Sunday, 26 April 2009

Countdown to Claudius

I've just finished listening to myself on Alex Dickson's Bookshelf on Smooth Radio. It's a strange experience when the voice coming out of the box is yours, but you barely recognise it. I got off to the usual slightly squeaky, nervous start but settled into it pretty well. I still hum and haw a bit too much and there were times when I was considering my next answer for so long I thought I'd gone off to the pub, but overall Alex teased a lot of interesting stuff out of me about Rome and the Romans and about writing. He has a chatty style and you can't help opening up to him which is the sign of a true professional.

Completed the story arc of Book 2 and sent it off to Stan on Friday. It's a more complex book than the first one and goes over some tricky ground, but it adds a new dimension to my character and has a truly epic ending. One slight problem is that it's made me think very seriously about where I go with Book 3. I've decided that my original idea - though it's geographically and culturally a thousand miles away - is probably a bit too close in subject. So I'll be doing a bit of heavy thinking this week.

I had a nice surprise the other day when I checked out the Jenny Brown website and discovered that Caligula is going to be published in Turkey, bringing the number of languages to eight, which is pretty good going I think. Claudius is out there somewhere being published as an uncorrected book proof and I can't wait to see it. Not sure if the jacket for the hardback arrived first the last time round, but it'll be great to see either of them.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Countdown to Claudius

This has been a very productive week in just about every way. I've been working on a mammoth project at my day job that involves endless meetings, changing working patterns for the whole place and trying to get people behind it even though there lives are being changed. Interesting doesn't really describe it. But it seems to be coming together now and nobody's ambushed me on the way to the train or tried to run me over in the car park, which is a big plus.

I sent the final changes for Claudius off last weekend, but it wasn't accompanied by that little panic attack of 'what if I've left something in that will make me look like an idiot', because I was straight on to the next project. Simon has asked me to put together detailed story arcs for three entirely new books featuring an entirely new character. In a way it was a mirror of the moment when Sarah O'Keefe suggested I take the first 40,000 words of The Emperor's Elephant and turn it into a different book. At moments like these you can either collapse in a panic attack or you think 'Wow what a fantastic opportunity'. Fortunately, mine was the second reaction. It opened up a whole new vista and my mind immediately started churning with possible characters and situations.

I got down to work on Monday and by Thursday I had book one complete. It flowed so naturally it was as if I'd had it in my head all the time. There was also one of those signpost moments. I was sitting in my office working on a month's worth of rotas for thirty people covering 18 hours a day over seven days (and trying to keep them all happy), when David Robinson walked in and handed me a book. The one thing that had become clear right away when I started working on the arc of book one was that I didn't know enough nitty gritty detail about the life of the people I was going to write about. The book I had in my hand was a manual that let me into the secret of what they had for breakfast and what it felt like to wear their clothes!

Started book 2 on Thursday on the train. Got detail of chapter 1 down and didn't know where to go next. It was based on a vague idea and I realised I hadn't even written a synopsis, which was asking a bit much. Started on the synopsis at Linlithgow and I knew I had the book in the bag by the time I got to Edinburgh Waverley. I've got the bones of five chapters down now and I can feel it growing in my head all the time.

At the moment, book 3 isn't even an idea, just a name, but I have a great character, an exotic world he will live in and an epic finale that will ring down through the centuries.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Er, just a bit. I've been down this way before and the brilliant ideas can slip through your fingers like smoke when you sit down and try to make them happen. But I have a good feeling about this. It feels like one of those moments when you come to a fork in the road and some inner voice tells you which is the right one.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Countdown to Claudius

It's funny the old book business; for weeks on end nothing happens and you wonder if it's all gone away and then suddenly things start getting exciting again. Today I'm ready to hit the button on Claudius for the last time. The typeset manuscript has been read and read again, corrected and then recorrected, but I know that when it goes I'm going to be hit by that feeling of regret and the knowledge that there are things I could/should have done better. The upside is I've read it four times in the last two weeks and I think it's great. A different type of book from Caligula, but with real heart and a blockbuster centrepiece.

I've just come back from Glasgow where I was doing an interview with Alex Dickson on Smooth Radio. I'm familiar with Alex's work, he did a similar half hour show on Radio Clyde that I was able to listen to occassionally and I was always struck by his easy manner with the writers he was talking to. Today he excelled himself. It was like meeting and old friend and having a blether about things that interested us both. I'm also learning all the time. When I did my first interview with BBC Scotland, I took along information written down to refer to, but I realise now that, having lived with Caligula for about four years in one form or another, the information's all in my head and it's just a question of letting it come out. The only strangeness might have been in talking about something that is, for me, a whole book ago, but I found that I still retained my old enthusiasm for the whole Caligula experience.

With Claudius gone, my thoughts naturally will turn to book 3, and that's where the real excitement comes in. Changes are afoot, which I'll keep to myself, but they are really positive changes and a whole new interesting challenge that I can't wait to get started on.