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Progress Report: July 2015

TOT 500Half way through the year already – where has the time gone? Blackthorn & Grim book 3 is due in at the end of 2015 and I still have quite a bit of it to write.

It’s relatively rare for a novelist to make a living at it. Most of us have day jobs and/or a partner contributing to the family finances. Many professional writers have children to look after, and although we love them, children swallow up a lot of time and energy. I’m spoiled by comparison. All I have is a menagerie of dogs to look after, plus occasional grandparent duties. And yet I still don’t work as quickly as I, and some of my readers, would like. Why is that?

Being a novelist is not simply a matter of sitting down and waiting for inspiration to strike, though it’s nice when that happens. As well as the hard slog of actually writing the book, there’s a bunch of other work involved:

– Research: Even in a book that has fantasy elements, it’s good to get the history accurate. For this series I read the general history of the period and culture. I also learned about specific story elements, eg for Dreamer’s Pool I refreshed my knowledge of the Irish legal system in pre-Anglo-Norman times, particularly the penalties for a serious crime – what were they, who imposed them, who made sure they were carried out, and how much leeway was there in deciding the punishment. Historical research includes what people would have been wearing, what they would have been eating (nothing more boring than a story in which the characters always cook ‘stew’,) transport (how long to get from A to B on horseback, and how much can you expect of your horses; what are the horses going to eat along the way?) Then there are buildings. In Tower of Thorns Grim takes on a specialist thatching job. Thanks to a fantastic book on traditional crafts, I was able to make this reasonably authentic, I hope. Another key research topic for the series was PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – its impact on the people affected and those close to them, and how people can develop strategies to cope.

– Editing: While writing Blackthorn & Grim book 3, which has the working title Heartwood House, I’ve been editing  Tower of Thorns, which was submitted to the publishers in late January. In early March I got it back with their structural report. I had a month to revise the manuscript (I will write more about this process another time.) It was a lot of intensive work, as these are novels of around 150,000 words, and during the revision month I got very little work done on Heartwood House. With editing done, the manuscript went back to the publisher, then returned to me as a set of proofs, which I needed to check very thoroughly for small errors of logic, typos etc. I did this twice, once for the Australian edition of Tower of Thorns and once for the American edition.  That job was done to a tight deadline, so other work got set aside. Of all the tasks that disrupt progress on the current work, editing the previous book is the biggest.

– Other writing: I’m not very good at saying no. I was given the opportunity to submit a short story to an anthology I really wanted to be part of. I wrote a story I was very pleased with, but it took a path of its own and ended up far too long to meet the guidelines for that anthology. The story, called Beautiful, was one of those projects where inspiration really did strike, with the result that I worked exclusively on that for maybe three weeks, losing more time on my main project. I’ve since submitted Beautiful to a different publisher and am waiting to hear if they want it. It can be hard to place a story that is too long for ‘short story’ and too short for ‘novella’. I’m sure it will be published somewhere, some time.

– Social media, correspondence : I love to interact with my readers, but keeping up takes time. That’s one reason I don’t do Twitter. But I can be found on Goodreads and Facebook as well as here on the blog. I respond to most emails and letters from readers.

– Appearances, teaching: I made a decision to keep these to a minimum this year and I have no overseas travel planned. I appeared as a guest at the Perth Writers Festival and at the inaugural Australasian Conference of the Historical Novel Society, as well as Perth’s speculative fiction convention, Swancon. I have a couple of Novel Writing Master Classes to present, one in August and one in December, both in Rockingham. And I will be at Brisbane Supanova in November. These events take time to attend and time to prepare for – their value has to be weighed up against writing time. The same goes for interviews and guest blogs. They are wonderful for getting the word around about a new book, but they take time and energy.

– Blogging: We’ll see how I go with this personal blog; never had one before! I will only post when I have something worthwhile to say. I do still blog every second month on Writer Unboxed, too.

– Real life. Yes, it does get in the way of writing! My dogs are high maintenance, being mostly oldish and with various medical conditions that need careful management. One pack member died about a month ago; this month I have taken on a new boy. They do demand a lot of my attention, but I love caring for them, and they provide a good balance to the writing. Then there is my human family. They may not actually live with me but we are all part of one another’s lives.

Tower of Thorns is off my hands now until it is published in October (Pan Macmillan Australia) and November (Roc USA.)  Closer to the publication date I will be doing some interviews etc, and there will be a book launch. I finished my quarterly accounts today (another of those fun tasks) and I will be getting on with Heartwood House, in which Blackthorn and Grim have another of their strange adventures. Heartwood House is scheduled for publication in late 2016. Is it the last in the Blackthorn & Grim series? My contract is for only three books  but I will be doing all I can to ensure there are at least four – the story requires it!


The Tower of Thorns cover art is by Arantza Sestayo.