Saturday, 29 March 2008

Countdown to Caligula

I've had my best review yet for Caligula. "It's brilliant. It draws you in and keeps you turning the pages. I can't believe how you pulled it all together. It deserves to be a best-seller." And this from a man who's read thousands of books in his lifetime, who knows what he likes and who wouldn't necessarily have been drawn to a book about Rome. I gave my mum and dad a bookproof last weekend when Simon sent me a couple more copies. I honestly didn't know whether dad would fancy reading it, and if he did whether he'd like it. To get his seal of approval feels like winning over the literary editor of one of the big broadsheets.

As a writer, you always live in hope, but, conversely, don't want to build your hopes up too high, but there's a momentum growing about the book that is giving me a real buzz. So far half a dozen people have read it and the reactions have all been incredibly positive. Simon liked it enough to gamble on a complete unknown. Edward who runs has one of the bookproofs and echoes my dad's view: " I think this book deserves to be a bestseller. It's really engrossing and wonderfully written." My mate Rob read the first 100 pages in two hours when he was up for the rugby and told me I should give up the day job and go for it -I haven't taken his advice yet, but it was a great endorsement.

Can a first novel become a bestseller? Realistically, the chances are pretty minimal. Again I think it's all about momentum, there has to come a point when it's not just another book, it's THE book. But the funny thing about Caligula is that there's always been that little bit of good fortune that has helped it to make that next crucial step. All it takes is for it to fall into the right set of hands at the right time and it could change everything. Only another fourteen weeks or so to to go.

That was an interesting piece by Guy Dammann about Youwriteon on the Guardian website, and it generated a lot of feedback. He was a little bit disengenuous with his digs about English Arts Council funding, but overall it was pretty positive. I think he slightly missed the point about the raison d'etre of the site, though. Youwriteon is all about encouraging people to be involved in writing and to evolve their writing once they're in. The very fact that so many people from all over the world have signed up and are taking part is surely evidence enough of the site's success so far. The possibility of getting published is the carrot which draws people in, but if someone like me is fortunate enough to find a publisher it's a by-product of what Youwriteon is all about not the reason it exists.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Countdown to Caligula

We've been working together for something like eight months now, but I finally met my editor Simon at the weekend. My wife Alison and I travelled down to London on the sleeper overnight on Thursday and then got the tube out to Ealing, where the Transworld offices are. Simon and Stina, my publicist, took us out for lunch to a great Italian place. He was just about exactly as I imagined him; young, very sharp and extremely professional. The whole lunch was very businesslike, exploring ideas for publicising the book, things I could do to help and talking about the launch, which will be in Scotland. Stina has lots of ideas for getting coverage, based on the author profile I sent her. I got a real feel for how much Transworld have invested me and in my writing and I'm determined to do everything possible to make it work.
Before lunch we had a chat in Simon's office. Behind him on a shelf was a stack of proof copies of Caligula, which gave me a sneak preview of what they'll look like in the bookshop.
Maybe it was a bit premature, but I gave him synopsis' for another four books I'm planning to write. He's made it pretty plain nothing will happen until we see how Caligula goes, but I've got a lot of writing time to make up, so as soon as he's happy with book two I'll start writing the final Rufus book, which I already have a form of. The one that really excites me is book four, another historic novel, which I already have plotted in my head and will be a real challenge to write, with a more complex structure than I've previously attempted.
London was great. We stayed at the Radisson in Portman Square and ate in a couple of really good restaurants nearby, the best of which was a place called Textures, which is a bit special, with prices to match. On Saturday we took the ultimate tourist trip on an open top bus, and I dragged Alison to the Imperial War Museum (which paid her back for the Christmas shopping). We went to the London Eye and took a boat trip down to the Tower, then joined the bus again.
Back to Brothers in Arms (version 101) on the train today. I think I'm dun cuttin' and pastin' and will soon be able to start writing again which will come as an enormous relief. Rewriting is fine, but taking something I've written to pieces is something I'll never learn to enjoy.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Countdown to Caligula

It's been a pretty quiet ten days or so - although not at work - but I'm heading down to London this weekend to meet Simon, my editor, for the first time which should be pretty interesting. We're meeting up for a chat at Transworld's offices in Uxbridge Road and then heading for lunch somewhere with Stina, the publicist who'll be masterminding our campaign. I've only been down to London a couple of times and never in the last few years, so I'm not sure what we'll do for the rest of the weekend. Any suggestions gratefully received. Caligula-wise the only thing of note was that I received a couple of book jackets which look brilliant - apart from the bloke on the inside back cover who looks far too pleased with himself. I've also been working on my crime book, Brothers in Arms, and today on the way home I finally think I got to grips with it. Stan, the agent, gave me some very good advice when I was rewriting Caligula. Basically, you set out the chapter headings and a paragraph of explanation for each, and it gives you a real insight into what you've got and what works and what doesn't in the flow of the story. It sounds like something any writer would do automatically, but it was new to me and it works.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Countdown to Caligula

I've had an amazing few days. I came home on Thursday night to find two books lying on the dining room table. That's right books. Real books.
It was completely out of the blue. I knew Bantam would be preparing paperback uncorrected proof copies to go out for review, but I didn't imagine they'd be done this quickly. Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome is a reality. It's big and bold and in your face and I love it. When I picked my book up for the first time a wonderful warm feeling came over me, and I've still got it three days later. For the last couple of years I've been dealing in abstracts: computer programmes, print-outs, thoughts and imaginings. But this is a beautiful, solid real thing that would grace anyones book shelf - and it has my name on it.
Even better, it arrived the day after I'd sent the manuscript for the second book in the series to Simon, the editor at Transworld. I've been polishing it for the last couple of weeks and when I discovered I was changing things back to what I'd changed them from on the last read, I decided it was time to let go. As I've said before, I like it a lot, but what matters is if the publisher thinks it's any good. So despite this natural high I'm on, there's still a kind of nerve-wracking couple of weeks ahead.
My next project is to get properly stuck in to the rewrite of Brothers in Arms, but first I'm going to finish a feature I'm writing for the Scotsman magazine. My job normally keeps me chained to a computer, so it's been great to talk to real people about real things again. It made me feel like a proper journalist.