Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Countdown to Caligula

Eight weeks to go and I am now officially chewing the furniture. Another ten days has gone by and not a squeak of movement on the book. Caligula is a reality, things are happening, but all I can do is sit back and watch, hypnotised by my Amazon ratings which for some bizarre reason fluctuate between 7000th and 150,000th.
My mood hasn't been helped by the fact that progress on my crime book, Brothers in Arms, is frustratingly slow. I console myself in the knowledge that proper books are supposed to be difficult beasts, full of intellectual challenges and false turns, but the truth is I'm not used to this. Normally things flow, this squirms and grows to the point where I don't know if I can control it. It's a bit like trying to nail down jelly.
On the plus side, away from the writing and the work, I've had a very enjoyable time on the social side. I spent Saturday basking in the sunshine at Jedforest rugby sevens in the Borders. In another life (when I had hair) I used to play in the back row of the scrum for Jedforest (thirds) and I had a great time meeting old friends. I've been away for a long time, but Jedburgh will always be home.
One question I've been asked is how I became so interested in history and the Romans. The answer is that you couldn't grow up in Jedburgh and not be fascinated by history because it was all around you. In my first year at primary school one of my most distinct memories is having my picture taken with the Callant, the leader of the local summer festival which is based on the activities of the Border reivers; men with bloodthirsty reputations and wonderful names like Nebless Nick Croser, Wanton Wull and Jock O' the Side. I used to pass Jedburgh Abbey (burned five times by English armies) and Mary Queen of Scots house (the only house in the town to survive Edward 1sts 'Rough Wooing') every day on the way to school. My first job when I left school was restoring a Roman fort in the Cheviot Hills that had been torn up by foresters. I remember looking up at the gap in the hills where Dere Street passes through and almost being able to see the legions marching down towards us. History and writing and rugby seem to be all part of my DNA.
Last week I gave myself a late Christmas present and booked a day's fishing on the Tweed at a place called Tweedswood - that's just this side of the Leaderfoot Viaduct in the picture. It was great, even though we didn't even slightly annoy the salmon. When you fish, you absorb the rhythm of nature - the unceasing rush of the stream, the wind in the trees and the call of the birds - and you become closer to everything around you. Some people think it's boring. For me it's the most relaxing thing on earth. I didn't realise it when I booked it, but Tweedswood is just below Melrose, and I found myself fishing a hundred yards below the amphitheatre used by the legionaries who manned the Roman fort at Trimontium which was built on the bluff above the river. History calling again.
Today I've just come back from Glasgow, where I had lunch with Bob Low, the old friend from the Daily Record who now writes Viking books. It's the first time we've met in years, but we had a great time chatting about things that only other writers would be interested in and lamenting the slow progress of publishing. Bob's a real character, a Viking to his soul, with a beard you could hide a badger in. He's just completed the third in his Oathsworn series, and has signed a deal for another two books with HarperCollins. I think he's headed for the big time.
One thing that keeps the blog going is the comments from people all over the country who are interested in what's happening with Caligula. Sometimes you wonder if you're writing for yourself, so it's great to hear from people who've taken a look. So welcome to Joe, who said hello on the last blog, and thanks to everyone else who reads this.
To answer your question, Joe, yes, I'm writing in the hope that someone will give me enough money so I can write a lot more. At the moment I write for an hour on the train, spend ten frustrating hours not writing, then write for an hour when I'm half asleep on the way home (I think I write my best stuff when I'm half asleep so don't feel sorry for me). Sure, I might eventually move somewhere nice, but I would still write. I've found something that I really love doing and that - touch wood - I'm pretty good at. I know in my heart of hearts that I won't stop writing until I'm physically incapable of hitting the right keys on a keyboard.
I even found time to write a feature on the guy who discovered Trimontium, for the Scotsman magazine. They did me proud with a four-page spread. This is the link, although it doesn't have the same impact without the pictures.

Let's hope I've got more to report on the book next time



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