So, DAVID RAKER 8 is finished. It’s actually been finished for a couple of months, and since October, I’ve been working hard with my editor on knocking the manuscript into shape. It can be a long process, a fiddly one too, but I always look forward to this part. After ten months of working alone on a book, and (if you're me) pretty much doubting it the whole time, it’s somewhat liberating to be able to discuss it with other people, to get their feedback, and to work (in theory, at least!) towards making it a whole lot better.
It’s possible, in fact probably very likely, that the work of an editor is underestimated by readers; I certainly had no idea of how vital they were to the process until I became published myself. But a good editor will improve your book tenfold: they will show you the things that don’t work, they will challenge your viewpoint, and they will suggest ways in which the story and characters and structure could be improved. They’ll also, initially, be the number one cheerleader for your book as well. Ultimately, it’s up to the writer whether they take any of that advice on board, but 99 times out of 100, I personally do –– because 99 times out of 100 my editor is right.
In the spirit of a telephone salesman, I should probably mention at this point that, if you’re a newsletter subscriber, and you definitely should be, you’ll have already read an extract from Book 8 in the Christmas email. (If you haven’t signed up to the newsletter, you can do so here.) The extract amounted to three-quarters of the first chapter and, although it gave a taster of what’s to come, it was minus that chapter’s ending, which in turn sets out the book's key premise. I’ll be running the first chapter in its entirety in the Spring newsletter, so I’m loathe to talk too much about the plot for now, but I will say, this missing persons case is something very, very different for Raker.
While I’m in hard-sell mode, I may as well mention my Instagram page too, on which (sell sell sell) I first revealed that I’d also started DAVID RAKER 9. It’s the incredibly early stages of Raker 9, admittedly – I literally only know how it starts so far – but I really enjoy this part of the process. It’s a clean slate, with absolutely nothing in place and nothing to rule out (yet), and the only thing I know for sure, the only thing I can definitely rule in, is David Raker himself. Beyond that, absolutely everything is up for grabs. (Within reason, of course. I don’t think the world is ready for space unicorns. Or maybe they are. We’ll have to see when Raker 9 comes out.)
I think I’ve blogged about this before, but I place high importance on trying to do something different with every book. For me, that doesn’t mean just changing the way a serial killer murders someone. (Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that, of course.) There’ll always be a missing person, because that’s as fundamental to the series as Raker, but everything else I will look at and revise. I will always go back and see if I’ve done something similar before and, if I have, I generally scrap the idea and start again. There are occasions when, in a series, it’s impossible not to repeat things: characters, minor beats, the fundamental building blocks of a thriller. But I hope that each of the books is broadly remembered as offering something different to the one that preceded it. I always think, if a reader can remember one key set piece from each book – a place, a scene, a character – then, as a writer, you’ve done your job.
So that’s where I’m at: almost at the end of one process and about to begin another. All of that, and I’ve managed to write half of a standalone novel that has absolutely nothing to do with Raker at all. But that’s a whole other story…
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Crossing by Michael Connelly
Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Maestra by LS Hilton
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Sirens by Joseph Knox
Defender by GX Todd
The last time I blogged I was on a train back from London, and – what do you know? – it’s exactly the same this time. I spent last night doing a great panel with Sophie Hannah, Rod Reynolds and Jane Corry at First Monday Crime (thank you to everyone who turned up!) and then returned to my hotel room to watch two women screaming at each other in the middle of the street. It’s difficult to say exactly what sparked the row off because they were both so drunk their blood was probably 99% ethanol, but one of them was wearing a Batman: The Killing Joke T-shirt, so – when she’s not absolutely steaming – she’s clearly a woman of pretty good taste.
In fact, seeing artwork from The Killing Joke emblazoned across her chest got me thinking about writing deadlines and reading choices. At the moment, I’m a month out from my Raker 8 delivery deadline, so I’ve basically been chained to my desk (except for last night, and Bloody Scotland this weekend) every day and every night for the best part of two months now. I’m not sure if that suggests to you that things are going really well or really badly (the truth is probably somewhere in between), but it’s a pretty cyclical event. Around June, maybe July if I’m lucky, when the dust has settled on the previous novel (thank you to everyone who bought Broken Heart, by the way!), I’ll have a grand realisation about where I am in the new book, what I’m trying to achieve, and how far I still have to go, and I’ll think:
Or, if I’m really lucky, it'll be a combination of all of the above.
