A Long Journey: Part 1
About seven years ago, in between finishing Never Coming Back and starting to think about Fall from Grace, I had an idea for another, completely unrelated story. It was about a mother being suddenly and painfully separated from her daughters, and the terrifying, and emotional, journey she undertakes to get back to them. I wasn't sure if it was a thriller or not, although I was pretty certain that I could turn it into one, but –– unlike a lot of the Raker books –– it arrived in my head relatively fully formed. I had a clear picture of who the woman was. I, very quickly, realised what could have separated her from her daughters. And, a little while later, when I decided that, yes, it very definitely was going to be a thriller, I started to see the reasons why the journey back to her girls might end up being terrifying.
Those of you who've read these blogs before, or have seen me talk about writing at events or in interviews I've done, will know that I'm not especially fast. I write one book a year, and it takes me about 10 months (ish) to complete a first draft. I'm hopeless at maths, but even I was able do the sums: if I only had two spare months every year to write something else, and it took me 10 months to get a first draft together, if I was going to write this other book –– in between writing and continuing to try and establish the Raker series –– it would take me five years to finish it. And that would be on a not-exactly-ideal rota where I'd keep having to dip in and out of the 'other' book, in between Raker's, for two months at a time –– very obviously, a terrible and highly disruptive way to try and write a novel.
There was something else to factor in too. The Raker's are pretty all-consuming to write: they're quite complex in terms of the amount of ball-juggling I'm doing, it takes months and months for my tiny brain to figure out what goes where, and by the time I'm done with one, the very last thing I want to do is go straight into writing another, new book. I want a few weeks off, to think about other things that aren't book-related, like seeing my family and actually going outside. And also, in those spare two months, I need to give myself enough time to research and figure out what the next Raker book is going to be about. In short, even if, through some fluke, I was able to make the slightly preposterous, 'write the other book in your downtime' thing work, I clearly wasn't going to get two full months on it.
So, in the end, I kept going back to it, year after year, but not really achieving very much. I might add a couple of chapters, but only after I'd read what I'd written the previous year, to remind myself of the story and the characters. And, of course, a year on, there would always be things I didn't like, or storylines and characters that bore too much of a resemblance to ones in the latest Raker I'd done.
Yet, despite that, the book didn't ever really leave me. It just kept bubbling away at the back of my head, asking to be written, and each year I would sort of pine for it, but mostly ignore it, because the Raker's seemed like much more of a sure thing, and –– with the Raker books –– I sort of knew what I was doing. (Emphasis on 'sort of' here.) With a standalone, it would be completely uncharted territory, it would be a main character I hadn't spent ten books with, and it wouldn't be the cosy familiarity of missing persons either.
But, after finishing No One Home at the end of 2018, I realised something: for a year, that might be exactly what I needed…
To be continued…
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books The Government Didn't Want You To Read by Jim Trombetta
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
The Pictures by Guy Bolton
Then She Vanished by Claire Douglas
The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan
The Burning Soul by John Connolly
Atlas of Untamed Places by Chris Fitch
Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
A Window Breaks by CM Ewan
The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski*
The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett
Conclave by Robert Harris
*This took me FOREVER to finish reading, which is why this blog's list looks a bit on the small side considering the length of time since the last post. If you've ever read House of Leaves, you might have an inkling as to why it took me so long. Imagine the world's densest, most deliberately impenetrable novel, and you're halfway there. In places, it's amazing. In a lot of others, annoying and arduous.
No Plan's Land.
It turns out that I’m not very reliable when it comes to blogging, something you’ve probably already figured out for yourself based on how often I’ve posted to this page over the past 12 months. It’s always a combination of things that seems to stop me. The main reason is that I only tend to post when I think I have something interesting to say, and my lack of blogging clearly suggests I’m a particularly uninteresting person; the other is that, for ten months a year, I’m working on a book, and when that happens, it becomes hard to think about any other piece of writing except that. For me, a novel can very quickly become all-consuming.
