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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

 

Annnnd ... countdown!

Though I have yet to update my website (sorry, I'm just not very good at technical stuff, but I'm working on it), it is now only a week until Book 2, In Great Waters, hits the UK shops!

What did I learn from writing it?

To begin with, I learned that what they say about second books is true: they are harder than first. The main reason for this is nerves: you've now got something to lose, and a limited time frame in which to maintain in, which does not make for a calm environment - and whatever they say about the myth of the tortured artist, it's a darn sight easier to create art when you're feeling all right.

So some of it was to do with secondbookitis. But some of it was to do with this particular book as well. It was a difficult one to write. Let me revise that: it was a bloody difficult book to write. The phrase I use to my nearest and dearest is 'It nearly killed me', and they actually know what I mean.

After Bareback, I decided to challenge myself. I'd written a single-perspective thriller set in more or less the modern world, with a heroine the same sex as myself. Nothing wrong with that, and you could say something similar about the book I'm currently finishing, but for In Great Waters I wanted to break the pattern, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I was capable of writing more than one kind of book. So In Great Waters had two central characters, both narrated in the third person, and followed them from birth up until the ages of fourteen and seventeen in an era where that's considered old enough to take on adult responsibilities. And that's another thing: the era. In Great Waters is an alternative history, set around the early Rennaissance. Technology is different. Travel times are different. Language is different: in dialogue, I had to strike a balance between speech modern enough to be comprehensible but not so modern as to sound weird, which is a post in itself. One of the protagonists is male. Oh, and incidentally both are mixed-race, involving a race that doesn't exist and is drawn largely from nature documentaries and dollops of imaginative logic.

It was, in short, an ambitious project.

Ambition is a great thing. Stagnation can be a curse: you do the same thing too many times, your brain gets bored and your quality falls off. Sometimes it's good to set yourself a challenge and see how high you rise. But there's the essential corollary: set the bar too high, and you start worrying if you'll ever get over it.

I began In Great Waters with some ideas, but no roadmap. Characters' personalities became incredibly important: at least one of my protagonists, if not both, was drawn as furiously stubborn and unlikely to cooperate with anything, no matter how convenient to the plot. To create a sense of crisis, I'd installed both of them in situations of great danger with no visible escape hatches. The stakes were high, and the outs were few. The more I wrote, the bigger the themes seemed to become; I was talking about the fate of an entire country through the perspective of two people whose viewpoints and experience were both extremely narrow. Most of all, there was the question of passion. In Great Waters was a passionate book to write: the foundation of it is a quality of lived experience that only took place in my imagination - the life under the sea, the alien understanding that casts humanity into question. I had to live up to that. Cheap plot devices were out.

Appropriately enough, given its theme, In Great Waters was a wild book. Some books are docile and obliging, following your needs compliantly and only occasionally balking, but In Great Waters was like wrestling a snake. It felt beyond my control from the very beginning. This might sound like a book that 'writes itself', but that was the problem: I had to write it, and there were times when it simply felt stronger than me and I collapsed in exhaustion. It was like swimming a rapid: it might sweep you along, but you have to keep fighting to stay up.

I finished it in a final, terrified rush just three days before the deadline; to accomplish this, I'd had to spend weeks working through weekends, minimising social contact and generally giving myself up, doing my best to keep my head above the current. On the final day, I walked down the stairs disoriented to find my fiance in the living room still in his dressing gown (as was I), and said confusedly, 'I think I've finished my book.' He leaped up in delight, but I was simply stunned: the whole process had been so intense that it was almost impossible to believe it was at an end.

When I handed it over to my agent, I decided to be honest. I sent it with an e-mail saying, I quote, 'As to whether or not it's any good, I frankly can't tell you ... I suspect it may need some polishing but right now I'm too cross-eyed to tell good writing from bad on my own.' I clicked 'Send', then I went and lay down, still unsure as to whether I'd produced a book or a babble. It was only when first my agent and then my publisher wrote back to me enthusing that I began to wonder whether I might actually have written something good. Perhaps even really good.

