Someone once said to me that it takes a surprising amount of discipline to blog regularly. At the time, I thought they were either taking the mickey, or utterly insane. I mean, seriously, how hard could it be? Well, actually... really quite hard. Turns out it's pretty easy to blog but pretty hard to do it regularly, at least in my case. So, it's best I don't break with tradition here: sorry that it's taken me two months to get around to this. I know, I know. My apologies aren't worth the blog post they're written on. Irony is, I don't even have a really good excuse this time. Last time I blogged I had just finished Book 3 and was fried. This time, I'm between books – sort of; I'm actually editing Book 3 with my agent and editor at the moment (more of which later) – but it's not like I haven't had time to get this page updated.
I guess the truth of the matter is that I've really enjoyed this down time after finishing Book 3 in May. The third Raker novel was a challenge in a way the other books weren't. With Chasing the Dead, it was the challenge of getting it published, of rewriting it and rewriting it even though no one was interested and the rejection letters were piling up. With The Dead Tracks, it was more about handling the pressure. I'm not sure I struggled at any stage writing it – certainly not in the way I might have feared – but I felt a pressure to surpass Chasing, to deliver a bigger, more ambitious novel, and to do something markedly different in terms of the plot.
With Book 3, it was about delivering something better again but, more than that, it was about delivering a manuscript in a shorter time period and from a synopsis I hadn't spent quite as much time with. It was fully developed in the way a synopsis has to be before I can proceed with the writing of the actual book, but I hadn't lived with it in the same way as The Dead Tracks. As I've detailed in previous posts, I was carrying the ideas around for the second book from before Chasing the Dead even got me an agent, but the third came together much quicker. I put a synopsis together in July 2010, signed a contract with Penguin for Books 3 and 4 in the August, and began writing it in September. By Christmas, I was only 150 pages in, and those first 150 pages I'd scrapped and rewritten four times over. If you're putting a book out every year, this is the kind of timescale you work towards, and I knew that from the beginning - it was never the timescale that got in the way, not the story (which, I felt, was pretty strong), not the characters (many of whom were already established in The Dead Tracks), not really anything other than the fact that when I hit some bumps in the road – tiny things like how to get Character A to Point B, or how Character C might react to Situation D – I seemed to stop. Completely stop. Those tiny bumps passed almost unnoticed when I was writing The Dead Tracks, but they got big on Book 3, and the more time I wasted trying to tackle them, the more panicked I got about hitting my deadline. By January, I'd only staggered as far as page 200 – well under halfway in the overall story – and my original submission deadline was the first week in April. By February, it became pretty clear to me that I was never going to hit that deadline, so I asked my editor for an extra month. Graciously, she gave it to me, and it was only March time that things finally started to click into place. Why? I'm not entirely sure – but in the same way the tiny problems had become bigger problems in the early stages, by the end I was whipping through at top speed for no good reason I could see. It was the same story I'd always had. The same characters. Everything was headed in the same direction. But what had been excruciatingly painful to start with seemed really quite easy at the end. Even so, by the time I submitted, I was a bit of a wreck. The challenge of Book 3 was, and still is to some extent, a mighty one.
And so here we are, at the end of July, and I'm working on the fifth edit of Book 3 with my agent and editor. The major bone of contention has been the word count which – in a delicious dose of irony not lost on me – is massively over. Yep, you heard right. A book I struggled to get finished comes in about 20,000 words too long. Er, how did that happen? I have no real idea, but the net result is that we have to hack into it. My editor has suggested some areas that need looking at. My agent had suggested some others. Both sets of suggestions, in their own way, are quite painful as they involve sections of the book I've sweated blood and tears over – almost literally this time round – and have grown quite attached to. But, when I step back and try to see the novel as a reader will see it, I can see they're necessary. So over the coming weeks, I will be getting the scissors out, and we'll see where it takes us. (Given that, sickeningly, agent and editor are almost always right, I'm pretty sure it'll take us somewhere better.)
The period since May hasn't been completely dedicated to catching up on the TV and movies I'd missed during my Book 3-induced captivity, though. I've also been laying down some groundwork for the next book too. I've got some ideas down on paper already, but have mostly been busy on the research side of things, reading, travelling around and chatting to a few very interesting people. It's very, very early days on Book 4 yet (it won't even go on sale until space year 2013) but I can feel already that it's going to be a good deal different to what's come before, and hopefully surprising too. Surprising in good way, of course, rather than surprising like an unexpected gas bill landing on your doormat. Whatever happens, I'm sure it'll be a challenge, just like the others. But hopefully the challenge this time will be making it brilliant, rather than just trying to get it done.
Author of the David Raker novels