I’ve talked quite a lot on this blog about that self-doubt that plagues a lot of writers (and definitely plagues me), so I won’t go over it again, but the last 2-3 months of a write are always pretty hellish for me. I’ve spent so long with the novel by that stage (Raker books take me about 9-10 months to finish), I know all the characters so well, the situations I’ve put them in, where I’ve been and what I’ve done, that it’s almost impossible to see the novel clearly, either in part or as a whole. Because of that, you don’t focus in on the small things that work, you tend to zero in on the things you have worries about, the things that don’t quite come together as well as you’d like, and – after a while – the whole process just becomes a perpetual series of uncertainties. Ultimately, when that happens, I fall back on the one key lesson I’ve learned over the course of (almost) eight books: just finish it. Just get to the end. Just get it onto the desks of the people you trust the most to read it, and judge it, and respond in the way you need them to. In my case, that's my agent and editor.
It’s at this juncture that I always feel I should point out that I love writing. I really do. I love it. I feel privileged to be able to do it at all, let alone for a living, and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. And, of course, those hellish last 2-3 months aren’t hellish compared to the life some people are forced to endure. But, within the context of writing books, it can be quite a challenging time, and also a somewhat isolating one. I don’t get out and about as much, I lock myself away in my office with only constant cups of tea and my own thoughts for company… and another thing that happens is that I completely and utterly abandon my 'To Be Read' pile. Or, indeed, any book pile.
Because here’s something you might not know: I stop reading books in those last 2-3 months. As in, I stop reading altogether. Actually, that’s not strictly true, but I certainly stop reading crime and thriller novels, as well as anything that looks like it might be really good. The reason is pretty simple: it interferes with my head space. To be in someone else’s world, to see the amazing things that the best authors are doing within the genre that I write in, and outside of it too, all feeds into the anxiety I have about my own, current work. The problem is, I’m a writer. I love reading. Reading is like breathing to me. Which is where we come back to The Killing Joke. Well, not The Killing Joke specifically (I read that years and years ago – and it's bloody great if you haven't had the pleasure), but graphic novels in general.
I grew up as a huge comic book fan, and still am, and because it’s such a different medium to the one in which I spend most of my life (or, at least, it can be – there’s actually some insanely good thriller writing in the field: see the work of Ed Brubaker), it’s a way to continue to read, to get enjoyment from other people’s work, and to escape for a half-hour before bed, without ever impeding on the constant Raker-related buzz I've got going on in my brain. I think it’s important too, at the end of every day, just to wipe the slate clean a little. I’ve spent all day (and, at this point, most of the evening too) with Raker, so – much as he and I get on – it’s nice to spend time with someone else. What makes graphic novels and comic books even better at this time of the year is that they operate in short, sharp blocks of about twenty-two pages an issue, so you can step in and then step back out again in a way that’s not always possible in books.
I’m not sure if this is something that other authors do, or even worry about, but for regular readers of the blog, it's probably not all that surprising. After all, you can just file this one away alongside other weird Weaver quirks, like not being able to write novels on a laptop.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
Black Flowers by Steve Mosby
Long Time Lost by Chris Ewan
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt
Behind the Badge by Andrew Faull
The Devil in the City by Erik Larson
The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
The Fade Out Acts 1, 2 and 3 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder and Jock
First off, a (very belated) happy new year to you! I always seem to be behind the curve when it comes to updating my blog, so wishing you a happy new year a month and a bit into February shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, I hope.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a train to London, on my way to a meeting with my editor. When you work on your own all day, every day, it’s always nice to get out and be a little social. I love writing books, have never wanted to do anything else, but the one thing I do miss about my old life as a journalist is being around people. The crushing despair of middle management, the petty politics and the insane pressure of constant deadlines are easier to leave behind, but the people? That was definitely the biggest wrench about packing in the day job, and the one that requires a surprising amount of adjustment when you make the leap into full-time writing.
Of course, some writers get around the solitary experience of sitting at a keyboard all day by paying to rent a desk somewhere, or by setting up shop in a café or a library. That makes a lot of sense to me because, often, the greatest moments of inspiration come when you’re watching other people. (Especially if you look up and they're giving you the death stare, or they start singing loudly, or they get into an argument with the person next to them – all of which has happened to me.) I’ve tried the local coffeeshop on a few occasions, I’ve set up home in the library too. But here's the thing: something never quite clicks. I write, I just don’t write as well. It’s weird.
