Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Living with Caligula

I've spent the last couple of days since my son came home enjoying the fact that he's here and wondering how he managed without his own personal servant in hospital. I've also been working on the rewrite of the follow up to Caligula. Simon, my editor at Transworld, e-mailed his thoughts at the weekend and as usual he got it spot on. He's asked me to cut out one major character to change the focus of the narrative and turn the spotlight on my hero, as well as a number of smaller changes that will improve the book a lot. It means a fair bit of unravelling, but I can already see the impact it's having. The great thing is that having done it once before I know just how worthwhile the effort is.
Caligula seems to be doing well, but with only Amazon to go by it's quite difficult to tell just how well. At one point last night I was 861 in books and 23 in historical fiction, which when you consider Caligula is a hardback up against a lot of mass market paperbacks seems pretty good. I'm in there with Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, Simon Scarrow and Wilbur Smith, which can't be bad. Our local Waterstone's has sold out and so has the bookshop in Jedburgh. The feedback I'm getting from people who've read it has been universally positive. I've also had two reviews on Amazon and they've both been five star which I think will help sales.
On August 16 I'm doing my first internet webchat on Youwriteon, which I'm looking forward to a lot. I've had good publicity from my local papers and I've offered a couple of signed Caligula's as prizes which they seem to appreciate. I also had a phone call from a guy who helps organise the Jethart Callant's Festival in Jedburgh (Jethart is the old name for Jedburgh and the festival pays homage to the Border reivers who kept the town safe in times of trial) who's asked me to speak at a dinner next year when the Callant is chosen in May. For a local boy like me it's the ultimate accolade.
I wasn't sure what was happening to my foreign publishers, but yesterday I discovered that the Polish version of Caligula is on the shelves. They've (wisely I think) stayed with the front cover image Bantam have used, but it looks great and seems to be pretty widely available. You can see it if you do a search for Kaligula Jackson Amber, or something along these lines.

Back to work tomorrow, and writing again on the train, in a funny way I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Living with Caligula

It's strange how life always finds a way of levelling things out. After the enormous highs of publication and the book party, this week I've had a lesson in what truly matters.
I've spent most of the week in hospital visiting my 17-year-old son who was taken in on Tuesday. He needed blood and various other transfusions, including some that took all night, and had lots of tests. Through it all he kept his sense of humour, joking with the nurses and his fellow patients. He didn't complain once, although he must have been in pain and worried about what was happening to him. I've never been so proud of him.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Living with Caligula

What a fantastic week I've had. First the publication and knowing that finally the book was out there. Then the launch party at Blackwells in Edinburgh and standing on the stairs to make my speech and looking out over a sea of faces who had come to support me. You could almost feel yourself being carried along on a wave of good feeling. A once in a lifetime experience.
People came from Jedburgh, Ancrum, Edinburgh, Earlston and Bridge of Allan to name but a few and it was great to see so many friends and family. I think I have to single out a couple of people for special mention, though. First Rab McNeil, who is a columnist for The Scotsman and probably Scotland's funniest writer. As well as being brilliant, Rab is almost terminally shy. He sent me an e-mail giving about a dozen reasons why he wasn't going to come and then turned up anyway with the lovely lady he calls 'the burd'. And Lesley Riddoch, another Scotsman columnist and one of Scotland's finest broadcasters. Lesley and I hadn't even met, but I sometimes deal with her copy when I'm editing the paper. I sent her an invitation, not expecting her to turn up. But there she was giving her support to a guy she hadn't seen in the flesh before! Absolutely brilliant.

I barely got a chance to talk properly to anyone at the launch, all I did was float about giving a word here and there and then spent half an hour or so signing books. Last night we had about 20 friends from Bridge of Allan round at the house for a drink and a blether. It was great fun and the amazing thing was that in the four days since the book launch at least three people had got through the entire 400-odd pages of Caligula. The verdict: 'It's a real page turner. I got into it and I couldn't put it down.' These people are my mates, so you could say they're biased, but their views chime with just about everybody who's read it so far and I think that's a great sign.

