Thursday, 27 December 2007

Countdown to Caligula

Had a great Christmas with the family, but got pulled into work two days early because one of my guys had the flu. Took a look at the Youwriteon website and found lots of good wishes from the members for Caligula. If Crossmouse ever visits here, the scene in the Temple of Claudius will hopefully be in the third book. I completed the copy-edit version of the manuscript last night and I plan to get it back to Simon at Transworld at the end of next week. The mistake I had to correct was a lot easier than I thought, it's amazing how big a difference you can make by adding a few words or just cutting a few here and there.


I think it was the middle of June when Stan got back to me to say the manuscript was now in a fit state to send out to a publisher. He was so confident in the quality he had decided to let seven top publishers have a look at it, including Sara at Orion. I'd always had the impression things happened slowly in the publishing world, but it can't have been much more than a week before he came back to say we'd had a couple of solid expressions of interest, and less optimistically one 'I liked it a lot, but no thanks'. The main interest was from Transworld and Orion. A few days later I got a call at work from Stan. He explained that Simon at Transworld had made a pre-empt offer - basically an offer that was meant to chase all the other interest away. Simon was offering a two book deal and Transworld wanted to purchase the world rights. He said Transworld had one of the best rights departments in publishing and I'd be in good hands. He couldn't have been more correct! A couple of months later, I found out Caligula was going to be published in Italy and then out of the blue came deals for Russia and Poland. When I started this blog I stumbled on Amazon sites in Japanese, Dutch, Swedish and Italian all offering Caligula for pre-sale. Now the kids Google their dad every day to see what's new. And it's still seven months to the launch.

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 :-)

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Countdown to Caligula

Another interesting night. I completed the first draft of my second book in the Rufus series on the train and when I got home I had the copy-edit manuscript for Caligula waiting for me. Another first. Everything so far has been by e-mail, this was a proper 416 page, four-inch slab of typescript with real proof-reader's marks. I only had time to scan the notes and the first few pages, but it was obvious the copy-editor had a beautiful light touch and was able to make a big difference to the flow and clarity of the narrative without making major changes. She also instantly spotted a flaw I'd missed in my first 40-odd readings. I'll start properly at the weekend.


When Sara at Orion critiqued The Emperor's Elephant she made a few observations and said a lot of nice things. So when she said she wanted to see the rest of the book I thought I had it made. How could she not like it? And that feeling was heightened to fever pitch when she dropped me an e-mail saying she wanted to talk about the book in person. I'd made it, right? Cue the fall that comes after the pride bit. I phoned her from work and she was very positive, but it wasn't until she told me 'We considered making you an offer' that I realised they weren't actually going to.
My heart sank as she explained that what she was suggesting was that I rewrite the first 100 pages of my 400 page book and turn it into a novel on its own. The good news was that she thought there were two novels worth of material - the bad news was that I'd basically have to start from scratch. My first feeling was 'This is my book she's talking about' but it lasted for five seconds before I saw the sense of what she was saying. She was in the business. I could write, the Youwriteon experience had given me confidence about that, but I knew nothing about selling books. So I said, yes, I'll give it a go, and I'd send it back to her once I'd done it. She gave me a few general suggestions and advised that I centre it on Caligula's assassination. I went home and consigned the last 80,000 words of the book once known as The Emperor's Elephant into a file marked 'see you later' and started work. The strange thing was that it felt like another step forward.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Countdown to Caligula

Hit another high on the rollercoaster today. Did a search on Google to see if this blog was searchable (it isn't so I'm probably talking to myself) and I got six or seven hits on Amazon and other book sites. You can now pre-order Caligula in Japan,ese and Dutch, and in Canada. The book won't be published for another seven months. It's a as, but it's also pretty scary.


The next big step forward was when I stumbled on a website called which is sponsored by the English Arts Council. All the time I've been writing there have been what I call signposts that seem to show I'm going in the right direction. It happens when you're doing research on something you've already written and it turns out to be spot on, as if you'd known all the time. Youwriteon was one of those signposts. Members upload the first 10,000 words of their writing and critique each other's work for points that entitle them to a critique of their own stuff. It's not for the fainthearted, some of the criticism can be downright vicious, but if you can accept what's constructive and don't let the rest get you down I'd recommend it to any writer. Even when I thought of uploading what was then The Emperor's Elephant I was forced to look at it in a different way. That was when I dumped the first 10,000 words and rewrote the start. I gathered a few points and did my first crits, which was instructive in itself, and received a few. The first three made me think I was a genius, the fourth made me think I should give up. It's that kind of site. Gradually, thanks to some really good reviewers, I tightened the chapters up and eventually I received a professional critique for being in the top 5 books that month. Edward, who runs the site had always been helpful, and he put The Emperor's Elephant in the hands of Sara O'keeffe who specialises in historical fiction at Orion. I'd arrived at the next signpost!

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.