Thursday, July 04, 2013

How I wrote Midsummer Magic: A post to celebrate publication day

As with a lot of my books, the kernel of the idea for Midsummer Magic came from this fab song by the Pierces, which I fell in love with the first time I heard it. I knew I wanted to write a summery book, and I also wanted it to feel a little magical, and this song made me think of  long, enchanted summer evenings. I love the video too, it feels quite mystical and earthy, which was also what I was after.

I mulled around ideas in my head and as I had to come up with something for my lovely editor, so I came up with this very rough synopis.

Recently engaged Josie and Harry are visiting Josie’s parents in the country to make plans for the wedding, together with her best friend Diana, and his best friend, Ant.  Unbeknownst to Josie and Harry, Ant and Diana have met previously and don’t get on. Sparks fly from the minute they meet, and one thing is certain, come the big day this is one Best Man who won’t be making eyes at the Chief Bridesmaid…
The weekend away takes place during the Summer Solstice, and as a dare, the four friends decide to stay out all night on the hills by the local Standing Stones, where local mythology says, a young married couple will find happiness, wealth and fertility if they can last a whole night there on Midsummer’s Eve...
In the village itself, Tatiana Okeby, an aging soap star is making preparations for her role in the local summer outdoor production of A Midsummer Night Dream. A night in the pub with Anthony Slowbotham, the rather unlikely local lothario, to wind up her agent and one time lover, Auberon Fanshawe, turns out not quite how she expects, thanks to the intervention of Auberon’s assistant, one Freddie Puck, who manages to persuade her a walk in the hills is just what she needs to be doing right now…
But as night time falls, a summer mist comes down, and the world seems somehow changed. Not all is at it seems, and not everyone seems to have remembered the boundaries of love…

If you are kind enough to read the book, you'll see that quite a few details have changed from this - not least Anthony Slowbotham's name, as I realised I had three male characters whose name began with A! At this stage I was also seeing Harry and Josie's stories running parallel with Tatiana's and Auberon's, but as the story progressed in my head, I started weaving them together. As you might have guessed from the giveaway names, I had also already started to look at A Midsummer Night's Dream for inspiration. Initially I was going to have Puck enchant my lovers with a magical potion as he does in the play, but when I came to read the text more closely (the funny thing about Shakespeare is you think it's all so familiar, then you reread and realise .. it's not), I came to see that wouldn't quite work, without making him seem like some kind of weird drug pusher. I also realised on closer inspection that the whole reason Oberon and Titania fall out (over a little boy in her entourage she won't give up), would look very wierd in a modern book, so I dropped that bit entirely and created a story for Tatiana and Auberon based on a relationship that had gone badly wrong. I also decided that hypnotising my characters would be a great way to get them into all sorts of trouble.I then wrote my longer, more detailed synopsis, which I won't share here as it will give too much away. Though I can tell you it too changed hugely in the writing!

The next bit, was of course getting down to writing. Oh dear reader, I am sure I've mentioned before,  but procrastination is my middle name. So I let the summer slip through my fingers, before finally getting down to business in September. It was only  the impending senses of doom brought on by a deadline at the end of November that kicked my butt into gear, and I started to get going.

All my first drafts are written by hand. (And did I mention, I write with Uniball pens, and yes, the lovely people at Uniball did sponsor me to say that!) I find for me it's the best way to get the story out. For some reason I am more scared by a blank computer screen then by a blank page, and a sort of stream of consciousness thing takes over and I find the writing flows more freely. The downside is, terrible hand cramp, and then I have to type it up, but I do like working this way. This is how some of that first draft looked:

I filled three notebooks in the end. I use Pukka Pads. (They haven't sponsored me to say that!) After I've scrawled out my first draft (my handwriting is terrible), I type it up and realise that it is waaaayyy too short, as I haven't added what my first editor, Maxine, used to call colour.  So then I do some more thinking and plotting, and write scribbled notes like this to help me, and after usually two more rewrites, it's ready to send to my editor, which I did with this, in early December.

Claire, my editor is not only very nice, but really thorough, and brilliant at picking up the bits that don't work. The first official draft of Midsummer Magic had alot of pointless running around in the dark, where I fell in love with the idea of creating mayhem for my characters, but didn't execute it well enough. So then it was back to the drawing board. Claire sent me these notes, we had some conversations about them, and you can see from my scribbles on the manuscript, her thoughts got my ideas going again. For me, I see being edited as a collaborative process, and I am always open to suggestion, and ways to make the book better. It's my baby, and this time I literally couldn't see the wood for the trees, and I needed Claire's clear insights into what wasn't working and what was.

During this stage of rewriting, I started to layer things more, trying to weave in Tatiana and Auberon's story more into the main narrative, adding in detail about the Cornish landscape in June, searching for Shakespeare connections to use as best I could. I watched/read A Midsummer Night's Dream obssessively, and deciding it was all getting a bit samey, worked harder to give my characters more misunderstandings. This is the version I sent to Claire, together with my research notes (alot were about wild flowers!), together with a map I drew of my fictional village of Tresgothen, so I could work out where I was sending my characters too.

I then had a combined line edit/copyedit to work on, which looked like this. Using the track change facility on Word, Claire highlights specific parts of the narrative, where I'm being too wordy or repetitive, and where things can be cut for pace. As well as Claire's comments, I also have the copyeditor's ( lovely Keshini, who worked at Avon when I was first published by them) comments. These are all about making things consistent, checking grammar, spelling, and factual content, and making me aware when I've been an idiot and made silly mistakes. Kesh is very good at it picking up silly things I've missed, and I find her input invaluable.

I think that stage probably took us to mid April, and then the page proofs came in. This is where my story starts looking like a proper book. And even though I have been doing this for YEARS, and worked on hundreds of proofs in my time, I still get a buzz out of seeing that title page with my name on it!  I usually read through the proofs once, and then check it more thoroughly against the copyedited version. Nowadays things are done digitally (in the dark ages when I was first in publishing page proofs would be typeset from scratch so there were more mistakes), so the proofs are usually quite clean, but sometimes changing computer programmes does wierd things to the font, typesize etc. And there are always things that you've missed which suddenly look glaringly obvious at proof stage. Having said that, it's still always possible to miss stuff, as I discovered to my chagrin in Last Christmas when I had Cat make meringue with egg yolks, and in  A Merry Little Christmas, when I forgot to change Lucy's condition from cystic fibrosis to cerebal palsy. In case you are thinking How Did She POSSIBLY Miss That? My defence is that after so many times of reading a manuscript you go word blind, and your brain automatically corrects things, so you read it as you intended to write it, not as it actually is. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

The deadlines for writing Midsummer Magic where tight all the way through, so I didn't send my comments on the proofs back till May (luckily just before my op!). It is a huge testament to the dedication and hard work of the brilliant Avon team that the books were ready in time for today's publication. I know how tight the turnarounds were and I salute them. So here it is:  the final book, and very beautiful it looks too.

I hope if you're kind enough to buy it, you 'll enjoy it. And thanks for sharing my pub day to me. With the memory of my lovely mother in law in mind, I raise my glass to you, and say Prosit!