I’ve thought a lot about this (which probably says more about me than I realise) and I’ve decided that my inability to write as well on the road basically comes down to three reasons. (I should warn you that one of these reasons is possibly – probably – a bit mad.)
1. I don’t like working with headphones on.
It’s not impossible for me to write if I’m listening to music – I wrote a lot of Never Coming Back listening to Brian Eno, because due to a house refurb, my office was the living room – but the music has to have zero words (hence Brian Eno), and it has to have the ability to completely fade into the background. Ideally, though, I prefer to write without any music, in monasterial silence, and that’s impossible even in a library. (Library sounds: whispering, the tap of keyboards, the faint sound of other people’s music, children crying.)
2. I prefer working on a desktop computer.
I’m very lucky, because I have both a desktop Mac and a Macbook (which I’m using to write this). Here’s where it gets a bit odd, though: I find it relatively easy to write things like this on my laptop, but the books themselves, not so much. I’m not sure why it is, but whenever I’ve taken the latest Raker novel out on the road, to a café or to the library, or on the train to an event, what I come out with on the other side is almost always rubbish. (I’ll fill in the joke for you here: “Do you write all your books on your laptop, then, Tim?”) I get stuff down, I just don’t get through as many words. And then, as soon as I get back at my desk, things go better. I guess a part of it comes down to the fact that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time – the manuscript, my notes, research, etc – something you can’t really do on a laptop… unless you’ve got one of the mega-laptops that look like they’ve been ripped from a space shuttle control panel, which kind of defeats the idea of having a portable computer, I think. (Also, on the subject of the multiple windows thing: this is where some people will be screaming, “Scrivener!” See below.) Most of it, however, is just because… well, because. It just feels better at my desk.
3. I can only write in Microsoft Word.
It’s not because I think Word is an awesome programme, and I love the guys at Microsoft. I mean, I’m sure the guys at Microsoft are really nice, and, actually, I find Word quite frustrating and limited in a lot of ways. But I’ve tried programmes like Scrivener (used by tons of writers) and, while I can see why it’s brilliant, and why it would be useful for me (especially in terms of compiling research and being able to very easily snap between that and the manuscript), I just found it too big and daunting, and ended up spending most of my time trying to remember what went where. I suppose this shouldn’t really affect my ability (or inability) to write on the road, as Word is arguably easier to get up and running on a small laptop than Scrivener is, but it’s just another weird Weaver quirk, and I guess my point is that, using Word, at home, on my desktop computer, without headphones, is all part of the reason why I generally work from my office.
Anyway, now you can see what an oddball I am. Oh, and why getting out on the road – without my laptop (or, at least, without having to continue writing my novel on the laptop) – is something I really look forward to. It’s especially timely at this point, because Raker #7 (which is finished in the “I’ve finished a new draft of it!” sense, rather than the “It’s ready to be published!” sense) was AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE FROM BEGINNING TO END. Regular readers of this page may have heard me say similar things about my books in the past*, but any previous trials were like scaling a sandcastle compared to the Everest of Doubt and Fear that Raker #7 was.
* Vanished and Never Coming Back also ranked highly on the nightmare scale.
Why was it so bad? I don’t know. For some reason, it was just incredibly hard to write, and a consequence was that I found myself tied to my desk pretty much all the way through August and September (in order to finish the teeth-pullingly hard last quarter of it), and then again – once my editor got his first set of notes back to me – through December and January (in order to complete an XXXL-sized edit). Dealing with a 45-minute delay outside Didcot Parkway, which is what’s happening right now, is actually enjoyable in comparison.
Will it be worth it, though? I really hope so. Part of the reason for heading up to London today is to see what my editor made of the latest draft. If he hates it, then I’ll be the guy in the corner of the pub opposite Penguin’s offices, with his face flat to the bar, drunk on Diet Coke and bags of pork scratchings. If he likes it, hopefully I can start to talk a little more about it over the coming weeks and months. Trying to be objective about something you've spent 10 months toiling over is extremely difficult, but I think there’s some good stuff in there. Maybe. But it’s still a little rough around the edges, and – as seems always to be the case with me – hugely overwritten.
Of course, one way to ensure I don’t keep overwriting would be to write an entire novel on my laptop… but we won’t get into that.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson
Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
The Calling of the Grave by Simon Beckett
Slade House by David Mitchell
Wytches Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder and Jock
The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
It’s been so long since I’ve written one of these, the others are now old enough to be museum pieces. It’s not for the want of trying, I promise. I’ve started blogs a number of times, but – for one reason or another – I’ve managed to become sidetracked.
