Sunday, 16 December 2007

Countdown to Caligula

Hi, my first book, Caligula, is being published in July and it occurred to me people might be interested in the highs and lows of a debut novelist.

I'm Doug Jackson, a writer and journalist from Scotland. I've been writing for three or four years now and been fortunate enough to land a two book deal with Transworld publishers. My first novel Caligula comes out on 14 July. I know there's a large community of people out there with the ambition to be novelists, and I thought my experiences might be interesting and hopefully helpful to them.


I was having lunch one day with a friend - Nicola Barry a newspaper columnist whose own book Mother's Ruin was published this year. She was doing the MLitt course at Glasgow University and while we were chatting she suddenly said: 'You should write a book. I bet it would be really gritty'. So I thought, OK I will.

I didn't start out to write a book about Caligula, I started writing a book about an Emperor's elephant - or at least the slave who brought it to Britain. I've always been interested in history. When I was listening to a documentary on the history of Britain in the car and someone told the story of how the Emperor Claudius rode in triumph at Colchester on an elephant it seemed like a worthwhile story to tell.

When I got home I sat in from of the computer and wrote 500 words in an hour. I've been writing or revising just about every day since.

I remember the first sentence I typed, because I was really proud of it. It said: 'My father was a great man. He tamed the wild beasts and made them do his bidding.' Six months later it took me a month to write my way out of the hole that sentence got me into.

You won't find it in Caligula - in fact you won't find any of the first 10,000 words I wrote. They weren't wasted though, every word and piece of research I did brought me closer to the subject; to the people, the sights, the sounds and the smells - the atmosphere - of Rome.

Writing at the end of a 10 to 12 hour day was tough, but I stuck to it until my son got old enough to want to use the computer too. That was when I abandoned the car started a one hour commute on the train to and from work. That allowed me to up my output to between 1200 and 1600 words a day, and suddenly the mathematics of writing seemed a lot friendlier. 1600 words a day x 5 is 8,000 words a week. A novel is around 90,000 words. Working on the train for even two hours a day I could write a first draft in about three months. I was on my way.

I'll end my first blog here. It's going to take longer than I thought to get up to date. Hope you'll stick with me. It's been a rollercoaster so far and I think the best is yet to come.

1 comment:

Alan Hutcheson said...


This blog is a wonderful idea. I hope you continue it. And I wish there was such a thing as mass-transit in Phoenix. The two hours I spend every day driving back and forth to work does indeed seem like wasted moments.

I really like your comment about the 10,000 tossed words not being wasted. It is tough to put aside something you have written, especially if it is really, really good. Problem is, of course, that really, really good doesn't always translate to Really Belongs in the Story.

I am looking forward to when Caligula will be available. I trust it will be in the US market as well as the UK?