Saturday, 29 October 2011

Climbing the mountain

It can be a slog, but the view from the top makes it worthwhile
When Caligula was first published, I did an interview with David Robinson from The Scotsman and he teased a lot of very good information out of me, some of which didn't get into the newspaper. It came back to me this week when I noticed a phenomenon that's happened at some point in all my books. It's something that might be interesting to other writers, especially those on their first novel

I'm now on my ninth: five published, one on the way to production, one being written and two crime novels currently looking for a good home. The one I'm working on is The Isis Covenant, a follow up to The Doomsday Testament. A couple of weeks ago I was struggling with it, not certain whether I was in the right place or going in the right direction. The advice I always give other writers is that if you have a problem, just keep writing and you'll eventually write your way through it. So that's what I did, but I had a difficult couple of weeks.

The way I explained it to David was that writing a book is like going on one of those long distance walks in the hills where you plan to tackle two or three Munros. You make a start and you're full of beans, then you come to the long climb to the first summit and all you can see is what's directly in front of you. You're groping your way forward one step at at time and progress is slow. Eventually, though, you reach the top and the view ahead is clear, a glorious panorama that stretches for miles ahead. Suddenly everything is worthwhile and you're racing, you know exactly where you're going and how you're going to get there.

I realise now that all I was doing two weeks ago was learning exactly what the book is about, working out the strengths and the weaknesses. Two weeks ago I was probably averaging two thousand words a day - way short of my usual daily target of three thousand - and struggling to do that. This week I wrote an entirely new opening chapter so the book now starts with a bang that increases the pace of the whole first quarter. In five days I wrote twenty thousand words, which is probably my best weekly output ever. No doubt there'll be another Munro to climb before I'm done, but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile.

*The paperback of Hero of Rome came out two weeks ago after quite a big gap, but it looks as if the wait was worthwhile. It sold 1300 copies in the first week in Asda alone and this week it popped up in the Top 10 historical novels at Waterstones. Transworld have ordered the first reprint. A great start and thanks to everyone who went out and bought it!

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