___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

one of these things first

Some things take longer than you expect them to take. Just under three years ago I started work on what I hoped would turn out to be a new book. I knew my time for this project would be limited, and that the book would have to be written in sporadic bursts that might, if I was lucky, amount to a month here and a month there.

By that, I mean time that was wholeheartedly and selfishly mine, during which I could commit to being in the same place, getting up at roughly the same hour, and getting the space – physically and in my head – without too many outside disturbances, to put the work in on the book. Concentration and effort, in other words. Focus.

It hasn’t been easy. And it’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way that things have fallen. You can read as many self-help books as you like, telling you all about visualisation and believing in something enough that it will happen – these same books tend to have a no refund policy and are apt to tell you that if something doesn’t work out then it’s because you haven’t been trying hard enough and didn’t really want it in the first place – but the real truth is what the Ancients called Fate has a hand in our lives. We don’t get to decide if we’re struck by a particular illness (or a car as we walk down the street, for that matter) or if and when our loved ones need our help, or even when the computer you’re writing on is going to explode and you can’t afford a replacement. These things are flung at us by whatever Gods we may or not believe in. What I have found is that these things are not usually conducive to writing a book.

The book I’ve been working on, then, was written in patches, and was a dog to get back into after every time I was forced to break away from it.

But, persistence . . . you know?

I did get back into it, each time, even if it did take colossal reserves to do that, and I found myself enjoying it, getting back into the lives of these people I’d come to know. It was hard work, but fulfilling in many ways.

Today, coming off the back of a particularly nasty bout of the flu, I finally got to the end of the first draft of a book that, really, should not have taken anywhere near this long to write. I’ve written more words in shorter spans of time in the past, that’s for sure. But I’ve also been healthier and had, in some ways, fewer demands on me when I’ve been writing those other words.

Anyway. This is where I stand now. I have a working title – THE CHURCH OF WOLVES – and a fair few words to work with. 201,913 of them if MS Word’s word count is to be believed. And that’s good, because it’s easier to fix 200,000 words that are in the wrong order but on a page than it is to have to start from scratch and put them on a page and then fix them . . .

Right now the book feels disjointed, in need of quite a lot of work. It will – the Fates allowing – get that work from me. But not for a while. I need some distance from it – so I can come back and see it with clearer eyes. I’ve already made a few notes about things I need to fix, include, go back and retrofit into the manuscript. So I’m not without a clue as to what needs to happen. It’s not simply a case of writing an instruction to myself like “make this better”, tempting though that is. And it’s a first draft, and first drafts are allowed to be a bit saggy in places and underdeveloped in others. The characters’ names can change throughout as well. They’re pretty fluid things, first drafts.

I tend to think of my first drafts as “story drafts.” It’s where I sit and put words on the page and find out who the characters are and what happens to them and what happens because of them. And if I’m lucky I also learn why it happens and why they’ve done what they’ve done. Some sort of plot resolves itself.

Thus, a story draft.

I don’t pre-plot. I’m not one of those writers who sits down with a flow chart and copious notes all neatly lined up to tick off as I go. If I’m feeling a little bit professional, I might jot a note down on a stray piece of paper that I inevitably lose somewhere down the line. Otherwise, it’s follow the first sentence and see where it leads. I might have a theme in mind – past themes in my books have been identity and duty and doors – or a certain mood I’m hoping to achieve through the book, say awe or fear. Or a question I want to explore, a sort of grand What If . . . or What Does It All Mean? But aside from that, it’s pretty much all that I have. As far as plots go, I never really seem to come across them; at least, not before I set off on the journey of the first draft.

And it is a journey. To me writing a book is like heading out on an expedition. I’ll set off into what I think is a trackless forest armed with a candle and a couple of characters and beat through the bushes until it looks like we know where we’re going. The first draft is learning what happens in the forest, and how we get to the other end of it. Subsequent drafts are about illuminating the path the characters have taken, enjoying the scenery, and making sure everyone’s feet land where they ought to. By the time I get to the final draft, before the endless rounds of polishing and buffing up take place, then that initial course through the forest should look like it was always going to lead to where it leads, an inevitable track to an almost predetermined destination – despite all the swings and turns it makes along the way.

So. Where am I now? I’ve just got through to the other end of the forest.

I’ll go back. I’ll see more. The characters’ voices won’t be as difficult to hear or their needs and desires as obscure or as distorted as they seemed when they first acted how they did. I know who they are, now. I’ve been on a journey with them.

Next time I come back to this book I get to shine a light on them, to make things as clear as glass. And I’ll know what lies ahead of us as we go in to the dark woods, and what we’ll find there. I know the darkness, and want to make sure you get an idea of it too. In time, we’ll see if I can manage that.

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