Editing and rewrites took me through it again, and I was surprised how much I liked it. Maybe even more than I liked my first novel. It was a crazy ride, but sometimes your conscious brain can't get a grip on what your imagination is turning out and you just have to run with it and trust that, however hard to see at times, your subconscious does have a sense of structure that will create an order underpinning the chaos. Shortly the book will be subject to the vagaries of the review system (though my publicist tells me that there's already been some positive feedback), but in a way I'm not holding my breath. I held my breath while I was writing, and now I'm breathing again. I'm proud of the book, and I hope people enjoy it, but I'm most proud of myself for surviving writing it.

Comments:
We know all the good that you're capable of Kit. Part of anyone's aim in buying your books now is to keep ink in your pen, juice in your computer and sales figures in the publisher's eyes! I'm eagerly awaiting next week.
 
Aw... (shuffles, blushes)
 
...And now I'm wondering if I can afford the shipping for a UK edition. I don't suppose it's going to show up on my side of the pond the week following?
 
Sorry, no; it's coming out later in the year, but I'm not sure when... If it's any encouragement, the exchange rate is massively in your favour right now.

Word: paters. People who turn up at sports day and bang on about joining the family business.
 
What happens if an author misses the deadline? Does it cost you money, or do you just get shouted at by angry publishers?

Also.. yay for you! Expect to get a parcel with my copy for you to sign very soon!
 
Congratulations!

You know, the more you talk about this book, the more I want to read it.
(pause for a quiet gloat)
So if your agent offers you interviews and signing and book tours and such, go talk!

Do you like talking about your books, or are you one of those writers who prefers to just write?

in dialogue, I had to strike a balance between speech modern enough to be comprehensible but not so modern as to sound weird, which is a post in itself.
Which I hope you'll write it. That's one of the things I notice first in a book set in another era: is the dialogue convincing? And I always wondered how an author goes about finding that balance.

cozony1: the email alias for correspondence about the family reunion.
 
Kit, the book isn't coming out in Canada until October. There is no way in hell I am waiting that long. Is there a UK bookstore that you'd recommend with an online component that would ship it out to me? Or should I just hit up Amazon?
 
What happens if an author misses the deadline? Does it cost you money, or do you just get shouted at by angry publishers?

Neither, really. They just put the schedule back. I managed to make my deadline, just about, but publishers are used to authors missing their deadlines; it's not an exact science.

Do you like talking about your books, or are you one of those writers who prefers to just write?

Hm. Depends. I'm happy enough talking about a book after I've had some time off from it; talking about it too soon after I've written it can be unnerving, because I haven't got any perspective yet.

Is there a UK bookstore that you'd recommend with an online component that would ship it out to me? Or should I just hit up Amazon?

I'd just go with Amazon, unless anybody else has a recommendation.
 
So, why no tour?

uneying: Looking at something but not seeing what matters.
 
So, why no tour?

I'm not famous enough. A tour author has to draw crowds big enough to recoup the expenses, and that's a lot of people. Tours aren't a regular part of the package, they're the mark of a major star, and I'm just respectably successful. (So far.) Of course, if y'all can make everyone you know buy my book and pass the word along, stardom may eventually come to pass, so, y'know, spread the word! :-)

Word: kasterab. A Middle Eastern delicacy involving lamb and slow cooking.
 
I ordered mine from the Book Depository (cheaper than Amazon UK), and it arrived in Montreal today, Friday. Or perhaps it's the Book Repository. In any case, I am pleased with both the speed and the price.

I wish I understood better why for some UK books (Harry Potter, Thursday Next, Susanna Clarke, some mystery authors) we get the UK imprints while for others we get the US ones. I recall having checked and seeing no specific correlation to publishers, but I cannot swear to this.
 
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