, this is a) because aged mil went back into hospital again last Saturday, b) the kids went back one day before the snow so I have had a houseful again and c) I am officially in deadline rewrite hell. So can't stop long. Would show you a picture of how pretty my garden is but the camera isn't working. Which sort of sums up my life somehow.

Anyway, was just sent this rather lovely good well wish for the New Year, from a friend, and thought I'd pass it on:

If 2010 is going to rain, let it be showers of blessings.
If it's going to be sunny, let it be sunshine to make your life shine.
If windy let it blow good tidings your way.
And if dry let it dry the evil might come your way.

I wish all my blog readers old and new (and especially the new readers who've thoughtfully found me out to let me know they enjoyed Last Christmas), the very happiest of new years. Hope many good things come your way in 2010!