I keep an eye on (read that as I'm obsessed with) Amazon to see how the book's doing. It's hard to tell exactly, but I'm about 30th in the historical fiction list which I'm taking as encouraging for a first novel by an unknown writer. Caligula has been paired on Amazon with Harry Sidebottom's Warrior of Rome, which reached No. 9 in the Mail on Sunday's best-sellerlist today, which must also be good news. Now I'm waiting for the first reader reviews with crossed fingers, toes etc.

After the launch on Tuesday we travelled to the Borders to stay at Fauhope House, a beautful guest house owned by my friends Sheila and Ian Robson. Sheila's the AA's Scottish landlady of the year for 2008, a wonderful hostess and a great laugh. I signed a book for them and she had it on the table in the hall along with my Scotsman write-up and was telling all her guests to buy it. We had a brilliant time, including a lovely meal in Melrose at the restaurant they used to own, Marmion's. But the highlight was on Thursday when I spent a morning fishing on the Tweed. At 1.05pm, with my last cast of the day and after years of trying, I hooked and landed my first salmon, a 7 and a half pound beauty who was returned unharmed to go on her way to the spawning grounds after giving me a fight I'll never forget. What a week. First novel. First salmon. And I still haven't checked my lottery ticket.

A quick update on my other books. Simon, my editor, has read Claudius/The War God and in his under-stated way is giving off very positive vibes. 'It'll make a very good book.' 'I think you should make more of this character.' 'I really like the first battle scene' etc. He's sending me up his notes this week and then I'll be able to get stuck into the rewrite. I can't wait.

Stan, the agent, has sent me his reaction to Brothers in Arms: 'It's very, VERY nearly there.' He's planning to send it off to Simon in the next week or so to have a look at. Will he like it?Instinct tells me it's still at least one rewrite away from the real deal, but that there's enough evidence that it will make a great start to a great series. I have four pretty solid ideas for follow ups and wrote a wonderfully chilling first chapter for one of them on Friday and Saturday. It looks like being a busy next few months.


Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Living with Caligula

Well that's it. I am now officially an author. Caligula is on the shelves and available at all good book shops.

The last two days have encapsulated everything that's happened to me in the year since I signed up with Transworld. Monday - publication day - was a bit of an anti-climax. I went into Stirling all aquiver to see where my books were in the local Waterstone's and naturally couldn't find them. It turned out they were hidden in a pile of fiction novels towards the back of the store. Fortunately, the guy behind the counter didn't take any persuading to give a local author pride of place in the New Fiction box at the front! And that was it. The book was on the shelves and ... it was just another day.

Tuesday - the launch party - was one of the best days of my life. Ninety people from my past, present and, hopefully, future turned out to celebrate the publication of Caligula. Old friends I hadn't seen for years, people I'd invited but hadn't expected to come, and most of my family. I met and greeted everyone as they came in, they all had a drink and a chat and after about half an hour I got up to give my speech. It was the most natural thing in the world - as if I'd been doing it all my life - and at the end I gave a reading. When I'd finished, my 17-year-old son walked up to me and gave me a hug. Absolutely priceless.
The people at Blackwell's did us proud, but they were shocked at the size of the turnout. They sold every book in the shop - 62 - and I spent half the night signing them and listening to people tell me how proud they were of me. It was fantastic. A night I'll never forget. Later, the family was joined by Simon and Stan for a meal and to cap off a perfect night the kids dragged me off to a posh pub until 2am.

To give you a flvour of the night this is the bit of Caligula I read:

He looked towards the centurion in charge of the Guard. It was the Germans today. He liked the Germans because they hated the Italians.

The soldier came at his call.

“If I wished it would you kill every man in this room?” he said quietly.

For an instant, the centurion’s eyes went wide,, but then the discipline that had helped him survive a hundred combats quickly took over. His hand went to his sword.

