Saturday, 22 December 2007

Countdown to Caligula

Spent today working my way through the queries from the copy-editor (despite the hangover from my Christmas shopping day of torment in Edinburgh). She's done a great job of polishing the manuscript and picked up a couple of things that would have made me look silly. Writing is a terribly solitary business, even when you write on a packed train, and I think anyone who writes a novel - published or not - has to have a huge amount of confidence in themselves. One of the great things about working with a publisher is that you become part of a team dedicated to getting the best out of the book ... which brings me to


A few months before I won the critique on Youwriteon I'd managed to interest an agent in another project I was working on. Meeting Stan - who works for the Jenny Brown Agency in Edinburgh - was one of those signpost moments. When we met in the pub across the road from my work it was obvious neither of us was what the other had expected. I was in a suit and looked more like a bank manager than a creative type and he was far too young for a guy who'd forged the reputation I'd heard about. But by the time we parted I'd managed to convince him I was worth his time. He said his books were full, but if I sent him the crime novel I was writing as I completed the chapters, he'd help me develop it. I tried to interest in him in this Roman novel, but it wasn't until he heard about the Sara development that he asked to see it. When he read it, the first thing he said was 'I'd never have let you send it in that state' which was informative. I started working on the rewrite in March and sent it to him in weekly chunks of about 10,000 words. It was strange, taking a 40,000 word section that covered three years and beefing it up into a 100,000 word book, but it was easier than I thought. That said, I wasn't certain I was on the right lines until Stan sent me a text one night saying he thought the last bit was 'brilliant' - he doesn't use words like brilliant very often. I think I completed the first draft in early June, but I knew the ending wasn't right. Stan also suggested getting in more of Caligula's own thoughts. I think that was probably the defining moment, when I started getting into Caligula's head. I put in two pieces and each of them just felt right, so I decided to expand them to six or seven so that they became the spine of the book. He's a fantastic character, but he's always been portrayed as a one-dimensional psychopath. The more I read, the more I became convinced there was a lot more to him than that.

I'll quit here and probably leave the blog until after Christmas. When the manuscript arrived there was something with it that was one of those signposts, but I'm not sure whether it was confidential or not, so I'll keep it to myself for the moment.

Merry Christmas :-)


Lexi said...

Excuse my total ignorance of agents - why did Stan want to help you with Caligula if Sara was already involved and handling it?

Happy Christmas!

Doug said...

Hi Lexi

Sara just pointed me in a general direction, there was never any guarantee it would work out or that there would be a deal at the end of it. She sort of gave me an exercise and it was up to me what I made of it. When Stan agreed to be my agent I got the benefit of all his experience in the publishing industry and he committed to helping me make a success of the book. Your agent helps you take it to a level where he believes its a saleable commodity and then the publisher's editor takes over and helps you make it what the publisher thinks will be a successful novel.

Lexi said...

Thanks for the information.

It must be key to have a sympathetic agent and publisher's editor. Advice can be inspirational or deadly.