Book 5 Alive.
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.
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Author of the David Raker novels