The major reason, it has to be said, is Raker #7. The follow up to What Remains is almost, almost done – but it’s been that way for a while. I’ve been hovering in and around the 90% mark on the book for six weeks or so, unable to quite see it over the line. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why – for me, the momentum normally drops away a little during the middle stages of a novel, when you’ve set everything up and have to begin the effort of drawing everything together – but, for whatever reason, what’s normally the most most pleasurable bit of a book (finally finishing it!) has become something much more torturous this time around. Well, it wouldn’t be a Raker book without a few months of fist-gnawing, spirit-sapping struggle, would it?
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed aspects of this book. I really have. The research in particular has been fascinating. I won’t say why for now, because I think it’s too early to talk about the themes of the book – especially as it’s still a year out from release – but it’s a story that I’ve been kicking around for a while, and a subject I’ve been keen to tackle for an even longer time. Until now, I’d never felt like it was quite the right point in Raker’s timeline to tell it, but the events of What Remains seemed like a natural jumping-off point.
What Remains, of course, being the second reason why I haven’t written any blogs. It’s been out for almost four weeks now, and the response has really been lovely. Most people seem to have enjoyed it, been surprised by it, even felt quite affected at some of its twists and turns, all of which I’m ecstatic about. I felt, writing it, that this was the most emotional of the Raker books, because it was dealing with two characters who we’ve got to know over the course of five (in Healy’s case, four) stories. As well as that, they’re trying to solve a case that has been lurking like a spectre in the background the whole time; and at its centre is a man – in Healy – who, as frustrating and difficult as he is, is also tragic, lonely and broken. It’s a good combination for a piece of fiction, and – whilst I would never have been as bold as to think people were going to love it – I did at least hope it would resonate in some way, particularly with readers who have been with Raker and Healy (and me!) on the journey from their first meeting in The Dead Tracks.
At the risk of sound annoyingly teasy, there’s also a third reason things have been a bit hectic, and that’s because of a project I’m working on with Penguin that will be released towards the end of August. It’s hugely, hugely exciting, and it’s been fascinating taking part of it – there’ll be more details on this website, on Twitter and Facebook too, over the coming weeks.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
No Name Lane by Howard Linskey
Hidden by Emma Kavanagh
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
The Fade Out: Act 1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
So, I’ve just checked the calendar and it appears to be four months until What Remains comes out. (That’s David Raker #6 for those who haven’t read the News section yet.) Four months. To you, that probably seems like a fair way away still.
To me, it’s close enough for mild panic to be setting in.
I’ve literally just signed off on the last but one read-through of the book, and by my count that makes a grand total of fifteen months of work on it so far. It’s been equal parts exciting and daunting, and a long slog at times too, mostly because it’s such a different book to the others. I don’t want to spoil anything (and won’t), but the Raker-Healy cold case combo has presented me with challenges I haven’t experienced before in the series. I mean, I’ve paired Raker with Healy in The Dead Tracks and Vanished, but their partnership (if you can call it that) always orbited a current case, so that immediately makes things easier because there’s already plenty of moving parts. This time, they’re digging up an unsolved murder that has been in the freezer for the best past of four and a half years.
Cold case thrillers aren't a new invention, of course, so it’s not like I’m pioneering some never-attempted sub-genre. But they’re new for me, new for the series, and because I don’t like to do things by halves, and because I like to make life utterly miserable for myself, I’ve attempted to give everything a bit of a twist. So it’s a cold case thriller – but it’s not. By that, I mean it goes in a different direction to where you probably think it will. (Unless you broke into my house and found my highly scientific ‘plan’ for the entire novel – a collection of dusty, curly-edged Post-It notes – and read them all, in which case it’ll go in exactly the direction you expect it to.)
I suppose you could argue that all the missing persons searches are cold cases, because people come to Raker when the police have hit a dead end, but there’s never been such a long gap between the ‘crime’ and Raker stepping up to the plate. That provides unique challenges – the longer a secret stays hidden, the more questions you’ve got to answer as a writer. The more questions you’ve got to answer, the more potential there is for something to slip through the cracks. I don’t think that’s the case with What Remains, having read it (at a rough guess) about fifty-seven million times, but I’m pretty snowblind to the book by now, so in theory there's the potential for this new direction to have thrown some gremlins into the mix. But I'm equal parts confident and terrifyingly uncertain that everything will be okay, and as I've been like that with every book up until now, it's a weirdly quite comforting state to be in.
