My original plan to pen a blog at the beginning of November, and then another just before Christmas, has – like so many of my plans – been filed away under 'Might Happen One Day'. But, as always, I have a good excuse. Two weeks ago, copyedits of Book 3, now officially titled Vanished (more of which later), dropped into my inbox, and I've pretty much been doing those the entire time. It's not that they were particularly hefty or difficult (my laser-eyed copy editor at Penguin always makes the job a lot easier), more that I always find this stage of editing the most difficult. Every change, every query, anything that shifts around, it's all colour-coded and tracked, so that – in my ancient version of Word, which I should have done away with ages ago (but didn't, principally because of nostalgia) – the manuscript starts to take on the look of a London Underground map. Blue lines. Red lines. Green lines. Basically, it's a mess, and it makes re-reading the book much harder; or, at least, it makes it much harder to judge the 'flow' of the story. For me, the books only really come alive once they're typeset proofs. When they're formatted and laid out like the real thing, you tend to get a proper idea of how the reader might judge them. All of which means there's still plenty of work to do on Vanished.
In between times, though, I'm chipping away at Book 4 and, so far – without putting the mockers on it – it's gone pretty well. I'm about 17,000 words in, like the way it's shaping up, and feel pretty confident in my plans for it. I'm hopeful that the extra breathing room I've got on this one (12 months, rather than the eight I had for Vanished) will also benefit it. Those extra four months just take the pressure off a touch. Not to say Vanished is any kind of rush job. It's not. By the time I'm done with it, I would have spent nigh-on 14 months writing, editing and polishing it. But my writing process has never just been about putting words on the page. I like getting a plan together and then giving myself (and it) time to settle. I like to be able to think about it, knock it around, and then come back and refine it. All of that takes time, and of course takes weeks out of the schedule, but it's a luxury I'll luckily get with this new one.
That said, one (relatively minor) thing that's continued to bug me since starting Book 4 is the lack of a title. I don’t generally get too wrapped up in worrying about titles in the early stages – for me, a title will come when it comes. It’ll be something that feels right for the story, something that reflects the themes of the book. Chasing the Dead came late – only, really, once it was signed by Penguin. (Before it was Chasing the Dead, it was called something else entirely, but neither myself or my editor were ever one hundred percent sure about its original title, which is why it changed. Chasing the Dead, however, reflected perfectly what the plot of the first book was about, and – in many ways – summed up what would be at the heart of all the Raker books to follow.) The Dead Tracks, on the other hand, was there from the very beginning, even before I’d got any words on the page. It came out of my research, out of my thinking about where a good place to set a thriller would be. Sometimes I wonder whether it might have contributed to the relative simplicity of the write (long term readers of this page will know that, of the three books I’ve finished so far, The Dead Tracks was by far the easiest to complete): maybe having a title, and giving it a name, allowed it to take shape and develop more easily in some vague, difficult-to-quantify way.
The fact that Book 3 (as mentioned earlier, now officially (re)titled Vanished) was such a difficult write certainly plays into that theory, because the title for Vanished came even later in the day than Chasing the Dead did. As readers who finished The Dead Tracks will know, it was originally called The Last Exit (but even that wasn’t the first title it had – before that it was called The Line), but I think, eventually, myself, my editor and my agent, as well as the team at Penguin, felt we needed something more direct, that required less intepretation once it was out there on shelves. So we ended up with Vanished. I think the decision paid off: the cover for the third Raker book really looks the part and the image and title tie in brilliantly. (And you can get a sneak peek at the cover – or, at least, some of it – on the newly jazzed-up front page by clicking here.)
All of which is a long way of saying I still haven't got a title for Book 4. So far, happily, I'm disproving my own theory about a book being more difficult to write without a name in place – but there is, of course, a long way to go yet. As I alluded to, I'm not worried about it – there's more immediate, pressing things to chew my nails about in these early stages – but I do think there's a grain of truth in there somewhere; that having a title in place is oddly comforting, perhaps only because, of all the many, important boxes you have to tick during the building of a thriller, without a title, there's no book and no reader. Still, for now, it can wait. Because nothing can spoil the next few weeks of Book 4, boatloads of mince pies and teaching the extended Weaver family a lesson they won't forget on the Xbox.
Happy reading – and happy Christmas!
Author of the David Raker novels