Find and replace

On Boxing Day I received the first version of my manuscript complete with copious corrections and suggestions from my editor. I knew that I hadn’t written a flawless piece, but I was surprised that I’d duplicated some of the chapter numbers. I was also mortified that I’d confused ‘site’ with ‘sight’ on so many occasions.

Strangely enough, I really tried my hardest to ignore most of the story for fear of coming across something that I disliked or that I had written badly. I’m putting my faith entirely in my editor in order to tell me if I’ve gone drastically wrong in my plot or have accidentally resurrected a character that should have stayed dead.

I’m beginning to understand the attitude of actors that refuse to watch their own work. I assumed ’til now that this was just affectation, but now understand that its about relentless self criticism and insecurity.

Blurb, blurb, blurb…

There’s an interesting article in today’s Indie on the value of book blurbs.

It seems that Jonathan Franzen is fed up with the whole business, while Stephen Fry is asked to supply so many that he wonders if there might not be a “…law of diminishing returns at work here?”

Personally, I don’t pay too much attention to these little endorsements. I assume that any book published isn’t going to have a negative comment printed inside or outside the cover. In fact they sometimes just get in the way of a good read. I’ve just begun reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography. It’s a fascinating and beautifully written volume, but before the list of illustrations, the contents and the acknowledgements, there are seven pages of blurbs quoting everyone from Bill Clinton to Henry Kissinger (and even Michael Gove in-between). Which of course raises a separate question about whether you really want some people to lend their dubious credibility to your work?

Not with a bang but a whimper…

Did anyone with more than two brain cells actually think that the world was going to end today?

On the down side, the fact that the Earth continues to rotate means that I need to get on with working on my second manuscript.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing – like most writers, its a vocation and a compulsion – but I’m now really coming to terms with the realities of what it takes to sell a manuscript to an agent or a publisher. I’ve been getting some invaluable help from the nice people at Brit Writers on what I need to do to polish up my cover letter, biography, synopsis etc. I lucked into my current publishing contract and so all of this is still new to me. It’s the necessary but less enjoyable side of trying to be an author.

One of the other things that struck me is the insistence that I’ve heard repeatedly from various sources that potential authors should do some market research before submitting their manuscripts. That they should look around to see what is marketable before bothering to approach a publisher. Now this is probably very sensible and pragmatic advice, but I do find it problematic as someone who writes simply because he must. If publishers are only interested in satisfying current trends, from whence comes originality, risk and innovation?

I assume that it’s much the same in the other sphere that I’m passionate about, that of music. I can see where the record companies only want to sign ‘artists’ who regurgitate whatever the current market demands. Hence anyone with any originality having to go down the independent route and to self-publish. Only, in that regard, self-publishing is seen as a positive and liberating thing, whereas in the literary world, self-publishing still has a stigma attached and is conflated with vanity publishing.

But it’s no use ranting. This is the way of the world and where we find ourselves as aspiring authors.

And now I need to crack on and get my cover letter finished…

The Second Coming…

I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s The Stand recently. I’ve not read it for about twenty years and so downloaded it onto my Kindle.

The first time around I don’t remember being so arrested by the quotation from WB Yeats’ The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Wikipedia shows just how many times this work has been referenced right across popular culture since it was written in 1920, but there was I coming to it as if for the first time. I just found that the words stung and fascinated me, prompting a great deal of reading around the poem to seek out its meaning. I’m sharing them on the slight chance that someone else out there has a Yeats-shaped hole in their life that needs filling.

On a more prosaic (though no less important) level, I now know who the editor will be for my forthcoming novel and can’t wait to get to work on it. More details to follow as and when I can share them.

As good as it gets?

As mentioned previously, there has been a bit of a wait to get started on the editing of my first novel. Last night I received the long-awaited email to say that things are now ready to get moving.

The biggest considerations at this point are the UK versus US spelling and punctuation conventions. We’re going with the British spellings, but the use of single quotes for speech has to be altered in favour of double quotes as seems to be standard on the other side of the pond. None of which is a big issue – they can publish it in green crayon for all I care. I just want to get the thing out there and into the wild.

I went to a friend’s party on Saturday evening. When I arrived I didn’t know anyone there and was introduced as a ‘New York published author’. Despite my protestations that not a word had yet been published, I then spent a big chunk of the evening being probed about the endeavour, which was slightly uncomfortable. Not that I’m not enthused about the book, it’s just that it was a bit strange having all eyes on me for stretches of conversation. I’m so much better in print than I am in person.

As the alcohol took effect I managed to relax about it a bit more. I think that people were genuinely interested and complimentary about the whole affair. And who knows, if the book flops, this may be as good as it gets in terms of becoming an author of any renown.

Armchair Thriller

As a life-long horror fan, I can honestly say that few things (if any), have scared me as much as the ‘Quiet as a Nun’ storyline from the old Armchair Thriller TV series.

Wikipedia informs me that the programme was broadcast in 1978, making me only seven years-old at the time. So, quite how I got to see it is a bit of a mystery as my parents were quite strict when it came to letting me watch age-inappropriate television. I remember very little of the storyline but for the recollection of seeing a woman climbing a ladder in an old stone tower, to be confronted with a spooky ‘Black Nun’ who was sitting and swinging maniacally in a rocking chair. Her face was all blacked out, which made her absolutely terrifying to me at the time – far worse than a ghoulish face or a mask might have been. More certain in my memory is that that night I was so traumatised that I couldn’t sleep properly. What ever slumber I did manage to wrestle with, was shattered in the wee small hours when I found myself lying in my bed, rigid with fear and not daring to open my eyes. I was convinced that the Black Nun was standing over my bed and waiting for me to look at her.

I write this as today I stumbled across the episode which someone has kindly put onto YouTube:

I’m waiting ’til I’ve got an evening to myself so that I can watch it in quiet with the lights off and see if it’s as creepy as I remember it.