“Of course, Caesar. At your orders!”

Should he? He looked over the faces. Senators and knights. Praetors and tribunes. Men who called themselves his friends and others who did not try to hide their scorn. The Judaean who had been boring him for a week about the problems of his benighted province. It would cause complications. He had another thought.

“If I ordered it, would you kill me?”

The soldier froze. What answer would he give to this unanswerable question?

He watched the man’s face grow paler as the seconds passed. Tiny beads of sweat broke out upon his brow as he wrestled with the terrible implications of his next words. His mouth opened and closed like a dying fish, which was amusing.

Eventually, he became bored.

“You are dismissed. W, we will discuss this further another time.”

He picked at the platter of food by the side of the throne. Really, it was all so boring. Had he tasted everything there ever was to taste? He let the long list slide through his mind. But there was a gap. Yes, there was one type of flesh he had never tasted. The forbidden flesh. He looked up. It would be interesting, exciting even. Who would it be? The fat one at the back? The athlete fidgeting by the wall? No shortage of choice.

He pondered the question for a full minute.

No, he thought, not today.

He smiled as he learned a new truth. Even he had a limit.

He wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or disappointed.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Countdown to Caligula

One hour and twenty minutes to go to the big day.
How will it go? Who knows. All I know is that I've loved every exciting, frustrating, exasperating, glorious minute of the journey.

What have I learned?
Be patient:
The world, especially the publishing world, moves at its own pace.
Don't expect too much:
At times it feels the world is marching to your door, but it's not always going to be that way.
Celebrate everything:
It's a one-off experience. I'll never again be a debut author going down this strange and wonderful road and wondering what's at the other end.
Keep writing:
Because you're only a writer when you're writing; good, bad or indifferent.

I'm a different person to the one who began these blogs eight months ago. At the start, I still wasn't sure who I really was. For about thirty odd years I've been looking for the real Douglas Jackson. Now I've found him. He's a writer.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Saturday, 12 July 2008

Countdown to Caligula

Two days to go. The interview David Robinson did with me appeared in the Scotsman arts section Critique today and it's a great read. He really caught the effort and the passion that went into Caligula and the rollercoaster road to publication, I think the picture, with Stirling Castle in the background, makes me look pale and interesting (the photographer, Ian Rutherford is brilliant - in this case he had to be) but decide for yourself. Don't be fooled by the headline, nothing in life is that easy!


Yesterday I walked up to Blackwell's bookshop to say hello to the manager and thank him for playing host at the book launch. When I reached the shop I discovered a display of my books in the window, along with a photograph. It was a great moment, but as I studied myself in the window I wondered what would happen if someone came along and stood beside me. Slightly surreal, to say the least.
I can't wait 'til Monday, even though I've got a dentists appointment. I plan to tour the local bookshops. Hope I'm not disppaointed.
The speech is written for Tuesday. I've kept it short, which will be a relief for the sixty people who have confirmed they are coming. The response has been fantastic.
I've also been signing copies for friends and family, which is great, but you actually spend more time agonising over what to say than you did on some passages of the book.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Countdown to Caligula

I woke up this morning and suddenly realised there were only six days to go. How did that happen? Everything's been moving along like treacle and now it's as if I'm at the wheel of a runaway train and I don't know where the brakes are. Publication is on Monday, the launch party is on Tuesday night. I haven't even looked at my speech, never mind written it. The two readings I'm planning to do are still just that; plans. I've got an idea what they'll be, but is the first one too short and the second one too long? I won't know until I've practised in front of an invited audience, but I'm working late every night this week, so when. I can't stand up on the train and start spouting like a Roman Emperor, they'll have me in a strait-jacket and off for a meeting with Napoleon and Henry the Eighth before you can say Scotrail.
Still, everybody says I'm cool, calm and collected in a crisis. It WILL be alright on the night. Now where did I leave my toga?