I won't even apologise for taking three months to update this blog (a new low, even for me), as I'm sure, by now, you probably don't believe I mean it. The irony is, I must think about this page two or three times a week, about the things I'd like to write about and the (in theory) interesting things I might have to say. But then little things like work, parenting and thriller writing take over and I never seem to find the time. I'd like to think that, if I was writing full time (as in, writing novels – my day job in publishing means I spend quite a lot of my day writing, anyway), I'd find loads of space in my schedule for all the important, peripheral stuff like this, but I fear I'd probably end up breaking that promise too. Hopefully you'll forgive me, especially if I tell you that half of January and all of February were taken up with edits on Vanished, which is – finally – finished. Completed. Edited. Done. (Well, my part is done, at least. There's still the small matter of Penguin's crack design department locking down the look and feel of the packaging. More on that, as well as a picture, when it's completed.)
The edits on Vanished turned out to be a bit of a rollercoaster, much like the writing of the book itself. As I alluded to in the last blog, by the end of the initial editing process, and before the manuscript was typeset and returned to me as proofs, I'd got to a stage where I was finding it hard to see the wood for the trees. The Word document I was working from – a Word document that had, over the course of 2-3 months, incorporated the input of my editor, agent and copyeditor and a lot of their suggestions and (great) advice – was a bit of a mess. One person's notes were red, another's was blue, another's was green, and as with any document where you need to keep track of who's suggested what, it became over-run by tabs, footnotes and strike-throughs. The upshot was that, by the end of the process, it became hard to read the book as a story because you couldn't go more than two lines – especially in my terrible, ancient copy of Word – without a note of some description. So I was looking forward to getting the proofs back because they'd be clean, they'd be set out like the final book, and they'd bring alive the story in a way a Word document never could.
My excitement lasted about 80 pages.
It was then that it started to dawn on me that there was a small plot hole running throughout the course of the book. It was easy to miss, which was why it had been missed, and – if I'm honest – I doubt most readers would have even noticed it, or been that bothered by it. Yet it wasn't so much the plot hole that started alarm bells ringing but the relationship the plot hole had with the last 30 pages. It's obviously difficult to talk specifics without massively spoiling the story, so it's probably easier just to say its existence opened my eyes to tiny flaws in the finale of the book. Not book-ruining flaws, again – like the tiny plot hole – probably not flaws that anyone but me would even really pick up on – but flaws nonetheless. I pride myself on being pretty exhaustive during editing. I take weeks (in this case, six) just to read the proof set because I'm so petrified about mistakes creeping through. I have Mrs W reading a second set at the same time, and she'll question absolutely anything she's not 100% sure of. Between the expert Penguin copyediting team, and our homegrown operation, we're able to spot most things.
But, about 30 pages from the end, Mrs W turned to me and asked me about one of the book's major events and I knew, right there and then, that I needed to rewrite it in a pretty major way. In retrospect, I think I was probably – quietly, in a borderline state of denial – asking myself questions about that section long before she got there, and although the plot hole completely passed her by (as I suggested, above, it might), the fact that she'd brought up the point at which the plot hole and the major event intersected was enough to give me the wobbles. (Technical term.) So I quickly got on the phone to my editor, apologised profusely, and told her that I had to rewrite about 20 pages. Thankfully, by now fully used to my flapping, she told me not to worry and to do what I needed to do in order to make things work. So I set about changing it.
Maybe 20 pages doesn't sound so bad. But, at the proof stage, changes of this size are, in theory, pretty rare. Pre-release copies, printed and bound in order to be sent out to retailers and then reviewers, are drawn from the first set of proofs, so the version of Vanished which most people – outside of my house and Penguin HQ – would get to see could have been the one with the plot hole and the not-quite-right ending. You can see why I was getting a bit antsy. Luckily, the call to my editor arrived just in time (two days before the proofs were due to be printed, in fact), so disaster was averted. (I must give a very public shout-out to my endlessly patient copyeditor Caroline, and Penguin's cool-as-ice editorial manager Nick.)
There is, of course, the possibility readers will still not take to the way I've finished the book, but I, at least, know I did all I possibly could to address what issues there were. Personally, and for what it's worth, the finale works pretty well for me now. Endings, as detailed in this blog, have always been very, very important to me, which was probably why I felt the need to reshape Vanished's so much. The most difficult thing now it's all done is to get used to the idea that that's it. No more changes. No more opportunities to affect any changes. I've decided not to look at the finished PDF version of the book I've got here in my inbox – ever – just in case I spot something that I've missed.
So with Vanished done, it's back to the 40,000 words I've got already on Book 4. It's always difficult to judge how well a book is going to turn out when you're not even at the midway stage, but getting the ending right for Vanished has given me the chance to take Book 4 in an interesting new direction. Oh, and top of my priority list: watching for those plot holes.
P.S. At the same time as apologising for the lack of updates on this page, I should apologise for the lack of updates elsewhere on the site. There's a good reason. Really. I'm actually giving the site a bit of a spring-clean, and it should be ready for lift off when Vanished launches in July. (He says. Crossing his fingers.)
Author of the David Raker novels