One of the greatest pleasures of having a book published is when people you barely know or haven't met for twenty years come up and tell you what a fantastic read it was. It happened twice over the weekend when I was at a birthday party down in Jedburgh. A girl who was in my class at school and who I'd never have tagged as a historical fiction fan told me she loved Caligula, and couldn't wait for the follow up to come out. It was also very clear that the people in my home town are genuinely proud of what I've done, which puts the thing in some sort of perspective. I had the same thing in figures today in a story on the wires at work. Apparently six million people in Britain think they could write a book, three million have started writing one and a million have completed one that will probably never be published. It's a sobering thought.
If that sounds as if I'm getting cocky about being an author, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm still filled with the same doubts and fears that have plagued me all along the way, expect more so because there's now a weight of expectation, not least from myself. I don't worry about the words or the sentences, but I do worry about what I'm doing with them and if I'm creating the kind of story someone wants to read. I'm not a conscious writer at all, I don't sit down and think, 'what am I trying to achieve?'. All I do is write, and if I'm writing the wrong thing I don't know if I'm consciously clever enough to mould it into something appreciably different. I've just sent the rewrite of Claudius, the follow up to Caligula, to Simon at Transworld. As I've explained in past blogs, there were some fairly fundamental changes and when I was working on the book I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing, going in the right direction. There were passages that seemed at odds with everything I'd done before. Yet when I read it three times in the last couple of weeks the whole thing seemed to blend together as if it had only ever been meant that way. And still I had that feeling of not wanting to let go, to keep it and change a word here, or a phrase there: to keep polishing it until it glowed. What you forget is that there is probably still another nine or ten months until it's published and that you're going to get another half a dozen goes at it before it's wrenched from you for the final time.
The trains are on strike this week which means I couldn't have done any writing in any case, so I'm having a short break before I launch into another book. It's half written in my head and the main characters are all real to me, but it'll be a complicated beast and I think I have to do a bit more plotting - or at least place a significant number of signposts - before I get started.
I'm still working with someone on a website, but we've passed a significant hurdle and it could be less than a month before it's up and running. This blog will be linked to it. Can't wait to see what it's like.