Friday, January 31, 2014

The End is Nigh

It’s that funny time, that weird hiatus after pressing the most stressful button on the computer.

 New editor, new publisher, new type of book, it’s all kind of...well new! After months of scribbling and writing and stressing, suddenly…nothing.

I start to notice things; there are no clean dishes, one of children is 6 feet 2 (suddenly!), the dog is fat from  not being walked, the frosted glass in the windows turns out to be clear glass covered in cobwebs… oh and the kitchen ceiling has fallen in. I confess that I had noticed that last one but I had it on my ‘deal with it once the book is done’ list.
                                                           I used to have a Barbie. I dissected her.

That list is quite extensive. It’s nearly a book on its own.
So I am sailing out in new ventures and happily so.
When I am editing I tend not to sleep. My brain goes into a mish mash of regurgitation,  going over difficult scenes in my head, practicing dialogue to make sure it sounds real. It can be hard to switch off,  and I need to get up in the morning for the day job. So I make a point of reading something else – usually something marvellous – but this time I picked up a ‘first novel’ from someone who is now extremely famous – a huge best selling person, multi millionaire, clean socks, good aftershave  etc
And it was awful!
Really dreadful. So bad it made me laugh out loud.
The plot was James Bond meets the A Team with the cast of Emmanuel Five in supporting roles. I still can’t tell you what it was about but there was a Russian in there somewhere. 
It has been republished and repackaged. I found a recent  interview with him where he said that this novel was the fourth book he wrote, but the first book that was published. Then added, if you think that was bad, you should have seen the first three! .. and I would like to.  But he made the good point that all writers need to learn their craft. And now not that many get the chance.  It was interesting to see  how his talent has developed from those early days.
Ian Rankin was famously nearly dropped after book 4. It was book 5 that got to the top of the best sellers. My pal, nominated for a Gold Dagger, left ‘crime ‘at the end of book four to change genre completely, successfully I may add. But her crime publisher was not interested in a book five, no matter what kind of book it was.
So now I am in my hiatus. I’m 60 000 words into book 6 and researching  7. But I need that wee gap in my head… and the house needs hoovered,  the dog walked, and I need to phone a roofer.  Before  that I read the responses to PD James words of wisdom for writers in Red Herrings… and thought I would add my own.
no not him, that's P Diddy

                                                      This is PD!

 Because I can.
And I can’t be bothered phoning the builder.

You must be born to write.
Ms James said that you can’t teach people how to use words effectively and beautifully.  Chris Fowler said that curiosity about the world and its people shapes a writer more and I think I agree with him. Someone with a good imagination can learn the tools of the trade, learn to find their own voice and you can be the finest wordsmith in the world but you still need something interesting to say or a good story to tell. 
Write about what you know.
Well I don’t, I’ve never murdered anybody. Pretty sure PD hasn’t either.  I make it up! Fiction is fiction. Do the research about the stuff you don’t know. As I advise my students, get it written then get it right.

                                                                 Angela Gils Klocke
Find your own routine.
Very true. Having a full time job means I  don’t have time for writers block. Or housework. If in doubt get on with it. I am a Martini writer. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Be aware that the business is changing.
I know fellow authors  who network relentlessly and hassle editors and publicity people. One pal  got a row for stalking their publicity person by emailing her too often! I can’t be ar…d with all that.  I write, get the words on the paper and agree to any events I’m offered. I prepare myself well if I am asked to do a panel.  People get paid to chose my covers, they know about marketing so I let them get on with it. Or am I wrong?
Read, write and don’t day dream
Chris Fowler thinks that this is the  worst advice possible. I think they are both right. It depends on the day dream. Daydreaming in that creative space, walking the dog while working out a plot point pays dividends. The day dreaming in that fantasy space where you are being invited for coffee by George Clooney or you have woken up and are a size 10…. Maybe not so much. Then it is time to apply bum to seat, pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Enjoy your own company , again I can write anywhere, with any noise (except attack toddlers and lawn mowers, but an attack toddler under a lawn mower is fine with me). My pal is a chic lit writer and she  goes to a  five star hotel  for a week and lives on room service and champagne ( both feature heavily in her books, so it’s tax deductible)  to get the plot right. Then comes homes and writes it,  but she has lots of very small children and no lawn mower so she probably needs to!
Choose a good setting
I think we all in MIE know the importance of that, murder IS everywhere, thank goodness. ..
Never go anywhere without a note book.
I don’t ( go anywhere without one), I buy notebooks the way other women buy shoes,  friends stick ideas on ipads and other swipey screen things that bing and bong, run out of battery and break when the dog sits on it. Not so with a pen and a bit of paper. It’s so much more creative and much less like work. And you can stick the good ideas  on your forehead so you don’t forget.
Never talk about a book before its finished.
I do, all the time. I chat to folk in my writers group,  my patients, various folk who live in my house. The dog. The latter is the best critic.
Book 7 features someone in a coma.  I’ve never been in a coma thankfully  but was chatting away to a patient who told me her son in law was in a coma for  four months. She told me a lot. Stuff you don’t get from having a medical degree. 
One weird thing was that when he ‘woke up’ he knew what they had been talking about over his bed. Not specific memory but an osmosis of the daily detritus of the conversation.  Mainly, the stress had caused his wife to go back on the ciggies. His mum had lost lots of weight through the stress.  The cat had kittens and all found good homes. And somebody was scoffing all the polo mints. (That was the wife disguising the fact she was smoking) .
Know when to stop.
Maybe writers like PD don’t get a word count to  stick to but it does concentrate the mind somewhat.  My new publisher likes shorter books, so I’ve had to edit and cut and trim. I think it has worked. I hope it has.

I had ‘blog’ on my to do list, ( I have a special note book for my To Do list) I can score that off now and phone the builder. It’s going to snow tomorrow, it will snow through the hole in the roof.
But first I’ll take the dog out, there’s a bit of dialogue I’m struggling with where the James Bond type character has driven over an attack toddler in a lawn mower and Mr T ain’t chuffed!


Caro Ramsay GB 31/01/2014


  1. Congratulations, Caro, I know precisely how you feel, for I sent off the final edits to my new one on 28 JAN! As for your Barbie, I have one accessorized precisely the same way helping her sister move into new digs is Sarasota FL far, far away from freezing NYC. The only differences I can see are that mine is likely wearing an MIE tee shirt and any dissecting will be consensual. By the way, thanks for the tips.They'll go straight into my syllabus for the course I teach next time.

  2. Hi Caro. And sound advice. Congrats on finishing the edits -- and to you Jeff for sending off your latest tome. Now I feel doubly unproductive

    Never owned a Barbie, but I once had an Action Man, until I hit my sister with him and he snapped off at the knees.

    Oh, and let me know if you need a hand with that hole in the roof ...

  3. :-) Love it, Caro. Especially your dog. You're not paying him high enough wages, considering all of the editorial consulting he's providing. I'm smiling now, with the image of you on a riding lawn mower, the kids running away in front of you and the dog chasing merrily behind...

  4. What a great post! It had me laughing and smiling from start to finish.

    I am so glad I'm not a fiction writer, but you seem to have it all worked out, as you have explained all of the rules to write by.

    I have a friend who has written and edited for 45 years. If it takes her two hours to write a news article, she complains that it's taking too long! I don't get it.

    Anyway, best wishes with the new book, the exercise-needing dog and the kids needing whatever they need.