Now, though, I’m two weeks on from having submitted the latest David Raker novel to my agent and editor (number 10 in the series, which is hard to believe), and while I chew my nails and tap my feet nervously, wondering what they’ll make of it, I’ve been catching up on things like going outside and enjoying fresh air. (It turns out fresh air is really nice, by the way.) I’ve also just finished reading an interview that Lee Child did with Marie-Claire, in which he talks about his writing process. It’s well worth a read, actually, especially if you’re an aspiring writer (and even if you’re not), as he talks very honestly and typically lucidly about the fantasy of being an author versus the reality of it, but what particularly caught my attention was the section in which he talks about his approach to a novel.
Specifically, the section in which he described his planning process – or lack there of.
For a long time now, I’ve often wondered whether my own writing process could be streamlined somehow. Every book is different, of course, because every book presents (or should present, if you’re doing it right) a different set of challenges. How do you realistically explain the disappearance of a man on the Tube when the Tube is one of the most surveilled transportation networks in the world? (Vanished) How do you combine two storylines set in two totally different places, five thousand miles apart? (Never Coming Back) How do you advance the plot of a book whose protagonist has no memory of who he is or where he came from? (I Am Missing) How can Derryn still be alive? (You Were Gone) I picked those four books as examples because their central questions were probably the most difficult to answer and so those books, in turn, became the most difficult (and stressful) to write. And then, after all the crying into my keyboard I did over them, I remember thinking exactly the same thing every time (“I should definitely try planning out the next one to make my life easier,”) and, hilariously – because I’m either stubborn, or stupid, or have a memory like a goldfish – doing absolutely nothing different. I never planned any of those books –– and I've failed to plan any of the books I've written in the Raker series.
And it’s because I agree with what Lee Child says in that interview 100%. (And I’ve said as much on this page in the past.) Writing isn’t as fun when you know what’s going to happen. You don’t think like a reader when you have notes all over the walls, or an Excel spreadsheet to hand. You can’t react. You can’t surprise as easily. You can’t let your novels grow organically, or allow characters to take on a life of their own and become something bigger than you imagined. If I’d stuck to the original idea I’d had for Colm Healy, he would never have been more than a side character in The Dead Tracks. Instead, he’s grown to be a major part of the series, and a huge part of who David Raker is too, because the minute I introduced him, the second he interacted with Raker on the page, I wanted him to be more than he was.
This is, in no way, an effort to disparage writers who plan meticulously. Writers need to stick to the methods that work best for them, and there are hundreds of amazing authors who plan their books meticulously. But it was weirdly comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in never planning. It was weirdly comforting to know that even the world’s biggest authors approach a book the same way as I do. (Stephen King also professes to be a non-planner.) It was comforting to see that their reasons were the same as my reasons too. The lack of a plan can make the construction of a novel incredibly difficult, it can make it a little manic too (maybe more than a little, actually), but in the end, it’s given me some genuine “Hallelujah!” moments: occasions when I’ve come up with a twist, or an about-turn, or an elegant plot solution right there on the spot that I didn’t see coming until I was there, writing it. And, more often than not, those are the moments that readers tend to cite when they contact me.
Oh, and if you’re interested in getting a taster of what the new David Raker novel is all about, don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter – the latest one has a sample from the (reliably non-planned and reliably slightly stressful) David Raker 10 in it.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix
The Last Days of Detroit: The Life and Death of an American Giant by Mark Binelli
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
The Restless Dead by Simon Beckett
Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolas Obregon
Believe Me by JP Delaney
Ghettoside: A True History of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
The Killing Season: A Summer Inside an LAPD Homicide Division by Miles Corwin
Sins as Scarlet by Nicolas Obregon
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
The Last by Hanna Jameson
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
Saga Volumes 1-8 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Missing in action.