One thing I really hope the book has is an emotional punch. I definitely think it does. Probably. It’s not going to be like Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, which made Mrs W cry for an entire hour after finishing it (no joke), but it’s a long-in-the-making investigation for Healy, one that essentially ruined his life, and – as you’ll know if you finished Fall from Grace – solving it is the only thing he’s really got left to live for. He’s a sad character anyway (and so is Raker in a lot of ways), and this desperate situation he finds himself in only makes it even sadder. Plus, you don’t have to have been reading the Raker series for long to know that things rarely go to plan for those two.
In essence, then, I’m nervously looking forward to July 16th, and will be talking more about What Remains over the next few months. Oh, and if you fancy reading it before anyone else, you should sign up for my Newsletter. There'll be a competition to grab an early proof copy in the Spring edition, arriving into all good email inboxes (and bad ones) this month. Sales pitch over.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly Macmillan
The Anniversary Man by RJ Ellory
The Martian by Andy Weir
Seasons Greetings to you!
A long-overdue, but very, very short blog, as I'm right in the middle of edits on Raker #6 (more of which later), and if I dare try slacking off even a bit, Penguin special forces will storm my office and force me to write. (I'm joking, of course. Or am I? Of course I am! Or... am I? etc etc) The truth is, though, there's not too much to report, as I'm kind of at the 'in between' stage – Fall from Grace has been out for four months, and the new one doesn't arrive until July next year, and although there's some other bits and bobs bubbling under, for now it's all relatively quiet. Well, if you call 'having to lose tens of thousands of words from this latest draft' relatively quiet, I guess.
However, I wanted to use the blog as a way to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who went out and bought Fall from Grace in the summer, and for the wonderful messages I continue to get via email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and my Newsletter (which you definitely should sign up for, by the way – subscribers get all the juicy stuff early, including videos, book extracts, and more). The support the Raker books have enjoyed from readers this year has been incredible. I feel humbled to be able to write books for a living, but it's no exaggeration to say that, if it wasn't for your backing, Raker would be nothing more than a few ideas on the back of a napkin.
Have a fantastic Christmas, and a blessed new year!
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City by John Buntin
Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett
What She Left by TR Richmond
Post-Mortem by Patricia Cornwell*
* I wasn't sure if I'd ever read it before – but, then, 300 pages in, I started to realise that I had. D'oh!
It's been so long since I blogged that my previous post is now considered an antique. Still, you can rest assured that it's not because I've been sitting around with my feet up, staring into the middle distance*. Fall from Grace, as you'll probably be aware of by now, is out on August 14, and copyedits for that took me all the way through to the end of May, mainly thanks to myself and my copyeditor spotting a timing inconsistency the size of the sun. I'm exaggerating, of course.
It was the size of the moon.
Somehow, in the (at a rough guess) seven zillion and one read-throughs I did of that book, pre- and post-completion, neither me, nor subsequently my agent, my editors (x 2) at Penguin, or my copyeditor (on the first read of it, anyway) picked it up. Of course, maybe that means it's not quite as big a problem as I probably think it is – but I was thankful to the general all-round brilliance of Caroline, my crack CE, nonetheless, who saved me from spotting it in the finished copies and probably crying a bit. Oh, who am I kidding? Crying a lot. (I hate finding mistakes.)
That oversight (and others) actually remain in the pre-release versions of the book that were sent out to reviewers and bloggers too (though I'm hoping most people will realise it's an error – if they spot it at all). I'm not sure how other writers work during the copyediting stage, but my books normally go through a fairly transformative process relatively late on, which is why – if you read the uncorrected proofs, as they're called, and then the finished version of the book, which is eventually available in the shops – you'd probably notice some decent-sized changes.
But, don't worry, mistakes aren't my only excuse. Alongside copyedits, since January, I've been busy writing Raker 6. People who have already finished Fall from Grace, and those who will come to do so over the next weeks and months, will already have a pretty good idea of where it's headed. It's been an idea I've been toying with for a while – ever since finishing The Dead Tracks, really – but it's only now, four years into the Raker story arc, that I feel it's ready to be told.
