Sunday, 31 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Well, it happened. I have a new book deal. Transworld have asked me to write three more historical novels.

It's fantastic that someone - a hard-nosed publishing company at that - has confidence in my ability to build on the success of Caligula and hopefully Claudius and carve out a writing career.
The books will follow a new hero through three successive periods of upheaval in Roman history and will take me to some of the wildest outposts of the Empire.

I'll be sorry to say goodbye to Rufus; I'd always intended that his story would be a trilogy but it became clear to me that what had worked as the last third of The Emperor's Elephant was stretching credibility as a standalone book. If there's an appetite for it, I may put the original version on my website so that people can read how his and Bersheba's story ended. That won't be for a while though. First I need to complete the opening draft of book 1 by September, which means four months of hard graft. Starting now ...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

It's been an interesting week for a lot of reasons. On Tuesday I was up at 4am and spent ten hours on trains to and from Yorkshire for work stuff. Getting up was a pain but I managed to make a lot of progress on my latest project because writing on the train is what I do best. Every cloud etc.
On Thursday I took part in an event in Glasgow at the Mitchell Library to promote greater links between libraries and publishers. All the big publishers were there and librarians from all over Scotland and there was much talk of book groups, readings and promotional events. I'm committed to doing something in Polmont prison which should be interesting, and Conton Vale (Scotland's women's prison) which will be more interesting still. Sam my publicist made a great presentation in which I was hailed as a brilliant new voice in British historical fiction. It was lovely but I'll believe it when I read my name in the Sunday Times bestseller list.
There were also quite a few fellow authors there. It was great to see my mate Bob Low of Oathsworn fame again. I had a good chat with Alan Clements, who somehow found time while helping to run STV to write a political thriller, Rogue Nation, which has really captured the imagination in Scotland. Carmen Reid, whose chick lit novels my girls adore, was also at the event and turned out, like most writers I've met, to be totally unassuming despite her success and had the library ladies eating out of her hand.
Stan was on the phone with some optimistic news about what happens after Claudius. I can't reveal anything at the moment, but things are definitely looking up!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Had a wonderful night in Jedburgh on Friday with my daughter Kara when I made the Toast to the Jethart Callants Festival in front of 150 dignitaries from all over the Scottish Borders. We received a fantastic welcome and were treated like royalty all night. The speech went down really well and many people were very complimentary about Caligula, which has made me a bit of a celebrity in the town. Later, I took Kara around my old haunts and she was astonished that I knew somebody in every pub we went into. Jedburgh is like that: a close-knit, down to earth, hard working community that has a long, colourful and sometimes painful history in the front line of Scotland's four hundred year border wars with England. Today it suffers like all the Border towns from lack of investment and a diminishing industrial base. The mills have almost all gone, the electronics industry in decline. Jed is fortunate to have American-owned LS Starrett, lured to the town 50 years ago by visionary townsfolk who travelled to the States to convince the firm's bosses to put their faith in the Borders work ethic. The trust forged on those visits has been repaid a hundred times over on both sides.
I based my speech on the three words that for me sum up the festival. History, community and respect. Jethart's Here is a war cry that has rung down through the centuries on a score of battlefields, where men from the town rallied and kept the enemy at bay with their deadly Jethart axes. The festival is at the core of the community, woven through it from top to bottom, as evidenced by the hundreds who gathered in the Square to witness the appointment of this year's Callant, Murray Yourston. And it is he and his predecessors who have stepped forward when the town needed them since the first festival in 1947 and committed themselves to represent their community for three years who deserve our respect, along with all the other committee members and unseen helpers who turn out to make the festival such a huge success every year.

Wednesday will be a big day, one way or the other. That's when the decision will be made about my next three books. As Stan says: fingers and everything else crossed.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

I may have taken a significant step closer to a new book deal this week. The three ideas I put forward to Stan (the agent) were forwarded to Simon (the editor) at Transworld and he liked two of them a lot. The only thing wrong with the third was that it was too close to something Manda Scott is working on. Simon asked me to put together a single page synopsis for each of them and (fingers crossed) he'll be presenting them as his next project.
Nothing's certain in this world, but it feels like progress.
Great news midweek from Samantha my publicist, who is doing a brilliant job. I'm invited to appear at Wigtown Book Festival in September. We went last year with our friends, Elaine and John, and stayed in Newton Stewart, and had a fantastic time. I can't wait!
The Borders Book Festival first, though, where I'll be chatting on stage to my friend David, the books editor at the Scotsman. Hopefully, I'll have the book proof of Claudius by then and I'll be able to promote it.
Also had a parcel from Transworld, the complete and unabridged audio book of Caligula, 10 CDs read by the actor Russel Boulter. I've only listened to the prologue so far, and very chilling it is too. You don't really have much of an idea of the impact your words will have on other people when you're writing them, but I now know what people mean when they say Caligula is 'visceral'. You try to impart realism, but when the scenes are as brutal as some of them in Caligula, if you recreate reality too well it can be pretty overwhelming.
I travelled down to Jedburgh at the weekend for the rugby sevens and had a great time catching up with friends. On Friday I'll be giving the toast to the Jethart Callants Festival in the town hall in front of 150 dignitaries: of all the spin-offs I've had from being a published author, this is the one I'm proudest of.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Countdown to Claudius

Not much to report on the book front. Haven't heard back from Stan since I sent him the second and third story arcs. But if things follow the same pattern as last year I should get either the book proof or the jacket of Claudius in the next couple of weeks.

We had an great day out in Glasgow on Saturday, at Kelvingrove Museum, where my former Daily Record colleague Bob Low and the Glasgow Vikings were putting on a historical re-enactment of warring Scotland through the ages. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was highl;y professional, pure entertainment with lots of dangerous looking swords and axes and in authentic costume ... oh yes, with a sense of humour.

Picts, Vikings, knights and clansmen came together at various times and knocked lumps out of each other. The re-enactors are a hugely enthusiastic bunch and none more so than Einar the Black, who is the inspiration for one of the characters in Bob's Oathsworn books. The fighting was brutal: swords snapped, spears bent and shields splintered, the only thing missing was gore, but I gathered from Bran, a young Pictish gentleman who was just making his comeback after a spear had accidentally almost taken his eye out, that's not always the case.

Bob himself made an appearance as Robert the Bruce, clad in chain mail from head to toe. He'd had it on for eight hours, looked as if he was cooking, and it was beginning to chafe, but he still managed to give a good account of himself, albeit fighting at a sedate pace in keeping with a man who's carrying several hundredweight of metal about his person. The experience will stand him in good stead for his next project, the Kingdom series, a warts and all trilogy chronicling the lives of Scottish heroes Wallace and Bruce.