Hello. You might not remember me, but I’m Tim Weaver, author of the David Raker series and the guy who’s supposed to keep this blog updated. As you can see from how long it’s taken me to write another blog post this year, I’ve been a bit neglectful as far as this place is concerned, as well as the website in general. I do have a good excuse, though, and it’s called David Raker 9. More on that later.
First of all, a note on I Am Missing. It’s been out there for just over three months now, and people are still reading it, and apparently they’re even enjoying it, which – eight books in – I’m always slightly amazed and thoroughly delighted at. Thank you so much for all your messages on email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – they have been overwhelmingly lovely, with only one reader (currently) telling me how much she hated the book, and indeed everything I represent. So that’s great news!
I do, I confess, worry about what people will make of my books, especially in the weeks and months before they come out. Of course, in reality, that’s a completely pointless thing to do because, even if they’re absolutely terrible, there’s nothing you can do about it once they're out. Any chance to affect change in I Am Missing was gone two months before it even came out, when I signed off on the final version of the manuscript. Nonetheless, it’s human nature to not want a fourteen-month project to be met with derision. Fourteen months is a long time. It’s blood, sweat and tears. It’s days staring out of the window until your brain feels like it’s sludge, trying to come up with the best twist possible. It’s working and reworking and scrapping and editing characters. It’s liking some bits, hating most bits, and doubting all of it. After fourteen months, you’re totally snowblind to your project and, however much your agent and editor try to reassure you, there’s always a small part of you that worries they might all be wrong – or they might be the only people who’ll like it.
I’m not sure if these are irrational thoughts, but – from what I can tell, having had countless conversations with other authors – it’s the thoughts a writer has. I’ve only met a couple of writers in my life who thought their books were absolute Grade A, solid gold winners, or who considered writing books really easy, and whilst I admired their self-confidence and especially admired their ability to turn in a 100,000-word piece of work having not broken a sweat at all, I’m always slightly suspicious of people who find writing simple and who have that level of trust in their work before a single reader has even as much as picked up their novel.
I’ve blogged about this side of things before, but writing is hard. It’s a learning curve, constantly, from start to finish, even multiple books in. It’s not a job that gets easier the more you do it. In fact, I find it much harder now than at the start, because – after eight books – you’ve covered so much ground in terms of plots and characters that it’s actually a very difficult task to keep things feeling fresh. It’s part of the reason why I went down the route I did with I Am Missing: not a missing person, but a person with a missing memory. Fiddling with the formula helps to alleviate some of the inevitable repetition of writing a series.
I’m not sure, ultimately, what my point is here: I suppose it’s just that I love writing, I feel very lucky to do it for a job, and extremely humbled that people would buy, and continue to buy, my books; and that books don’t come together easily, or by chance, and that decisions are rarely made in them without tons of thought being expelled; and, in the end, despite all the doubts you have during that fourteen-month process, from first page to final manuscript you just have to write what you want to write, not react to opinions and reviews. Yes, you have to keep in mind who your audience are, but beyond that, you just try to write the best book you possibly can.
All of which you could lift out of this blog, save off, and apply to David Raker 9 in ten months time. As I write this on a train (the first time I’ve left my house, pretty much, in three months), I’m about two days past my deadline, the book is finished in the sense that I've got to the end, but it needs so much editing. I have, no exaggeration, been working 14-hour days for two months trying to finish it. I’m totally snowblind to it already, terrified that it’s rubbish, and very conscious that it’s currently running thousands of words over the ideal word count – so, in that respect, the panic has started early. But, then, weirdly, I do find a sort of comfort in that.
Because if there's a day when I write something that doesn’t fill me full of fear and self-doubt, that'll be the time to really worry.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
You Don't Know Me by Imran Mahmood
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Absolute Power by David Baldacci
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
Alan Partridge: Nomad by Alan Partridge
The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
Boy's Life by Robert McCammon
Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas
Mad by Chloé Esposito
Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen
The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson
The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
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
Man at work.
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
Remains of the day.
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
Happy Christmas! (And thank you)
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!
The Neverending Stories.
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.
Author of the David Raker novels