At this point – with it almost, almost finished – I can safely say, at times, it has felt like I've bitten off far more than I can chew. With every book I've ever done in the Raker series, I've always been determined to try something different, to challenge him in a different way, to give him a new environment to work in – and, by extension, myself. With Raker 6, I've attempted to do all of those things but, for the first time, this isn't a traditional missing persons case. In fact, in a lot of ways, it's not a missing persons case at all. Don't worry: someone does go missing, as it wouldn't be a Raker book without someone vanishing into thin air – but there's the Missing Person and then there's Something Else. Finish Fall from Grace and you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what the Something Else is – but the Missing Person? You'll have to wait for that.
The closer I've got to the end of Raker 6, the more my own reading has dropped away. For the rest of the year, I've always got a book in my hands, but as the end of a project nears – usually the last two months – I start to find it difficult to think about (and concentrate on) anything that isn't my own novel. Once a Raker book is done, I'll head right back to my humungous To Be Read pile, but since the end of June my TBR tower has continued to grow, without being eaten into.
Because of that, the last book I read (which I won't name here) has really stayed with me, not only because I loved its first half (though, sadly, not really its second), but also because its first half was broadly similar to an idea I had myself, and which I could never figure out how to make work in a Raker book. The nameless novel in question did a stellar job of setting things up, and yet the unfulfilled promise of its second half and (in my opinion) a series of bad narrative choices, has left me intrigued about the possibilities that might exist for my original idea. Mostly, it's focused my thoughts on how I could make it different to the book I read – as in, completely, unrecognisably different – while still retaining the echoes of that central premise.
In the end, maybe it's not possible, but these moments are indicative of the final stages of my own novels: not only does my reading drop away, but I start thinking about what comes next.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Poppet by Mo Hayder
Flicker by Theodore Roszak
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
??? by ???
*Although I did plenty of that, don't worry.
Remember me? I wouldn't blame you if you've had a temporary bout of amnesia. I'm having a hard time believing it's been five months since I last blogged, but that's what the column on the right is telling me and, as we all know, THE COLUMN NEVER LIES. (Literally, it never lies. I tried editing it, so it looked like I blogged way more often, but it wouldn't let me.)
The good thing is, you actually haven't missed that much. I'm right slap bang in the middle of The Lull at the moment, which probably sounds bad, but is actually really nice. With Never Coming Back seven months old, and Book 5 (out: 14 August) now finished, drafted, re-drafted, and being ripped asunder by my eagle-eyed copy-editor, I'm filling my time waiting for notes on the latest by ploughing on with Book 6, a novel you won't be reading until Space Year 2015.
Confused? To be honest, I've managed to confuse even myself. Don't worry, though: given the high level of 'WHAT'S GOING ON?', this handy checklist will hopefully make sense of it all, as it'll give me the chance to tick off everything I've been up to since November. Ready? Let's go!
BOOK 5, AKA THE 'WITHOUT A NAME' BOOK
Actually, that's not technically true. It does have a name, or at least it did. But for a variety of reasons, it was decided that the name I wanted to give it wasn't quite right at this point. I won't go into the why's, the wherefore's and the do-you-mind-if-I-don't's (© Fry and Laurie), but the upshot (and most important thing) is, the novel itself remains the story I wanted to tell.
In truth, this part of the book-writing process is always a blessed relief to me. Writing a novel can sometimes feel like scaling Everest in flip-flops, and I write in such a fastidious way, unable to move on to the next chapter without getting the last one just so, that by the time I submit the manuscript, I'm basically at the point when I can't think of anything better than making it my editor's problem for a couple of months. I know lots of authors blitz through a super-rough first draft, just to get the bones of the story down on paper, but I'd never be happy working that way. I know it without even doing it, like I know I wouldn't be happy planning a book down to what happens in individual chapters. So instead, I plod on, taking ten months to finish a draft, but at least submitting (I hope) something that doesn't require as much ground-level attention when it arrives on my editor's desk. Certainly, bringing it back to Book 5, this has probably be the least amount of drafting I've ever done with an editor on one of my books, which (again, I hope) means my way works sort of works. Ish. Like I mentioned at the top of the blog here, I'm currently in a holding pattern, waiting for notes from my copy editor, whose job now will be to drill down into the fine detail, unravelling things that my editor and I have missed, things that don't tie up, continuity errors, spelling mistakes, grammar, and all manner of other, microscopic things.
