Saturday, 31 January 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Have come down with the annual post-New Year dose of the flu but decided to fight my way to the keyboard. What is it about this time of the year that brings these things on? Too much booze? Shoorly not - these days New Year is just another weekend. A cloud of Michael Crichton-type microbes that circles the earth waiting to strike just when you're supposed to be enjoying yourself? Or just the opposite, you're miserable in January anyway, so why not get it out of the way all at once?Answers on a postcard to ...

Today I completed the copy-edited manuscript of Claudius, which means that particular writing journey is coming to an end. The copy-editor was actually very gentle with me, but I've been fairly savage on myself, or at least on some of the writing. I think there's two reasons for that. The first is that, for me, the second novel is even more important than the first, or at least it's a more serious endeavour because there's none of the novelty of a debut. This is the one that has to build on whatever success the first has achieved, and the one that, hopefully leads to a third and possibly a fourth. The second is that Caligula went through about four times as many stages of development, and was gone over and over again until it was really tight. I wrote Claudius basically from scratch in about four months, and probably made the mistake of stepping back to see what other people thought, when I should have kept working on it. I think it was an understandable mistake to make, as a writer you have to have feedback, but not one I'll make again.

February 12 is D-day for the paperback of Caligula and a huge amount is riding on it. The strange thing is that, even 18 months into this, I still have doubts about my ability as a writer. You can tell yourself as often as you like that the only thing to do is get your head down and write the next book, but the fact is that you're always vulnerable to any sort of criticism, like the bloke who said 'I Claudius, it ain't ...' The other side of the coin is the boost you get from a review that says you could be the next David Gemmell and that is quickly followed by another one that tells you you're 'better than Iggulden'. They cheered me up no end, but I've lost that naivety that made me believe in my own publicity.

I'm doing a talk and probably a Q&A or a reading at Waterstones in Stirling on February 26. If you fancy coming along, just introduce yourself and I'll be pleased to meet you.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Just a quick note to let you know that my publishers have set up a website for their authors, where I rub shoulders in cyberspace with Sebastian Faulks and Richard Branson. Check out my bit on

The copy-edit of Claudius should be with me tomorrow. It turned out the delay was nothing to do with the book, but I'm still nervous about the scale of the changes that will be wanted. In fact, I've just realised that I'm a lot more nervous this time round than I was with Caligula. The first time round there was nothing to lose, but now I'm very conscious of how important it is to build on that first book and keep the momentum going.

I need to get the copy-edited manuscript back to Simon at Transworld by February 9, which concentrates the mind.

I've just noticed that this is my 50th blog. A whole half century of ups and downs and I'm still just as confused about where all this is going as when I started! Thanks for sticking with me.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Apologies, I've had a few technical problems over the last week or so and I haven't been able to update the blog until now. But there have been a couple of other firsts in the past couple of days which have helped offset a lot of heavy credit crunch-related stuff at work.

On Wednesday I received a parcel from Transworld which I thought would be the copy edit manuscript of Claudius (more of that later), but it turned out to be half a dozen copies of the Italian edition of Caligula. It looks great: the same brooding picture of the gladiator, but with an understated, upmarket feel. As I've said before, I really like the title Morte Allimperatore! (Death to the Emperor).

Then on Saturday another parcel arrived. This time it was the paperback version of Caligula. A neat little package in which much of my future may be invested. The mass market paperback of a first novel acts as a springboard for the second book and it's also the version that generates the most royalties. Samantha, my new publicist, has set me up a talk and a book signing in Waterstones in Stirling on February 26 to help push the paperback, and Borders bookshop in Glasgow wants me to do a talk and signing in July after the launch of Claudius.

I have to admit that I'm getting a little bit nervous about the Claudius copy-edit. It was supposed to be completed by January 5th and here we are two weeks later and it still hasn't arrived. There are still seven months to publication on July 16, but my experience with Caligula tells me that in reality the book has to be completed by March, including proofreading. If a big rewrite is needed that's a pretty tight deadline for a guy who can only work two hours a day. The whole process of writing and being involved in the publication of books has felt so natural up to this point that it's a bit strange to suddenly feel under pressure.

Away from the book, I saw my daughter Nikki off to do six months at Leon University in Spain on an Erasmus language scholarship. She's an incredibly capable young lady and really looking forward to it, but for a parent it's always a pretty deep moment when you send your kid off into the unknown. It was nice this morning to get an e-mail from her saying she'd just bought a saucepan and had been able to make a cup of tea and had used her language skills to choose her first pik'n'mix.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Countdown to Claudius

A Happy New Year to everyone.

It's been pretty quiet on the book front over the past couple of weeks and I've been heavily involved in a project at The Scotsman so I haven't been able to give the blog my usual attention. I'm still waiting for the return of the copy-edited manuscript of book two in the Rufus series, Claudius, which should arrive some time next week. It's been with the copy editor for slightly longer than Caligula was, which I suspect means there'll be more work to do on this one, but we'll see.

The next thing to look forward to is the publication of Caligula in the US on January 27, which will be quickly followed by the paperback launch in the UK on February 12. I should also, over the next month or so, get the first official count of how many books have been sold so far, which is interesting and scary in equal measure. I've always known that the big challenge is to build on what's been achieved so far and the mass market paperback is a key factor in that.

2008 was a year of contrasts, with the excitement of having my first book published offset by my son's battle with the auto-immune disease ITP (immune thrombocytopenic purpura). At one point he faced the possibility of a splenectomy and we went through a lot of soul-searching and sought a second opinion from experts at the Royal London Hospital before deciding against it. At the time, he was on steroid treatment, with all the horrible side-effects that accompany it. When we came back from London he came off the steroids, kept his spleen, and apart from one pretty frightening incident has resumed a more or less normal life. Seeing the way he faced that challenge and dealt with it were undoubtedly my proudest moments of the year!

2009 will undoubtedly be a year of new challenges for everybody. I wish you all the best in the months ahead.