Speed Reading. And worrying.
It's been quiet on The Dead Tracks for quite a while now, but about a week ago, I heard from my copy-editor at Penguin, who has been busy going over the manuscript with laser-guided eyes, picking out my bad grammar and even badder plot inconsistencies. Writing books really is quite an odd process at times. You spend so many months with a story, working on it, shaping it, editing it, rewriting it, editing it again (and then – in my case – completely losing all confidence in it), but then once it has finally been given the thumbs-up by your editor, it just vanishes, at least for a time. Between The Dead Tracks getting sign-off from my editor, to the time the copy-editor got the manuscript across to me today, it has been, give or take, five months since I even as much as looked at the book. That, I'm sure, will be both a blessing and a curse when I finally start looking over it again: on the one hand, I'll be able to approach it with fresh eyes, having forgotten some of it, or mis-remembered other bits; on the other, I worry that time away from the manuscript will make me realise I hate it.
The intervening five months hasn't been entirely wasted though. I've got a synopsis locked down for Book 3, I've even started Book 3, and I've done an immense (immense for me anyway) amount of reading. This past week Family Weaver and I have been holed up in a very nice holiday cottage in South Devon (it only rained twice: once, while I was unpacking the car; and the second time, when I was packing it again), which only added to the opportunity. In just under nine days, I finished Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow, Stephen Leather's Nightfall, Mo Hayder's The Devil of Nanking, Simon Beckett's The Chemistry of Death and Garth Ennis' The Boys Volume 2. (Not strictly a book, but as it involves reading words, I'm including it.) The best? Probably The Devil of Nanking, but only by a sliver. I enjoyed The Chemistry of Death more in a lot of ways: it was brilliantly written and consistently gripping, but whilst I'm loath to become one of those annoying people who trumpet joyfully that they guessed who the villain was a long time before the end, I have to say I, er, guessed who the villain was. Did it make a huge difference to my enjoyment of the book? Absolutely not. The thing that tempered my enjoyment more was the villain's reasons for doing what he did, which never seemed completely convincing, at least to me. Ultimately, though, it was still a high class thriller, expertly handled.
The Devil of Nanking (née Tokyo, and another book I'm very, very late in arriving at) was equally well constructed, but considerably more upsetting. I talked a little in the last blog about The Treatment, and its gut-wrenching subject matter, and Devil definitely comes from the same kind of area, this time using the very real Rape of Nanking to propel its plot. It really is an exceptional piece of writing: creepy, gory, tense, bizarre and, ultimately, devastating in its delivery of the events, it's a book that sits there with you for days afterwards because you know, at least in part, it all happened.
For now, I expect my reading to slow up a bit. The Dead Tracks copy-edits await, and I really should be powering on with Book 3. My biggest worry is dropping behind schedule on a novel, and having to rush it, so I always try to make a good, early start on things, allowing myself editing time at the end to knock out the weak bits. On the flipside, staring down the barrel of a third book has brought with it the exact same doubts as the first two: is the story any good? Have I got it in me to write another book? What if it's rubbish? What if it's average? What if it's only good? I don't know if I worry more or less than other writers, but I worry enough. And if that means I can turn out something even half as good as The Devil of Nanking or The Chemistry of Death then I know it's probably a handy mindset to be in…
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Author of the David Raker novels