In terms of the plot, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to talk about it here yet (you'll have to sign up to my brand new newsletter to get the first ever taster of what the story's about, nod, nod, wink, wink), but – as I think I've said here before – my hope is it's got a very different feel to Never Coming Back. It's geographically smaller for starters, as it's set entirely in the UK, but I think it retains a sense of scale which will appeal to people who enjoyed the Vegas sections in NCB.
Oh, as soon as there's more on it, I'll post it on here, Tweet it, and 'Book it. Or you could subscribe to my newsletter to get details before anyone else. Er, which I mentioned already.
BOOK 6, AKA THE 'WRITING NOW' BOOK
Hard to talk about this, given that I've stopped short of revealing anything about Book 5, but it's going well, I'm about halfway in, and – as is my usual schtick – I haven't quite figured out where it's headed yet. If that sounds mildly terrifying, don't worry: it is. But rest assured that this is the slapdash approach I've applied to all my novels so far, and they turned out alright. Uh, right?
DISCONNECTION, AKA THE FREE BOOK
You might already know this, but I figured it was worth repeating just in case: I wrote a short story (along with fellow Penguin authors Nicci French and Alastair Gunn) based on ideas the Twitter community came up with, and you can download it FREE OF CHARGE. That's £0.00. Kindle and iBooks versions are available, and the reason it might be worth it? There's a special guest appearance by Mr Raker.
NEVER COMING BACK, AKA THE ALREADY-DONE BOOK
You probably don't need me to tell you a lot about this, so I won't go on, but what I did want to say was a massive THANK YOU to every single person who bought a copy of Never Coming Back. I've been bowled over by the response, and very, very humbled by the lovely things people have said in emails to me, on Twitter and Facebook, and through the Richard and Judy website. You may be interested to know, if you don't already, that the book was nominated for a National Book Award, and awarded 'Best Crime Thriller of 2013' by the UK Apple iBookstore. Neither of those things would have been possible without the incredible support I've had for Raker #4.
And we're done! Bit of a different blog to usual, but hopefully it has helped fill in some blanks. As I mention elsewhere, if you truly want to be kept up-to-date with what's going on in the world of David Raker (and, er, me) then please do sign up to the Newsletter. I'll be posting first details on Book 5 there, including the plot and cover, before they go anywhere else, and it won't be one of those annoying emails that clutters up your inbox every couple of days. It'll likely be quarterly, so the most you'll hear from me is four times per year (five, if I'm feeling happy at Christmas).
Blimey. I would have made an awful salesman.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Explorer – James Smythe
The Poacher's Son – Paul Doiron
The Wrath of Angels – John Connolly
The Black Box – Michael Connelly
Blue Monday – Nicci French
Little Face and Hurting Distance – Sophie Hannah
The Good Father – Noah Hawley
I Am The Secret Footballer – The Secret Footballer
Ten weeks since the publication of Never Coming Back, and the only semi-decent excuse I've been able to come up with for not blogging is that I've been really busy. (Right. You've heard that one before somewhere.) But – and I'm pretty sure this will sound familiar as well – it's true.
One of the major contributors to my lack of bloggery has been Book 5, which I've now finished. I use the word 'finished' in its loosest possible sense, of course: Book 5 is a bit of a mess, as all first drafts tend to be. It needs a really, really good sort out, it needs editing, tightening, improving, and cutting back by about 20,000 words (if nothing else goes to plan, I can always rely on The Annual Weaver Overwrite to keep me on my toes). But even so, getting to that last full stop in the very first draft is enough of a finish for now. It means the book is at least there, it's created, it exists from start to finish, even if it changes shape and identity over the next six months.
What may come as a bit of a surprise is that – even five books in – I always feel slightly amazed when I complete a novel. Not amazed at how great it is. Definitely, definitely not that. Long time readers of this page will be familiar with my tales of self-doubt, of late-night nail-chewing, of the countless times during the process where I'm (99% metaphorically) banging my head against a wall, and my amazement is certainly a product of those moments. I worry about all sorts of things with a book: mostly, whether it's actually any good, but, also – especially right at the start when all you have is a plan and a blank page – whether I've got it in me to finish another one.
I suppose a lot of that comes down to knowing my writing process so well now. I know, right at the start, that the first 20,000 words will breeze by. It's a new book, a new set of characters, new places, new stories, new twists, new turns, and I'll feed on that for a while, loving the change of pace from the last book. Then, at 20,000, the doubts will start to kick in. I know that'll happen, because it always happens. Is that as good as it could be? Is he a believable character? Would she really speak like that? YOU'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO TIE ALL THIS UP. You get the picture.
There'll be moments where I write something, and I think to myself, "You know what? That's actually not bad" – but, mostly, the doubts will come with me for the duration. Because of that, at some point further down the line – maybe between 60 and 80,000 words – I'll start to worry about everything I've written up until that point. I won't even get those, "You know what...?" moments anymore. The doubt just becomes a boat that won't turn. And yet, ironically, that's where the familiarity of the process helps: I know these feelings because I get them with every single novel – and I know that, ultimately, there's only one answer: finish the book.
I get a lot of emails from people wanting to write, asking for advice, and the one thing I always say is, finish the book. Push the doubt aside, or at least ignore it, and FINISH THE BOOK. Once it's done, you have something to work with. There's a starting point. Even if it changes beyond all recognition in the editing stage, at least you have the foundations to build something on. And that's where I am with Book 5: it's finished, I'm relieved, excited, and – yes – mildly amazed that it's finished, and now – with the help of agent and editor – it's about knocking it into shape.
I don't want to talk too much about what Book 5's story is for the moment, because there's still such a long way to go, but as I hinted at in previous blogs, it's a very different book to Never Coming Back. That was geographically and historically big in a way that would be impossible to replicate, even if I wanted to. (Which I don't.) So, this is a smaller novel in a lot of ways, more intimate and personal – but the journey for David Raker won't be any less dangerous.
Finally, talking of Raker, a huge, belated thank you to everyone who has bought Never Coming Back, and who has been so kind about it on Twitter, Facebook, in reviews, and via email – and don't forget you can download a free short story with a guest appearance from the man himself here. It also includes stories from my fellow Penguin authors Nicci French and Alastair Gunn.
So here we are.
Thirteen months on from the publication of Vanished, Never Coming Back is finally on shelves. It's with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I see it there: I'm not sure the buzz you get from finishing a book, and especially from seeing it out there in the wild, will ever pass (and, in fact, I hope it doesn't). Likewise, I suspect that feeling of trepidation won't be easily shifted either. I worry about all sorts of things with a new book. Will it sell? Will people like it? Was it the best book I could possibly have written? What could I have done differently – and better?
Those first two – Will it sell? Will people like it? – I basically have no control over, so in a way there's little point in worrying about it. (Ha! This is me talking. Of course I'll worry about it.) But was Never Coming Back the best book I could possibly have written at this point in time? I think so, yes. Could I have done something differently – or better? Maybe differently, but probably not better. That's not to say the book is perfect – I'm sure it isn't – but it's as good as it can be right now, given everything I've learnt as a writer over the last 4-5 years. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay it – if, indeed, it's alright to pay a compliment to something you've created yourself – is that I seriously doubt it's a book I could have written two or three years ago. I've talked quite a lot on this page about writing's vertical learning curve - and, in a way, this is the result of that. I'm still scaling the curve, of course, but if Never Coming Back says anything, my hope is that it speaks of ambition and scale, and my ability now to paint something bigger.
As one launches, so another continues. Book 5 has been, and continues to be, hard. In a lot of ways, it's the total opposite of Never Coming Back. That was also a testing write, but the hardest part was meshing all the elements together. The actual structure of the book – the nuts and bolts: characters, locations, narrative – were very clear to me all the way through. Book 5 is a more intimate story in some ways, and yet a harder one to pin down. My original plan hit the buffers at 20,000 words: it felt too small and too under-developed. Then, at 85,000 words I realised it had become too big, so had to scale it back, and hack a whole sub-plot out. Now I think it's about right - but, of course, it's only 70-75% done, so plans could yet change again. In fact, given past experience, I think it's probably safe to assume they will!
What's a priority - for me, at least - is that Book 5 is different to the previous books. It would be hard to recreate the events of Never Coming Back, for reasons that will become clear once you've read it, but I think it would be easy to go back to the first three books, and to seek some comfort in the fundamental building blocks of those novels. In short, it would be easy to reskin some of those places and characters, some of the twists and narrative kinks, and at the end of it, I'd probably have a half-decent novel. But readers are smart. They'd see through the facade. And, what I would also do by making that decision, is settle for something less than I hoped. For me, part of scaling that learning curve is being brave enough to make the next leap – and every book should be a leap. How much of a leap Never Coming Back is, and whether people respond to its change of direction, I guess I'll see over the coming weeks. I'm not nervous. Oh no. Not at all.
Author of the David Raker novels